Building a Metaversity at South Dakota State University

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Greg Heiberger, Associate Dean of Academics & Student Success at South Dakota State University joins the podcast to talk about how the metaverse can make our in-person students’ educational experience more immersive, and our online students’ experience more communal.

You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect e D U podcast network. I'm Eric Olsen with Helix Education and we're here today with Dr Greg Heiberger, Associate Dean of academics and Student Success at South Dakota State University. Greg, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for having me, Eric. We're excited to have you and talk with you today about your steps towards building a metaversity at South Dakota state. But before we dig in, can you do the listeners a little background on both South Dakota State University and your role there? Yes, South Dakota State University is a mid sized public land grant on the eastern side of the State of South Dakota. We're in Brookings, which is a community of about twenty five thousand. We have about twelve thousand students on our campus throughout our undergraduate graduate programs and and as a land grant, have a strong history and egg and engineering, but also have really strong programs in pharmacy, nursing, education, arts and sciences as well. And in my role as Associate Dean I serve the College of Natural Sciences, which includes biology, microbiology, chemistry, Biochemistry, geography and Physics, and I also teach in the biology department, do research really focused on inventions supporting student success and I coordinate a master's program and accelerated Master's program and human biology for students who are intending to apply to and get accepted into medical school. And the university continues to go deeper and deeper into the digital world to Greg it. To kick us off, can you give us a high level overview on your partnership with Meta and the metaversity version of South Dakota state you're building? So our partnership really is with Victory Xr, which is an educational technology company out of Davenport, Iowa, and that partnership really started after a lot of exploration on our end. And so victory xr has been in the VR space and the Ad Tech Space for for quite a while. They have a partnership directly with Meta. And then essentially they have chosen victory. XR has chosen ten universities to build out twin digital replicas of their campus. and and how our trajectory kind of happened here? I'm a Colorado State University Grad, got my PhD from there, and South Dakota State University happen to be playing them in our homework in our in our first football game of the year, we were out in Fort Collins and southcore state had just started to open up a brand new three quarter million dollar human anatomy lab and Colorado State had a sixty million dollar anatomy building, and so we were there just learning about what was happening at Colorado state and they have an entire floor in that building that was dedicated to Vr. They have a hundred VR headsets hanging from the ceiling. I had, you know, very limited experience with VR. was really intrigued by it, but historically we had just kind of been priced out of the market. South dakostate university pretty low price point, tuition Um really, you know, an approachable land grant undergraduate experience, and so we just didn't have the ability to be in that VR space. But we were really inspired by that experience. You know, we walked in, me and some of the fellow staff at South Dakota state walked into that VR anatomy experience and we're able to to kind of do that magic school bus experience of through a beating heart and we really knew that. You know, we were thinking about it from the anatomy perspective at that point it but we were building a cadaver program.

We we had a cadaver program and we're building a brand new lab. We were building out a model lab, but we didn't have the technology at South Dakota state at at the time. So we're really inspired, we're excited. We were a little deflated because we left that realizing that each one of those headsets we put on were connected to a three thousand dollar gaming computer, gaming computers in the ceiling. They had their own HVAC system cooling the room and cooling those computers and again felt like, you know, a little bit unapproachable. But what we did is we kept exploring, we kept looking for the lower cost entry points into vr. Really found the quest too. As as an opportunity. There wasn't much of an ecosystem around the software at that point, but it was it was growing. We could see a few APPS starting to come out in anatomy, in chemistry, in some of the in geography, some of the things that that we acutely cared about in the college and Natural Sciences here at South Dakota State. And so we bought a few headsets, we started testing, we found some some value. We had a few more headsets, we put them in a suit case, we took them on the road, we went to high schools, we used them in some recruiting and so we really kind of started in that. That that low risk entry point at that point and I started to really look for funding opportunities. I happened to to bump into victory x to are actually while I was on a conference call about some grants and and opportunities around external funding to be able to make this happen and and ended up getting some time with their CEO at Victory Xr and and a few weeks later, a few months later, whatever that that timeline looked like, South Dakota state was chosen to be one of the first met diversities and so really what that ended up being is that we provided imagery, we provided information so that our campus could be built out in the VR space and specifically, we also built out, in addition to our campus, green and kind of the notable South Dakota state memorable things that our alumni might might associate with, like our campany hill or historic buildings. We also built out organic chemistry lab to SPEC exactly how are our current face to face students will experience organic chemistry. We built out our anatomy lab, that lab that I talked about US opening just this last year, and we built that out to SPEC and we'll have you know, cadaver experience and model experience in Vr just in a similar way as you would have it face to face. And then we also built out our American Indian student center and we have an interesting and, I think, unique pro project launching around data sovereignty in American Indian student or American Indian cultural content knowledge and capture in Vr. So really utilizing our expertise in the tribal communities and our expertise in data sovereignty at South Dakota State University and some of our alumni to help guide a project around data sovereignty in that space. So so as we're launching them adversity. That's one component of what we're doing. We're going to teach organic chemistry and anatomy with virtual reality components this fall. But we're also going to continue this outreach piece. So I mentioned, you know, sticking some headsets in a suitcase and taking them to highchool. WE'RE gonna keep down that path and continue to to support high school science and high school teachers that maybe don't have access to this technology, maybe don't have the expertise in this technology, and be able to engage students. And then we're also in some children's museums and boys and girls clubs and we'll continue down that path as well. And then the third piece of kind of our VR initiative is workforce development. And so South Dakota, although it's a rural state, has a growing and really impactful biotech sector, and so thinking about getting biotech career opportunities or inspiration or hands on experiences to a rural community three d miles west of where that that biotech industry might be in in rural South Dakota is a tough thing, right to get high school kids into a manufacturing environment or to get into some sort of on the job training is pretty tough, but with Vr we can put those those headsets in...

