Immersive Reality Lab at TAMU-CC Takes Virtual Learning to New Heights

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – From virtual reality headsets to immersive virtual environments, the new Immersive Reality Lab (IRL) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is providing unique opportunities for Islander students, faculty, and staff to explore cutting-edge and interactive learning experiences. Funded by both institutional funds and CARES Act money, the need for the space became more important following the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing demand for virtual learning environments.

The IRL, located in the university’s Mary and Jeff Bell Library, uses the latest in extended reality (XR) software which includes virtual reality (VR) headsets equipped with HTC Vive Pro Eye technology. It also features Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) technology, a three-wall wrap-around highly-immersive projection space that provides XR experiences for one or more users at time. The CAVE utilizes lightweight stereoscopic glasses that offer users nearly complete freedom of movement and the ability to view rendered 3D objects from individual points of view.

“As XR technology continues to grow in popularity across various industries, it is important for students to have exposure to this technology and develop the necessary skills to work with it,” said Joseph Doan, TAMU-CC IRL Coordinator. Institutions that offer XR lab space and training can help students not only foster innovation, but it also helps prepare them for careers in fields such as engineering, gaming, health care, and more. The possibilities are limitless.”

Azalia Valadez ’23, graphic design major, said that she can see endless opportunities when pairing her coursework with the technology.

“My favorite part is the 3D drawing,” Valadez said. “There are a lot of options and effects to choose from and even the ability to create a full mural. As a graphic designer, we create content that’s meant to bridge the gap between the consumer and the brand, and with XR technology, there are no gaps in between. You are literally ‘in’ the art.”

Doan has conducted exploratory conversations with faculty in the areas of computer science, communication and media arts, psychology, counseling, art, chemistry, and physics on the possible integration of the IRL in their curriculum. In addition, the IRL is currently working with Dr. Callie Shaw, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, to implement the use of XR content into her classroom pedagogy.

“The accessibility of this technology truly places a phenomenal resource at the fingertips of our students,” Shaw said. “Traditional methods of teaching and learning in criminal justice often rely on theoretical concepts and hypothetical scenarios, which can sometimes feel detached from the reality of actual law enforcement situations. By leveraging the immersive technology available at the IRL, we saw an opportunity to provide our students with a more realistic and experiential learning environment.”

Islanders interested in using the IRL for academic courses, research, or development purposes are asked to meet with Doan to determine if the lab can meet their needs. Plans are in place to include external users as the IRL further develops its technological and collaboration capabilities.