CTI Podcast - Episode 34: Virtual & Augmented Reality with Aundrea Frahm


Tony Pellegrini: Good morning. Good morning SUU friends, Tony Pellegrini here with Teaching and Learning at Southern Utah University, our podcast series a month, a month, we get together with a wonderful faculty, students, staff to address teaching and learning on campus. And today, we are very pleased to have Aundrea Frahm with us from the CTI office. And she's the AR and VR director in that office, we're going to be talking to her about some exciting opportunities that she's going to be providing for SUU this next year and beyond for us. Aundrea, could you take a moment or two? Tell us a little about yourself.

Aundrea Frahm: Yes, thank you so much, Tony. So I came from the art, high art world. And I was a professor of art and art education in different ways for about eight years, but I was always very interested in virtual reality and augmented reality. And I kind of brought VR to campus to the MakerSpace. In 2020, actually, it was 2021. Then after that, we had an opportunity to write a grant. And so that's kind of how all of this was born from this innovative funds grant. And I'm looking forward to sharing more about that. 

Tony Pellegrini: You're we're gonna put you in we're gonna put you on the spot here in just a moment. You know, without a vision, the people perish, I appreciate that vision and, and coming from that art background understanding where you could connect with these wonderful opportunities to support SUU through these, through this grant. So let's just start there. That's really what our listeners would like to hear today. Tell us a little about the grant, a little about how it came to be, how you became aware of it and how you got involved with it. And then we'll I've got additional questions about how we can get involved with it as we move forward. 

Aundrea Frahm: Wonderful. So first, I was here as an assistant professor in art and art education, I found this, I was introduced to this app called gravity sketch. And essentially, it was sculpting in VR. And I was so excited, you can actually sculpt with the controllers, and it's additive, and subtractive, which I had never seen any applications like that before. And you then can 3D print the thing you sculpt. And so for me, I have a sculpture background, as well as an immersive performance background. And so that was very exciting. And so I took that to the MakerSpace. And they were like, oh, let's get some headsets. Let's like, you know, start kind of checking this out. And then there was an opportunity to write a proposal for the innovative funds grant that was given by USHE up here in the state. Me and five other faculty helped write that grant. And so it was Jim Brant, Richard Cozzens, then Kirk B, Jeff Cowley. I'm sorry, if I'm saying all these wrong, the names, pronunciation, and then Brandon Wiggins, all of us worked together to write that grant, and we spent our Christmas break writing it. And then after that, we heard back, actually, we didn't think we got it, because we didn't hear anything until the end of April. So the semester had already passed. And then we heard that we got it. And within that grant, there was a director position. Inside it, there was an interview process. And I was so grateful to be able to switch roles, and really dive deep into virtual reality and augmented reality with this Innovation Studio. 

Tony Pellegrini: Exciting, exciting. So let's go to some of the details. How long does this grant go? What are some of the components that you'll be bringing now that you have these resources to SUU to help our teachers and our students in virtual and augmented reality?

Aundrea Frahm: Thank you. So the grant was for close to a million dollars. And it does sound like a lot of money in the beginning. But we also have remodeling costs and salaries. And then we have student workers. And then we have software and headsets. And so it all starts to add up. But what our main goal is, is to have the opportunity to share and educate all faculty, staff and students about VR and AR. Because right now, I think there's a perception that VR is all about games, and that it's viewed as just as kind of fun like, this is what my teenage.

Tony Pellegrini: It’s still is fun though, right?

Aundrea Frahm: Yes. It is fun, but I feel I My goal is to be able to widen the perception of what VR and AR can be used for specifically in higher education. Because to me, it's very exciting all of the different ways to use VR and AR to help students be able to retain information more to be able to visualize more abstract concepts and yes, so I'm just really excited. 