...a suitcase and get them to a high school or get them into some some on the job training. So lots of things in the pipeline and lots of work ahead of us, but those are kind of our three the three tenants or the three areas that we're really moving forward in the VR space. You mentioned this magic school bus experience that you were able to have. That, AH, had you to the potential and the possibility. For those cynics and the skeptics listening who haven't seen and felt that, who here you say we're building a digital replica of our university and are going, what is this like second life some crazy Greg fifteen years ago? Try to convince me of that one. That didn't take off. How much of this is merely novelty or are there truly improved learning outcomes we're looking for here? So I certainly think the skeptics need to engage, and so I would just invite skeptics to get a headset on and to engage in the in this space and to do so with that Educational Lens. For a couple of reasons. One we need more innovators in the space. We need more educators in the space helping to drive the bus, making sure that it doesn't only become about clicks and time and the ability to sell ads and capture data, that it truly moves in the direction of education. There are certainly great educational APPs that are out there, but we need more educators in the space, and so I just encouraged. You know, if you haven't had the experience, you need to have it because you can't describe it. You can't look at a youtube video of somebody in Vr and say I know what Vr is. You have to you have to experience it and I do think that novelty has some value. So I want to start there because I think what we have to realize is that motivation and engagement and interest does matter. It matters to a thirteen year old, it matters to a college student. We need to keep folks engaged in difficult content and difficult conversations, in a problem solving and and technology can in some ways help us do that. It's not a panacea. I'm not a rose colored glasses about this. There are certainly risks, they're certainly downsides to this but I but I would also say one of the things that has helped our faculty to start to see the value is when they see business and industry out there utilizing this. And so if I if I take a really specific example, you put a headset on a chemistry faculty member and they can hold a certain molecule or they can take d n a or covid or whatever that is and stretch it out and make it as large as they want and spin it in three D and VR and hand it to a student. They might do that and then they might go, oh, that's cool, but we got other things right, we we got that's just kind of a shiny object. But when they start to see that no v Artists is out there developing drugs for clinical trial in nanome, which is an APP that that exists in VR and it's three D, and when they start to see that there's really high end fidelity and data that can be input into some of these APPs. Specifically, there's a there's an anatomy APP that you can upload real CT Scans, real M R s that physicians are engaging across, you know, geographic expanses to collaborate together on a patient case that's happening in engineering at Caterpillar as they design cabs for loaders or tractors or whatever they're designing. They're they're engaging between Shanghai and New York City and VR looking at that tractor cab or looking at that loader. They're thinking about that when they're developing drugs at novartists and engaging across geographic expanse and being able to do things that that honestly, you just you can't do in real life. And so I don't want to be an advocate for and and would not not be an advocate for taking away that real life experience. But when we think about doing better than zoom or when we think about doing things we can't do even if we are physically together, I do think Vr and a r has some potential. And so, you know,...

