In late December 2021, Dr. Roy Magnuson, associate professor of music composition and creative technology at Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts, contacted Craig Jackson, director of infrastructure and network operations in the Office of Technology Solutions, about a class he planned to teach in the first half of the spring 2022 semester. The course, titled “Exploring Creativity Through (World) Game Design and Virtual Reality in the Unity Game Engine,” was one of the honors exploration options for the semester. Honors Explorations are five-week, non-credit learning experiences that are open to 25 honors students from various majors and years of study. The class aimed for each student to build a working VR simulation from scratch in just five weeks.
Magnuson had previously taught a similar version of the class, based at the Milner Library, and had students working on their personal laptops. He had to give them access to the Unity software on their personal devices, which could be inconvenient at times. For this class, he decided to contact Tech Solutions, who he had partnered with on past projects, to see if there were any options that would benefit his students and their class – would they have space available? with 18 devices?
Jackson pitched the idea to his colleagues at Tech Solutions, who first considered the Digital Innovation, Graphics, and Gaming Studio (DIGGS) space. This was eventually dropped in favor of 113 Julian Hall – it had the space, the most machines, and had enough power for all students to use the Unity program simultaneously. It wasn’t until Magnuson started teaching in the room that he realized how amazing it was to have this kind of infrastructure built into the space. He said it “completely transformed what the classroom is pedagogically.” All students could retrieve files online or create in the program without having to adapt to system delays or overloads. The room also had room for a demo space (integral for VR) and an instructor’s station and was a flexible space that could be configured with input from Magnuson. Kevin Hand, Acting Executive Director of Business Administration and Communications at Tech Solutions, said, “We were able to adapt pedagogy to technology in a visible way with this project. You walk in and everything works.
Another benefit was having Endpoint Support, an area of Tech Solutions, nearby for backup. Endpoint helped with everything from testing machines before students started class, to making sure all software was up to date, to intervening when audio wasn’t working. According to Richie Szaflarski, head of Endpoint Support, the biggest challenge was finding six additional computers suitable for the technology needs of Magnuson’s class before the start of the semester. The space had 12 Alienware Aurora R7 desktops, which “are more powerful than our average customer’s workstation.” But there would be 18 students participating in the class. Fortunately, they were able to acquire six Acer Predator Orion 3000 desktop computers on loan from a partner company just in time!
The students received positive feedback on their experience in this class and not only completed their VR experience at the end of the five weeks, but also pushed themselves to try side projects or imagine ways it could be used. in the future. Magnuson shared that students exploring on their own created bowling alleys and even a parkour course.
Acting Junior Major Katie Friemann added, “As a theater major who focuses on performance, I don’t often get to work with technology or the technological side of things. I’ve learned that the possibilities for game design and VR are endless if you have the time, creativity, and patience. In the future, I want to explore creating some sort of interactive gallery for artists like me to showcase and get community feedback on monologues, songs, visual art, and other forms of art. ‘art. I would love to bring VR technology to the world of theater and entertainment, and this exploration has helped me show that this crossover is much easier and more realistic than I ever imagined.
Overall, this partnership between Dr. Magnuson and Tech Solutions is seen as a pilot for future opportunities between academic and technology areas at the University. The hope is to provide a model for reserving this space and similar spaces and to train students in new technologies, so that they can participate in their peers’ access to spaces and resources. Magnuson emphasized how “myself and the honors are deeply grateful for this opportunity. It was so crazy to have this space and these machines with all the facilities and hand cut wires ready for our class. It was impressive. It also allowed students to see in real time the value added to their experience.
“When we’re approached with an innovative idea, we’re here to do our best to say ‘yes’,” says Hand. Magnuson is already using the space for an upper-level classroom this fall, and Technology Solutions is open to hearing from other faculty and staff how our campus spaces can be used or even transformed to meet student needs and become the computer labs of the future. .
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