Tony Pellegrini: That's why you're here. And we love that excitement and enthusiasm, we need that. So talk take a moment or two and talk to us about how this you've talked about, you know, some of the uses the grant will be made for but what is your vision or your perspective of the implementation of these activities AR and VR activities within higher ed classrooms, can you take a moment or two and share that with us. 

Aundrea Frahm: So in my mind, and I hope I'm answering this correctly, but in my mind, I see the grant kind of broken up into three categories. So for me, I'm very interested in building a space, a space out so that the space is available with computers that are powerful enough to run 3D modeling software, 3D environment software, like Unity and Unreal Engine. And also to have a variety of headsets in the space that can be used for play, but can also be used for teaching, and also can be used for research. Right now, there hasn't actually been a lot of research done in this field with VR AR, in higher ed. And so I'm hoping to be able to open that up for our faculty and staff who are interested. So having that space, we're going to have an initial space, actually within the MakerSpace. And it will be 106 B. And it's a more compact space, we are hoping to grow into a classroom hopefully next fall. But this initial space will be completed this semester. And we will have multiple headsets. And so right now we have multiple Quest Twos, then we have one Quest Pro, then we have five Index. And then we are really excited to have the HoloLens with some applications to tremble. And so the HoloLens is an AR lens. So augmented reality. And that's one, one thing, the next thing that we're interested in is content and being able to implement VR into the classrooms themselves, we are going to be using off-the-shelf content. And then we're also working with computer science students in our wonderful new dean Miller's capstone class, to build an application that a faculty is interested in implementing a project in our class. And so we will be trying to figure out what the pipeline of building out content looks like. And for, for me, one of my goals is to try to have VR and I know this is lofty, and maybe it's too scary to mention, but to have VR in 50 classes within three years.

Tony Pellegrini: 50 SUU classes? 

Aundrea Frahm: 50 SUU classes within three years, in some capacity. It might not be a lot, it might be a small amount. But to me, I'm very interested in how can it be utilized by many, many departments. 

Tony Pellegrini: So let me speak for faculty for a moment and just say, I know you've got your space set up here in the spring, albeit small, compact. What do you envision faculty doing or performing or engaging with AR and VR in there? Was that is that possible to share with us? 

Aundrea Frahm: Yeah. so faculty can come. And I want them to be able to try different, the different headsets, but also be able to see what off-the-shelf content is available, and maybe what off-the-shelf content they want us to purchase. Because a lot of times there's a licensing, in conjunction with these, these softwares. Also, I'm interested in implementing a VR checkout system in the library. And so that's in the works right now, where students would possibly have a lab, let's say, an anatomy lab that is in the headset in VR. And so the students would have an anatomy project that then they would go to the library and be able to check out. Also, I want faculty to be able to have ideas and visions of like, well, if I were to develop a project in VR, what would that look like? And how would it be able to help my class maybe multiple classes? Because the development part is it, there's just many aspects to it. And so it can be time-consuming to build those things. 

Tony Pellegrini: So you're really, it's important to you for faculty to communicate with you, connect with you and say, Hey, let me come into this, to this room and, and experiment with some of these things. We're really looking for faculty to reach out and connect with you on this.

Aundrea Frahm: Yes, it's one of my very favorite things actually, to be able to talk with them because faculty are so passionate, and they know exactly how VR can help them. 

Tony Pellegrini: Can you give us just, I may be going back just a little bit, but give us a little bit more detail on headsets? More you said headset, I thought, Oh, we're wearing these headsets over our ears. It's a little bit more than that, isn't it? Can you tell us a little bit more detail about these headsets that the faculty be will be interacting with? 