I think we need to trust educators that that they can and they will make good decisions about when and where this fits. But I don't think that we should allow ourselves to be in the space that this is not where we want to go. This is not a place that we want to educate students, because our students need the skills that will be developed in Vr and are experiences. They need to know how to collaborate there, they need to know how to solve problems there, they need to know how to communicate in those spaces. And so I think as we look at developing workforce, developing skills that we know higher it is focused on and developing technical skills, whether that's health, science, arts, history, there are technical skills that can be developed in this space that the future of society is going to be asking for, honestly is asking for now, and that I think we need to to be thoughtful about and and inclusive about with those faculties. So, coming back to your question, yes, there's some novelty to it. Is the quest to going to be what is used moving forward? I don't think so, but I think it's a step in the direction of starting to get our faculty to to engage in the space and and explore and figure out when and where and how this makes sense in terms of supporting learning outcomes. And then I think the same thing for our students. Our students are going to use something different than zoom or skype or whatever the product is today, but we need to think about how we build those skills in those spaces so that they can be transferable to whatever the next big thing is, whatever the next the next APP is. And and come back to the learning outcomes. You know, there's some exploratory research and a few really good studies that have come out already about VR. It's just not as expansive as most of us would like, but that's where we're at in in this emerging research space. So there are certainly things you can't do face to face without major financial costs. So taking field trips back in time or taking field trips to current and present spaces, you know one given a pandemic, but to given the reality of the costs of travel and the time costs of that. That that there are certainly things you can do in Vr that that you just you know, you can't take covid and and make it ten thousand times as large and be able to really look at the spike protein in two d the same way that you can do that in three D or VR. The same thing with DNA, the same thing with a human cell, the same thing with the human brain or heart or or whatever that is. I loved hearing you talk through some of those use cases. Let's talk about the different student types that might interact and play in our metaversities. How might the metaverse make our in person students educational experience more immersive, and how might it make our online students experience more communal? So I think those are both really important and, I think, important components that we were looking for as we moved forward. We we certainly, and I want to give credit to our faculty as they pivoted during Covid did a great job at engaging in simulations, engaging in zoom breakout rooms, trying to be both immersive and communal. But there were limitations and that was a quick pivot and now that we've got some time to really think through this, test this, move this forward, I do think VR has has opportunities in both of those those areas. So in the immergative piece, again, coming back to the sciences, which is which is where I said, but I think this could be applied to almost any academic area and I think anybody, from an engineer to someone in the health professions to an English major, could find ways to think of a use case here. But when I think about immersive, I think about our pivot to zoom and we used some simulations that were like a lab, but they were generally one directional. It was kind of like Youtube video that she clicked play on every a few minutes, or you...

...you had to do a step every few minutes. But that wasn't really like science, sciences, iterative science, in the real world. There are problems, things don't work, you have to take a step back, you have to engage and ask a faculty member a question, and so I think you know, one of the things I really like about the metversity piece is that it is live. They're certainly an ability to pre record pieces. We could prerecord a kick off to a lab. We could pre record and give very structured steps to how to complete a lab or how to engage in a certain space. But one of the great things about it is that it has that live component and so students can be in lab together completing and experience, engaging with each other, engaging with their faculty, having that kind of iterative process that that just maybe can't happen in a simulation. Simulations tend to be one directional and either move forward or you don't, and real life, real labs, real experimentation, tends to to be a little bit more iterative and engaged and Q and a with faculty or your peer or your mentor. And then I think the communal pieces also really tied to that in the sense that you can feel isolated anywhere. You can certainly feel isolated in an online class where there there's not structure to that engagement, there's not group work, or your faculty member maybe isn't using the breakout rooms and zoom or isn't doing and kind of structuring the educational experience to to engage with your peers or even with them. But I think VR will to some extent force the hand right. Well, we'll we'll move that process down the road just by its very nature. And and so you know you're gonna essentially be an environment, be in an environment where there are twenty people in the virtual room and where it will feel like engaging them in small groups makes sense, where they are asking questions, where they are physically moving and raising their hand. And you know, the zoom lecture might not feel like that. You know, as somebody who can can lecture on Zoom, you can minimize all the rest of the windows and just keep looking through your power slides. And I think that the immersive peace, again in the sciences, holding a Beaker, holding a human brain and VR walking through a beating heart, flying a VR drone, you know from our geography angle like that. Those are immersive. Those are things you're doing, you're leading, your touching, your kind of guiding as the student. And then I think the communal peace, just by the very nature of the live component or the live ability of the VR mediversity piece has has a lot of promise. Yeah, I love the promise. Let's talk through the timeline and the metaversity maturity curve here. So you're currently building out a virtual version, like digital replica, of your physical campus. How long until your students are virtually walking to class? How long until your students are getting to experience that magic school bus experience that you mentioned, with faculty throwing atoms at them to help them visualize signs without limitations? How much of this promise is really, really far away? So we started down this process in March. We really hit the ground running in April and May and started to provide imagery video photography to be able to build the campus. The campus was built and loaded into VR by early July, and so this month we've really been testing and tweaking. We we actually this week and next week kept students and faculty in there engaging with each other again, kind of learning that the technical components of it and and we're also just kind of fine tuning making sure that that everything needs our our standards. In reality, we will have students and faculty in Anatomy and Inorganic Chemistry doing the things you're talking about, being able to engage with our faculty do experiments or be able to hand everyone v our human heart and be able to talk through the components and have discussions and and really learn...

