New virtual reality lab now a part of the programming at Northeast Tech

Thanks to a $50,000 grant, Instructor Kali Ward is incorporating a virtual reality lab into her curriculum at Northeast Tech. Augmented Virtual Reality (AVR) is an emerging technology being used in classroom settings to provide students with immersive, 3D experiences on topics normally presented in a two-dimensional realm.

“With this software, my students have access to more than 200,000 learning environments where they can explore, build, dissect and quiz over their specific training topic,” Ward said. “Through virtual reality, the students can take on real-world problems without suffering real-world repercussions.” 

Ward oversees the Business Administration, Multimedia and Graphics (BAMG) program at Northeast Tech’s Afton Campus. One of the most complex programs offered at Northeast Tech, students in Ward’s class train in everything from graphic design and computer programming to web design and now, virtual reality.

 “I partnered with 3DreamStudios out of Owasso to purchase the complete lab which includes a Zspace computer, 3D projector, and 3DreamStudio's custom Virtual Reality Education System database, a HTC Vive Headset, 10 Oculus Go's and a 3D printer,” Ward said.

Funding for the technology comes from a High Growth and Emerging Technologies Grant for which Ward applied and was awarded, but the idea of incorporating virtual reality technology into her program came from Ward’s advisory committee.

“For all of our programs, we have advisory councils made up of industry professionals who give us input on new and emerging trends within their industry,” said Ward. “The use of AVR is exploding in industry, and it’s something I want my students to be ready and able to tackle when they leave here.”

Aside from giving students the technical skills they need to prepare for certifications and the workplace, Northeast Tech’s new AVR Lab will also strengthen and expand community partnerships.

“Our long-term goals with the lab include making it available to our industry partners, our sending schools, and the community,” Ward said. “By utilizing the lab to promote business and industry in our rural community, we’re in turn promoting local economic development.”

The projected demand for multimedia artists and animators in Oklahoma will increase by five percent from 2012 to 2024. The median wage in 2016 was $65,300 nationally and $50,200 for workers in Oklahoma, while workers in the top 10% earned an average of around $74,080 in Oklahoma.

Ward is confident the new technology will improve her students job outlook, but the BAMG students won’t be the only ones who benefit from the new technology. Instructors of programs such as health careers, pre-engineering and electrical technology are also trying to find ways to utilize virtual reality in their classrooms.  

“Several other instructors on the campus have stopped by to learn about the technology and get ideas for how they might be able to incorporate virtual reality it into their curriculum as well,” Ward said. “The instructors have a blast getting have hands-on experience with the equipment, and the time we spend together allows us to collaborate on how the lab is applicable to their specific classes.”