Texas Immersive Institute is on a Quest to Bring Immersive Experiences Into UT Classrooms

Austin, TX - The Texas Immersive Institute (TXI) at The University of Texas at Austin is expanding experiential learning with the use of all-in-one Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headsets in the classroom, allowing students to experience a world beyond the Forty Acres.

Erin Reilly, professor at the Moody College of Communication and Founding Director of TXI introduced the use of the wireless headsets and controllers to allow students to participate and co-create in the Metaverse. The headsets are currently required to use in two of the offered TXI courses - Audience Development & Engagement and Experimental Storytelling. Students participate in Sandbox Demos which offer access to multiple virtual experiences through the Oculus Quest 2 to understand a variety of techniques such as point of view, 3D space, and hand tracking to become a better experience designer.

TXI seeks to inspire creativity through research and design of immersive technologies and the roles they play in storytelling. With a participatory approach to storytelling, TXI strives to immerse an audience into a narrative, captivating their full engagement throughout the experience. Experiences are intended to connect education and industry by allowing students to test and evaluate virtual experiences using real-world technology. 

Dir. Reilly said that “one of the best ways for us to learn is for us to play with immersive experiences”. Current TXI student, Joy Zhou, agrees with Dir. Reilly. Zhou also expressed how the integration of the Oculus Quest 2 benefited her creative ability. “After playing with immersive experiences using my Quest, it was much easier for me to ideate and visualize my own ideas for immersive design.” 

TXI works with companies such as Dallas-based creative firm M2 Studios, who donated a virtual space to TXI. M2 Studios is known for designing virtual meeting spaces that immerse users into custom virtual reality environments. Students study how companies are using immersive technologies to engage consumers including a Dreamworks collaboration for an Oreo brand promotion. Research shows that immersive technology is estimated to exceed an estimated $56 billion by 2026 according to ABI Research.  

The Texas Immersive Institute is gaining a better understanding about learning and teaching in the digital world. After experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, educators across the world are seeking out ways to enhance students' education. After TXI conducted experiments with Quest Oculus VR in lectures, students described the experience as enjoyable and could see many benefits of learning in immersive digital environments, according to Dir. Reilly.

 “Web conferencing - the go-to platform for online learning - often has students sit in isolation receiving information and panicking when they’re called upon, exposing them to the public where they usually are sitting in a very private space.” Dir. Reilly mentioned when discussing the future of virtual learning, “the Quest immerses the student into a new space offering a presence that is just not there with traditional teleconferencing. I’ve noticed with my students that using the Quest in the classroom allows for an open three-dimensional space for one to fluidly move through and make choices as to where to gather and who to engage with. It’s an excellent example of active engagement.”

Could this be the future of education be VR/AR-based? The Texas Immersive Institute believes there is endless potential in the metaverse, especially when it comes to education. This generation quickly became accustomed to virtual learning because of the Covid-19 pandemic, imagine the influence the metaverse could have had on experiencing a virtual education. 

About The Texas Immersive Institute

The University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Immersive Institute at the Moody College of Communication partners with industry to imagine the unknown into existence through the practice of immersion. The institute is a group of faculty and student artists, scientists, and humanists who create novel, interactive, intimate experiences that move between the physical and digital world that will dramatically change in the near future.

Media Contact:
Julia Mata- julia.mata@utexas.edu