...in this space by late August, early September. So there's a really quick turnaround for us and a huge part of that was the victory xr component. It just wasn't something we could build up in house and if it did, it would have cost tens of thousands of dollars and would have taken much, much more time. So because of their expertise in their in house designers and and they've got some faculty development expertise there too. So part of this is that our faculty have a certificate program that they're going through so that they're learning not only the technical components of VR of the software and hardware, but also the pedagogical approaches that that translate, that that they have access to, that that they'll be able to to utilize as they engage in this space. So so they're kind of two things moving at the same time. Over the last few months. One was building out the campus, the other one was getting our faculty ready, and now our next piece in August here is getting the headsets out to the students and then late August, early September faculty and student will be in that in that space engaging. Yeah, for institutions, thinking about the cost element here. Because of your partnership, you get this Nice headset head start of this fifty free oculus headsets. What are the other real fiscal costs? As institutions are thinking about this and budgeting, perhaps going at this alone without this partner, what are the big budget item lines they need to think through in terms of let's find a greg at our campus and let's start experimenting versus like no, it's more of an ex commitment if you want to even start exploring in a serious way. Yeah, I do think you know your comment about finding a champion is key. I do think there's an ability to start small and and not necessarily say, you know, in a month we're going to have multiple classes that are utilizing this. I think because it's such a new technology and it's it's being co opted essentially into the educational space, that really starting small would be where I would start. But I think even they're, you know, getting connected with with I t, not just in the formality components, but as you think about students engaging in this, they need to be able to have, you know, we have a help desk and I t help desk. We have to train that I t help desk to to not just understand Microsoft and Maxim Linux, but but to understand and how to problem solve in a headmounted display right in vr be able to do that, because that that can't only be on our faculty or only on on the curricular side of things. I certainly think there's also, you know, a student safety and privacy that we have to keep engaging in and making sure that we're providing appropriate training, information and and opportunities to to keep people safe. And then, you know, faculty development is a lot of time and and I think what we need to just keep doing is getting faculty in the hardware and the software, their content experts, their pedagogical experts, they've been teaching or doing research, engaging in a non VR space for early long time. They need time to think about, to engage, to Co opt these new technologies, and so I think that there there is a spin up time. You can't expect to hand out headsets and say go for it. And at the same time there's some pretty amazing faculty that have been doing the stuff on their own, and I didn't know about it right, that have been thinking about it, buying a headset here and buying an app there and and really thinking about man, if I could spin this up, and once they hear that there's an opportunity, then they're raising their hands saying, oh, I already know about an APP, I already know about software piece that that could really help my students in this class or in this scenario. So I think, you know, the costs are hard to define specifically, but I certainly think at every campus it's a little bit different, but mostly you likely need a champion and then you need somebody that can can help to navigate the faculty and the I t and the student component throughout the process and likely the explaining wait, what? What? What is this all again? Greg, start over here. What do this? Greg, such helpful stuff...

...in such thorough context. Leave us with some next steps? Advice for institutions listening to this a little bit nervous that you seem to be a few steps ahead of their institutions learning curve and building curve on this. They want to start thinking through their institutions metaverse experience. What are their next step? Baby steps. Well, come back to start small. Build a team of adaptable early adopters. I mean there are likely within your community folks who have had these experiences or have at least dabbled in it, and are are willing and able to pivot right, are willing and able to say I'm not only tied to this hardware, this software, this thing, and I think those are the folks you want at the beginning. And then, I think, as you move forward, realize you're actually not that far behind the curve. There aren't that many universities that are that are outdoing this. Certainly the I vs have the internal funding and the internal expertise. They've been building prototypes for for these types of things for a long time. They've been doing this. But but think about your institutional context, your mission, where does it make sense? Where's your risk what's your risk capability? But then, you know, find partners. Reach out to us at South Dakotat state. I mean more than willing to have conversations individually with folks. As as you're starting to move forward. I've learned a lot from colleagues that are further ahead than us that have figured out some of the software or some of the log in or some of the multi device management pieces that that I hadn't had figured out. So I don't know that any one institution, anyone person has all the answers, but I think it's build that small team of folks at your campus and then reach out and whatever we can do. Those of us in the metaversity cohort, the ten of us, are really willing and supportive group. I'm certain that that everyone would be willing to answer questions or supportive if there's something that we feel like we can help you with. Greg, thank you so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to reach out if they have any follow up questions? You can find my contact info out on the STC date dotty to u website. At my university website. You can follow me connect with me on twitter at Greg underscore hybrider. I think those are probably the two best best ways to to get connected if there's something I could be helpful with. Awesome, Greg, thanks so much for joining us today. Thanks so much for having me. It was great. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Education Dot Com. Slash playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time, M hm.

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