XR@ASU creates new immersive learning experiences


October 12, 2020

You may have heard about different kinds of alternative realities, whether virtual (VR), augmented (AR) or mixed (MR). They all blend physical and digital worlds in unique ways, and together form the concept of extended reality (XR).

As a leader in exploring the potential for technology-enabled learning, Arizona State University is at the forefront of what President Michael Crow calls “the fourth realm of teaching and learning,” which focuses on “education through exploration.” So it is no surprise that ASU is at the forefront of understanding the novel and deeper learning opportunities afforded by these kinds of immersive activities and experiences.  Download Full Image

XR@ASU came together through the Immersive Learning through Extended Reality work stream from the Learning Futures Collaboratory, which also included the Embodied Games Lab at ASU, the Meteor Studio at ASU and individuals from EdPlus and UTO. With six immersive experiences already on display, and more on the way, XR@ASU has already begun shaping a new way of learning.

Real-world learning experiences

One of those experiences, developed by the Embodied Games Lab, is a COVID Campus Simulation that highlights eight key decisions to illustrate the probability of infection from the novel coronavirus. This informative experience shows how an ASU community member’s decisions, including distancing, masking and transportation choices, can keep others safe.

“Players should leave the game understanding not only how their decisions affect their own health, but also how individual decisions affect group health,” said Mina C. Johnson-Glenberg, Embodied Games Lab head.

Embodied Games also developed a bite-size, engaging game to illustrate the concept of natural selection. Catch a Mimic, designed for fifth graders through college-level students, demonstrates the biological concept of Batesian mimicry, the ability of an animal to present itself as toxic to avoid predators, through an interactive simulation.

Student-designed XR

Robert LiKamWa, assistant professor at the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, leads the Meteor Studio in designing and researching XR.

“We put together teams of students to collaborate on different XR projects at the intersection of technical and creative development,” LiKamWa said. “I'm also helping to give high-level direction to the projects, but the students are really taking charge with leading the projects where they need to go.”

Students led other ASU-centric learning experiences. For example, Career Arcade (currently in its beta form) will take users into the jobs their fields of study could lead to. With environments for planetary scientists, public health scientists, structural engineers and more to come, the Career Arcade will enrich and aid in the process of setting into the professional world.

A look inside the Career Arcade, currently in its beta form

“We've also decided to focus on how Arizona State University contributes to these fields,” said Brayden Jenkins, the student project director of Career Arcade. “For example, in the Planetary Science room, you can play with meteorites from ASU's meteorite vault or view satellites built with the help of ASU at one-to-one scale.”

The genesis of the project was to add another layer to the learning experience that continues even past ASU.

“Our hope is that anyone can enter the Career Arcade and leave inspired and excited for the future of these careers,” Jenkins said.

Also coming soon is the ASU Virtual Tutoring Simulation, led by Aashiq Shaikh. The mock tutoring experience provides an in-depth look at the process of virtual tutoring, bringing to its users information about the process and best practices for preparing for a tutoring session. In collaborating with the ASU Tutoring Center to ensure that his simulation is an accurate portrayal of its services, Shaikh found new light for those in need of tutoring.

“It is especially important now, as more and more students need online tutoring from home to succeed in their classes, but aren't sure what to expect,” he said.

ASU students Linda Nguyen and Brandon Thomas handled the front-end and back-end development of the ASU Scavenger Hunt, respectively. The project guides users to landmarks around ASU’s Tempe campus for a fully virtual experience or to visit in the real world (socially distanced and masked up, of course).

“We envision this app being utilized across ASU 101 courses as an engaging, gamified way for new students to familiarize themselves with ASU,” Nguyen said.

The app is available now, but Nguyen and her team are already thinking of ways to improve it (such as adding ASU’s other campuses) and reflecting on the whole process.

“The overall development process was a fun, collaborative and valuable experience that gave us more in-depth knowledge and practice in numerous areas of mobile app development, including databases, security, user interface design and cross-platform compatibility,” she said.

A companion to the Scavenger Hunt displays ASU at a different scale. The ASU 360 Virtual Campus immerses users in a number of 360-degree “portals” across ASU’s four Valley campuses. Designed as a tool to archive university events and provide virtual tours in the time of COVID-19, the 360 Virtual Campus is also seen, by lead developer Alireza Bahremand and his team, as a constant resource in the future.

