The Advantages of a Digital Twin Virtual Reality Campus
By Steve Grubbs, founder of VictoryXR
Digital twin campuses are all the rage, in light of Covid-19, anger of parents paying for a ‘Zoom’ education, and the advent of worlds built in virtual reality. Stanford has offered an anatomy class in VR and Arizona State has announced their intentions to do the same.
Our friends at IBM, explain the concept of a digital twin like this:
In plain English, this just means creating a highly complex virtual model that is the exact counterpart (or twin) of a physical thing. The ‘thing’ could be a car, a tunnel, a bridge, or even a jet engine. Connected sensors on the physical asset collect data that can be mapped onto the virtual model. Anyone looking at the digital twin can now see crucial information about how the physical thing is doing out there in the real world. [https://www.ibm.com/blogs/internet-of-things/iot-cheat-sheet-digital-twin/]
Whether students are quarantined or not, in the digital world to which we have become accustomed, an online campus should exist where students can gather to talk, learn, plan and exist together. Microsoft has Altspace, Facebook just released Horizon, and VictoryXR built the largest academic campus in the world on the Engage platform, partly owned by HTC Vive.
In light of this new paradigm in e-learning environments, here are answers to questions that may clear up a few issues.
How does a digital twin campus make an institution more efficient and innovative?
A digital twin campus is unlike early virtual reality experiences in that it is a group setting which allows for live instructors and real-time classes interacting as if they were in the same space. This is very much like the real-world. But unlike the real-world, objects are digital which allows for manipulation and duplication in ways never before possible. Consider these examples:
- An anatomy class has a human cadaver, but students gets their own heart to hold and learn from and then, can make that heart 8-feet tall and step inside the heart and learn while standing inside a human organ.
- Art history class allows students to start with a blank art museum, select the art best-suited for their exhibits, based on the assignment criteria, and then create a unique exhibit ready for viewing by everyone in the world or maybe, just the professor who created the assignment.
- Biology class can dissect animals over and over without incurring the cost (or smell) of a real fetal pig or frog and enlarging each organ so it is the size of a basketball for more in-depth study.
How can a digital twin campus strengthen an educational delivery model beyond the quarantine days of Covid-19?
- Post-Covid, when students can again join together on a physical campus, the world will have changed and expectations will have changed. Requiring students to gather in one physical location will not be the only model, but staring at a 2D computer screen expecting a superior education won’t either. The better option is to supplement both (and in some cases, replace them) with a digital twin of the campus where students can gather for meetings, classes, and private sessions with professors regardless of geography. The key here is real-time conversation in a spatial 3D world just like existing in the physical world (NOTE: I understand this is almost impossible to understand without experiencing it, but this short video may help take the mystery out of the concept.)
- A post-Covid world may well be more competitive for education dollars among students who have come to expect a superior remote education. Demonstrating how education can work on a virtual reality digital twin campus will show prospective students the opportunities and justify tuition. Even more, campus visits can occur on the actual, physical campus — as they do today, or, a $300 VR headset can be shipped to the student (with a return label) and a campus tour on the digital twin will happen. If the student enrolls, they keep the headset.
How does a digital twin campus improve the revenue model of a college or university?
- It’s expensive to build science labs, planetariums, history museums and new building wings in the real world. Additionally, it’s very expensive to purchase learning objects like human cadavers, artwork, desks and bricks and mortar. In the digital world, the costs for these assets plummet. In many cases, a digital twin campus and classroom will work as a more-than-suitable substitute. Instead of building the new planetarium out of bricks and mortar, build it in the digital world for 1% of the cost. A digital twin campus provides many opportunities to save money in a time of tightening budgets WHILE giving students a learning opportunity they will gush about to their parents and online.
- A digital twin campus opens the door to a more robust virtual campus and justifies tuition. While parents and students may not like paying for a 2D computer screen education, interacting on a digital twin campus with live classes and real-time conversations with professors provides an opportunity to dramatically expand online education much like Phoenix University did more than a decade ago. This is a growth area for tuition revenue in a marketplace that continues to become more competitive.
Consider these 10things that happen on a digital twin virtual reality campus that cannot happen in a real-world, physical campus:
- Expand a human organ and step inside it.
- Step into a Star Trek-style transporter and beam up to a starship to learn astronomy on a space walk.
- Expand the dissectible pig to the size of a school bus and space-walk through the organs and cavities as you learn about anatomy.
