Executive Summary, Key Findings, and Acknowledgments
For the second year, EDUCAUSE and HP have partnered to study extended reality (XR) in higher education. The HP Campus of the Future is an initiative to promote the institutional adoption of cutting-edge technologies for research and for teaching and learning. EDUCAUSE supports institutions in their efforts to promote student success and identify those technologies that can best support that success.
This report is the result of ongoing collaboration between HP and EDUCAUSE. In 2018, EDUCAUSE published the Learning in Three Dimensions report, which explored the then-current state of the art in the use of XR technologies in higher education. This report expands on the findings of that original report. This study asked the research question: What factors influence the effectiveness of XR technologies for achieving various learning goals?
This study found that XR technology is especially effective for supporting skills-based and competency-based teaching and learning. By expanding the range of activities through which a learner can gain hands-on experience, and by enabling the creation of realistic and high-fidelity simulations, XR expands the range of topics that can be learned as skills, rather than as abstract knowledge. This study also found that XR, even where its pedagogical benefits are clear, must still fit into existing curricula and instructional methods. This report presents use cases of XR for teaching and learning as examples, so that institutions of higher education that have not yet deployed XR technology may see how they might start.
- XR technologies are being used to achieve learning goals across domains. Whether we are talking about Bloom and colleagues' original trio of educational activity domains—the cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills), and affective (attitudes)—or the revised quartet—factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive—we find that XR technologies contribute to learning gains and produce changes in all domains, though not necessarily all equally.
- Effective pedagogical uses of XR technologies fall into one of three large categories: (1) Supporting skills-based and competency-based teaching and learning, such as nursing education, where students gain practice by repeating tasks. (2) Expanding the range of activities with which a learner can gain hands-on experience—for example, by enabling the user to interact with electrons and electromagnetic fields. In this way, XR enables some subjects traditionally taught as abstract knowledge, using flat media such as illustrations or videos, to be taught as skills-based. (3) Experimenting by providing new functionality and enabling new forms of interaction. For example, by using simulations of materials or tools not easily available in the physical world, learners can explore the bounds of what is possible in both their discipline and with the XR technology itself.
- Integration of XR into curricula faces two major challenges: time and skills. Students need sufficient time to engage deeply with the technology and with the problem-solving enabled by it. But engaging with XR technology requires that students possess some technical skills, and gaining these skills also takes time. A single academic term may not be sufficient for students to both scale the learning curve of XR technology and also cover the subject matter of the course. Institutional support is needed to ensure that students have the time to gain the skills necessary for effective pedagogical use of XR.
- The adoption of XR in teaching has two major requirements: the technology must fit into instructors' existing practices, and the cost cannot be significantly higher than that of the alternatives already in use. First, many disciplines have existing accreditation standards, curricula, and even instructional methods, and the use of XR hardware or applications must fit into such existing ways of doing things. Second, cost might be calculated not simply in terms of money but also in terms of the time required to scale the learning curve, or however the instructor perceives cost.
- The effectiveness of XR technologies for achieving learning goals is influenced by several factors: fidelity, ease of use, novelty, time-on-task, and the spirit of experimentation. Fidelity: The more realistic an XR simulation is, and the more it supports the "embodiment" of the user, the more valuable it is as a teaching tool, particularly for skills-based learning. Ease of use: An XR technology must be easy to use for both the instructor and the student. This is partially achieved through increasing standardization of interfaces and functionality. Novelty: XR technology must enable pedagogy that is not available through existing instructional methods. Time-on-task: Like other technologies for blended learning, XR promotes increased engagement for students interacting with educational materials. Spirit of experimentation: Like other developing technologies, XR promotes self-directed learning. But this requires that instructors and the institution as a whole provide students with the freedom, flexibility, and resources to engage deeply with the technology.
The author wishes to thank all of the individuals who agreed to be interviewed for this project. Without your hard work and creativity in using XR, and your willingness to share your insights about it, this report would literally not have been possible.
Special thanks to Dr. Joylin Anderson-Calhoun, Nurse Educator at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. Anderson-Calhoun was the PI for the nursing simulation research described in this report, but sadly she passed away in 2018 and did not get to see it completed. Thanks to the faculty and researchers in the nursing program at Morgan State University for continuing this important work. Thanks also to those researchers at Morgan State University for the Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger story.
Thanks to the members of the EDUCAUSE XR Community Group and the IEEE ICICLE XR for Learning and Performance Augmentation SIG, who would frequently post XR-related news to their respective listservs, which informed this study.
Thanks also to the EDUCAUSE team—D. Christopher Brooks, Director of Research; Malcolm Brown, Director of Learning Initiatives; and Jim Burnett, Director, Membership Development—for being constant and vital partners in the development of this project. Additional thanks to Susan Grajek, Vice President, Communities and Research, and Mark McCormack, Senior Director of Analytics & Research, for their careful reviews of this report in manuscript form; Kate Roesch, Data Visualization Specialist, and Scott Ladzinski, Visual Design Lead, for their artistic vision; Gregory Dobbin, Senior Editor, and the publications team for making my writing become much betterly than it really would otherwise probably being; and Lisa Gesner, Content Manager, Marketing, for keeping our eye on the ball throughout the process.
Finally, special thanks to HP for conceiving and supporting the Campus of the Future initiative, and Gus Schmedlen, Vice President, HP Worldwide Education, for his tireless efforts to connect the EDUCAUSE team with those using XR technology around the world.
Access additional materials, including a blog series on the campus case studies, on the EDUCAUSE/HP project research hub at https://www.educause.edu/hp-xr2.
© 2019 Jeffrey Pomerantz. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.
Jeffrey Pomerantz. XR for Teaching and Learning: Year 2 of the EDUCAUSE/HP Campus of the Future Project. Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, October 2019.