“We envision that in the years to come, ASU will become a hybridized campus that merges the virtual and physical world,” Bahremand said. “This platform is one of the first steps towards building a hybridized experience that connects in-person and online students to explore the university.”

Editorial specialist, University Technology Office

ASU collection of rare, historically significant books made accessible to the public online

October 12, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for National Book Month. Read more from this series: 16 books to read this Halloween.

“The Federalist Papers,” a collection of short essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay in 1788, is one of the most well-known pro-Constitution writings. A first-edition printing of this book, along with 23 other rare books and manuscripts related to significant figures, moments, ideas, debates and movements from American history, can be explored through Arizona State University’s Civic Classics Collection.

The collection, maintained by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, the Center for Political Thought and Leadership and ASU Library, covers a range of topics including the founding of America, political economy, race and America, civil rights history and activism, and first peoples.

Paul Carrese, founding director of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, first established the collection in 2017 in collaboration with senior members of the university administration. Since then, the collection has grown to further research in American political thought and support civic education within and beyond the classroom. 

Jakub Voboril, a postdoctoral scholar in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, joined the project after the first handful of items were purchased and helps coordinate the school’s efforts with the library.

Gettysburg Address


A photo of Abraham Lincoln’s
Gettysburg Address (1864) from 
a first-edition copy of "Autograph 
Leaves of Our Country's Authors," 
in Lincoln's handwriting from the 
Civic Classics Collection.

“We slowly began to collect items such as a first-edition printing of ‘The Federalist;’ a first-edition printing of Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations;’ a contemporaneous printing of the Seneca Falls Declaration or Declaration of Sentiments printed in Frederick Douglass’ North Star newspaper; two signed, first-edition books by Martin Luther King Jr.; a first-edition printing of Frederick Douglass’ biography; and many more,” Voboril said.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the books and manuscripts were regularly on display through public programming. Although no-cost appointments for individuals to view the collection are still currently available, those involved in the project hope to return to normal in-person programming as soon as possible. 

“We want to continue to increase access to the collection, and we are committed to the collection being a public civic education resource for all Arizonans,” Voboril said. “We are constantly brainstorming new ideas to allow more and more people to engage with it. Our virtual guide is a big step in this direction ... but nothing can quite replace seeing the books in person, so we want to hit the ground running when in-person display of our collection becomes possible again.”

Through the virtual guide, a number of materials from the collection have been made available online. On the website, users can explore different titles through videos, text, photographs, learning activities and more.

Voboril said he realized how powerful and moving these books can be when he took one of his classes to visit the library and see a few of the items up close and personal.

“I remember the awe one student displayed when she got to see our copy of ‘The Federalist’ and the excitement of another student upon seeing our copy of the Seneca Falls Declaration. I have been fortunate enough to see these responses subsequently replicated many times. It is wonderful to share a great treasure with others.”

Over the years, countless ASU staff and faculty have contributed to the development of the collection and its associated online resources including library leaders Jim O’DonnellLorrie McAllister and Kathy Krzys, as well as Voboril and Carrese. Throughout the fall semester, three undergraduate students, Anusha Natarajan, Bronwyn Doebbeling and Kathryn Clark have also been helping to improve the virtual guide.

Julie Tanaka, who recently joined the library as curator of rare books and manuscripts and interim head of distinctive collections, said she looks forward to bringing her expertise in rare materials and teaching with special collections to enhance the programming already in place and to expand the use of the collection.

“With the original core of the Civic Classics Collection as the foundation, I would like to build this collection into one of Distinctive Collections' featured collections, expanding the purview to provide the historical context for the ideas that are in these important pieces of American thought and to situate them in a comparative, global perspective,” Tanaka said.

Moving forward, those involved in the project are eager to add to the collection, with plans to widen the diversity of voices and topics included while placing American political thought in a global, comparative context. 

“My hope is that visitors to our collection will find themselves moved by what they see and motivated to engage seriously with the ideas and debates these items contain and become more thoughtful, reflective citizens,” Voboril said. “In this way, the collection would fulfill its purpose to advance both our school’s and the university’s efforts to promote civic education.

Interested in viewing the collection? Reach out to the library directly, or contact Voboril at jakub.voboril@asu.edu.