- View a wooly mammoth skeleton and then step onto a time machine and go back in time 40,000 years to walk among a herd of wooly mammoths.
- Travel to the Great Wall of China, stand upon it and learn the history and engineering of this structure — all in the space of one class period.
- Select from the world’s greatest paintings and organize an exhibit in a museum — and let every student do this in their own way.
- Watch a video about dinosaurs and then watch as the dinosaurs walk out of the screen and into the middle of the classroom.
- Learn Spanish language and culture at the Pyramid of the Moon, rather than a four-walled classroom.
- Learn molecular biology by expanding molecules to the size of a basketball.
- Gain a greater understanding of history by stepping back in time to the Roman Colosseum and touring it as a class just as it stood 2500 years ago.
The final consideration is the limits of video conferencing and the result has come to be known as Zoom fatigue. From Advisory Board:
More Americans today are using online video conferencing platforms such as Zoom to host work meetings or chat with friends and family. But the constant use has spurred complaints of so-called “Zoom fatigue,” and researchers say the condition’s causes go beyond just having too many virtual meetings on our schedules, Betsy Morris writes for the Wall Street Journal.
How does a college or university get started developing a virtual reality digital twin campus?
First, find a developer. There are a handful out there right now, but the technology is still a bit nascent, so there are not a lot right now. Of course, VictoryXR is always willing to have an initial conversation.
Second, get buy-in from administration. This is a far smaller project than raising a new physical building on campus, but the impact is likely to be much bigger. So, administration needs to embrace the effort.
Third, find a handful of professors willing to teach a lab or a few classes in virtual reality on the digital twin campus. While age does not matter, a true embrace of new technologies helps and a natural curiosity is a big benefit. Three to four professors is a great starting point for the launch.
Fourth, decide what buildings need to be a digital twin and which classrooms can be branded from existing pre-created classrooms. This is the single biggest factor in cost. The more buildings or classrooms that need to be developed as digital twins, the more expensive the process gets. If you can choose a couple key buildings and perhaps an iconic quad/commons, this will keep the cost down, rather than recreating every building. In the VictoryXR model, we already have many classes created, so rebranding the auditorium, planetarium or science lab is more efficient and less costly than starting from scratch.
Five, professors work with the VR curriculum team to convert their lessons into a VR environment. This is important because lessons need to be reimagined with assets that may not be available in the real world. For example, in the real world, human cadavers are expensive. In the virtual reality world, every student gets to hold a human heart in their hand.
Six, invest in the professional development to train professors how to teach on a digital twin campus. This includes using the platform, managing a class, manipulating objects, moving around and loading media. While this may sound complicated, our high school science teacher — Wendy Martin — will tell you it took her about 3–4 hours to be comfortable with these tools. So, it’s not too big of a lift. In fact, VictoryXR has created a full suite of professional development lessons inside of the virtual reality experience.
Seven, choose your hardware. The Oculus Quest 2 is the least expensive headset at $300 each, but it requires each headset to be tied to a personal Facebook account. If this doesn’t work for your campus, then consider the Vive Focus Plus or the Pico Neo II. These range in cost from $600-$800 each. The key is, they are all 6DOF headsets, which you need for true spatial learning. Do not settle for an inexpensive 3DOF headset for virtual world learning and your digital twin campus.
Eight, have a training day for students. Remember the first time you sat down at a computer and began finding your way around. It took a couple hours. Remember when you first got behind the wheel of a car, it took a few weeks. It’s the same with VR, students will figure it out quickly — especially the gamers, but having an afternoon where students are trained and come to know and understand their way around a virtual reality campus is a great orientation.
That’s about it. While I cannot speak for other development teams, at VictoryXR, our team will hold your hand through the process. Our curriculum specialist, Rene Gadelha, has helped many educators come to understand how to seamlessly integrate VR into a teaching environment and she uses her friendly charm to bring along even hesitant educators.
Colleges and universities will begin rapidly adopting digital twin campuses over the next 2–5 years. Early adopters will benefit from first-mover advantage.
Learn more at www.VictoryXR.com/campus.
Steve Grubbs is the founder of VictoryXR, the world’s leading virtual reality curriculum company. He is a former Chair of the House Education committee in the Iowa Legislature and has degrees in finance and law from the University of Iowa.
Foto: Guests tour the math lab on the VictoryXR Campus.