Aundrea Frahm: So with three of our headsets, so the headset goes over your eyes, and you are still able to hear and, but you usually aren't able to see, but some headsets are actually trying to work with pass through. And so that's where you can somewhat, you can see what's happening on the outside. So the new Pro, the Quest Pro has quite good pass-through. And so that then you're able to kind of see things. But with VR you are then kind of closed into a new environment, this tech environment on the inside, and you're not able to see on the outside. But I also, I was actually talking to Tony earlier, and told Tony about this conference I just went to it's called CES tech conference. It's one of the largest conferences in the world. And I got to meet with a hardware company called Pico. And I got to test this PICO 4, and the past through was phenomenal, it was in color. And so it were able to walk around the room with the headset on with this like VR headset was amazing. I mean, I can nerd out for a long time and about all these things. But with the HoloLens, the HoloLens is augmented reality. And that's where it's almost like plastic or glass in front of your eyes. And so you're able to see these different spaces. So let's say we have a framework of a house, we could pull that file up, and we would maybe be able to go on site and see to scale where this house would go on this land. And so to me, that's really exciting, because we're able to see through, and everyone in the VR world AR world is very interested in, in AR and we think everyone thinks once AR is, you know, good enough, then it will just kind of spread like wildfire, and we won't have our phones anymore. But you know.

Tony Pellegrini: You're absolutely on the leading edge of that. And I'm so old, I used to watch Star Trek the TV series, when Dr. Spock would flip open his transponder or whatever. Oh, my goodness, I could not even imagine, you know, being able to communicate as we do now. So I want to stick around for a few more years and watch the exciting things happen that you've mentioned. So faculty are receiving an invitation from you to come and try and experiment even this semester, in your in your space. I can talk to us a little bit. I know you've got some plans this summer to do some professional developments and workshops, some more extended activities. Would you take a moment or two and tell us a little about some of those opportunities available to faculty this summer? 

Aundrea Frahm: Yes, of course. So the third thing that we're interested in is building community and collaboration. And so we actually have two really exciting things happening. One is VR or XR. So XR is extended realities. And that includes VR, MR Which is mixed realities, and then AR, which is augmented reality. And so we're putting on it's called the XR Southern Summit. And that's going to happen on March 15 of this year. And all faculty staff and students are welcome to register. And we are going to have almost all of the schools from Utah come and be represented. And then we are inviting multiple schools from Nevada and California. And we will also have many vendors from all over we're actually going to have a vendor called Bodyswaps, which is a soft skills, software and so if you're learning how to have difficult conversations in business, or in psychology, Bodyswaps would be a software to be able to use in your class and they are based out of London and they are actually flying to come to our Cedar City, SUU space, and they'll be at the conference. And so I'm very excited about that. The next thing that we have going on is a workshop that will be for all of our faculty, as well as some high schools. We're opening it for high school teachers they're interested and that will be where faculty can come and workshop. They'll learn some of the off-the-shelf content that we have available, as well as kind of, you know, how to create or have us create content. And so the first portion of the workshop will be to learn those software's basic, you know, basic minimal level, and then we will move into how can this be utilized into their curriculum, and then the hope is that we have I would love if we had 10 to 15 classes in the fall, implementing VR in some capacity VR AR in some capacity,

Tony Pellegrini: Exciting. And it may be too for you know, so, Tony, as of January, what the heck you're thinking about summer for, but any timeframe, as far as when faculty would need to reach out to you and connect and say, I'd like to participate this summer, that's still too far down the road. 

Aundrea Frahm: Great, great question. So I will most likely the, call for that we will actually call for applications for that in most likely March. Yeah, most likely, March may be the beginning of April, but it will probably be sometime in March. And then the plan is that this would happen. I'm thinking of the beginning of May mid-May, some time where it's just after graduation. But I don't want to linger too far into, the into the summer where then it becomes inconvenient to come back to campus and back to the real world. So that's our tentative plan. 

Tony Pellegrini: Wonderful. Just one more question about the content while you're working towards a goals for classroom implementation. You've talked about the numbers. You know, in the fall, you said you'd love to have 15 classrooms or so that are that are working. What would professors using AR VR be doing? Or what would the classroom implementation? What would your goals be to see in those classrooms happening is that I've danced all over that. Does that kind of make sense? 

