Mixed reality tech brings lab experience to students at home

September 25, 2020

After over half a year of working from home, everyone has had to get a little creative and especially those in the field of education. DMSE’s own Orla Wilson has gone to infinity and beyond with futuristic tech to engage her students learning from home for a second consecutive semester. With the HoloLens2 experience, Wilson aims to put students in the lab and using equipment in real time.

HoloLens is a mixed reality platform made by Microsoft which allows the user, wearing the iconic smartglasses, to create a 3D environment featuring holograms, geotags, live menu systems and more. The user wearing the headset can see these things seemingly floating around them in any room or space and grab, resize and manipulate the items in real time using their hands. Mixed reality technology is currently being used in fields from healthcare to entertainment; you can even use it on apps of popular furniture stores to imagine what a specific chair or table will look like in your own living room!

Orla is wearing the smartglasses which wrap around her head. She holds her hands up as she is viewing and manipulating something in mixed reality, only visible to her.

Orla Wilson, wearing the HoloLens2 smartglasses, manipulates something in mixed reality from her home office.

Because the HoloLens allows for both physical and virtual objects to interact in real time, it can be used to explore lab equipment students aren’t able to interact with in person due to social distancing safety measures. Wilson hopes to use the technology to show students logged in to her Materials Science Lab class from home learn about physical equipment like the SEM while getting live information from interactive virtual labels. Junior MSE major and computer-integrated surgery minor, Ese Bowry is helping Wilson and the team develop programming for the platform to make this happen sometime in the ’20-’21 academic year.

When it is safe to do so, Wilson envisions sending one student per each lab group into the lab and equipped with the HoloLens so they can complete the lab assignment with their group members tuned in at home to help guide them.

“I know I am tired of watching pre-recorded instructional videos,” said Wilson, “I just want to give the students as real and engaging an experience as possible.”

The HoloLens technology was acquired with funds from the 2020 Digital Education & Learning Technology Acceleration (DELTA) Grants. 2020 marks the third year of the DELTA grant program, a University-wide funding initiative through the Office of the Provost to supply classrooms and faculty with new and much needed digital technology and anyone can apply. Principal Investigators including Wilson, Luo Gu, Patty McGuiggan, and Sakul Ratanalert of the Whiting School of Engineering, and Robert Leheny and Meredith Safford of the Krieger School of the Arts, were recognized with the award and are working on how they will incorporate the technology over the next few years.

“It’s fun to learn something new along with the students,” said Wilson. “We’re all having to adapt and get a little awkward to do the best we can learning from home.”



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