Aundrea Frahm: I think so. Let me answer it. And then you can follow up if I if I need to go further deeper. So for me, I'm interested because we're still trying to figure out the head the headset, you know, logistics, how do we have multiple students be able to, you know, be in headsets either at the same time, or be able to come into either the VR AR lab, or to be able to go into the library. And so in my mind, it would be some sort of project outside of the classroom. So a lab project, and what would be best is if myself, or we're actually hiring a student worker. And so one of us would come in and we would demo or even the teacher could demo what they are hoping the students do in that student project. And then there would be when one Canvas assignment that is connected to students going and having that VR experience. Yes. So that's like, well, that's one thing. But I'm, I'm open and know that there are many, many ways many visions of how to use this equipment, and also the software.

Tony Pellegrini: It's just exciting. There's so much, you provide a strong vision, but individual faculty members can be able to contribute and participate in and engage with their own perspectives of what could happen, what could happen associated with that. I think that is about all the questions that I have for you. Are there any things that I've missed that I haven't asked you that you'd really like to make sure that our listeners hear from in regards to this project?

Aundrea Frahm: I think for me in being, I feel still new in this world still emerging. I, I just would encourage faculty to make to, to make a chance to come and meet with me, I would love to be able to share more about how it could directly be implemented in their class. And a lot of times, people might not see what the possibilities are, until, until they actually like see different examples. So that's one thing, I would love people to come in and meet with me. I try to be as approachable as I can. And I would love to, love to chat more. Also, I think for me, I'm really interested in, in education and the evolution of education and how our traditional and nontraditional models can all be supported. And our students are very hungry for VR. And they want to be in this other realm. And so I would, I would just encourage all listeners to just think like that how can this new medium be used in my classroom in higher ed and start dreaming up those ideas. Yes, there's so many things I've gotten to meet many, many people all along the state as well as in Las Vegas and in California. And I'm hoping to make it abroad to meet with some other universities and go to some other conferences. But I'm, I'm really excited about all the possibilities. There's also, this is kind of nerding out but there's these things called haptic suits. And just to expand the vision a haptic suit is a suit that you put on and it simulates touch. And so there's a suit called the Tesla suit and I have gotten to try that on and that uses like kind of electric simulation. So it's somewhat successful with trying to simulate touch but it uses electricity so it feels kind of like you know, when you go to the chiropractor and they put that electrical thing on the back of your neck, it feels a little like that. But at the CES conference I went to I got to try these gloves. They're called Hack Dex gloves. That's the company and the gloves use air compression. And it was so good. Everyone was so good. You're in VR and you put your hands so you're wearing these kind of big gloves and you put your hand under what looks like rain in VR. And you actually feel different, like pressure, like different pressure and it's like, hard in some places and soft in some places. Oh, it was mind blowing. And so to me, VR right now is kind of in that emerging, still kind of clunky phase. I don't know if any of you remember the time I'm sure some of you do. And maybe some of you don't. Where cell phones were, were they weren't the brick but they were still had the huge battery pack that you like took off and you like plugged it in. We're in that era of VR where the headsets are still kind of heavy. There's they're trying to work out things like there's not a ton of software, but we are on the cusp of this like big wave and to me it is the future like XR, VR AR all those things are our future. Whether that's in business, whether that's in education, in many, many different fields will be using it so.

Tony Pellegrini: What exciting times we live in is wonderful. Aundrea, thank you so much for visiting with us today for having this conversation. Friends, please don't hesitate to reach out Aundrea has given you the invitation to reach out and connect with her to participate in the activities that are available this semester in the summer and beyond. We look forward to seeing these wonderful advancements and being a part of it here on campus. Aundrea, thank you so very much. And we will be back next month with another topic and listeners. I appreciate you listening and tuning in today. You make it a great one. Aundrea thank you very, very much. 

Aundrea Frahm: Thank you so much. Tony.


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