Virtual reality has become an integral part of JMU X-Labs since being introduced in the fall of 2016. Students have had the opportunity to make real products available for use at JMU.
Junior industrial design major Molly Berger took the virtual reality class this past semester, when they created a virtual tour of JMU. For her, it offered experience for interdisciplinary work that asked her to apply knowledge from her major into a project.
“I would highly recommend X-Labs classes to anyone who wants to step out of their comfort zone,” Berger said. “It’s for people who want to go beyond what their major asks of them.”
According to JMU X-Labs director Nick Swayne, JMU X-Labs tries to incorporate real-life problems that can be solved by students with different majors and backgrounds.
“If you’re taking a virtual tour, we think of that like theater,” Swayne said. “If you imagine telling a story just with images, how do you do that? Theater and SMAD students are trained in that.”
Content in the virtual reality course is based on computer information systems from the College of Business. In the class, there may be computer science, dance, theater and media arts and design students.
A current virtual reality course is focused on using VR to train medical professionals. Students in the VR class are working with industrial design and communication sciences and disorders students to learn how to simulate shoving an optic tube down the nose of a patient to watch the vocal cords move.
The benefit of this process is that it can be an intimidating and scary process performing this on an actual patient. Allowing students to simulate the experience gives them a chance to practice how it would be in real life.
“Students are getting the sense that they are actually doing it through the VR experience,” Swayne said.
JMU X-Labs demonstrated some of the virtual reality technology to various departments at JMU. Many of them wanted to integrate into their own programs.
“We demoed the virtual tour to JMU,” Swayne said. “Admissions thought it was so impressive that they wanted to install it in the welcome center.”
The station is located in Madison Hall with a virtual reality headset. It allows users to travel through JMU and walk through campus, all while staying in the same spot.
“They’re getting an example of the type of work and the kind of things they can do as a JMU student that are not typical classroom activities,” Paul Campbell, senior assistant director for the Office of Admissions, said. “This is a way to highlight X-Labs as a concept and as a potential place for students to express creativity.”
According to Campbell, it’s common to see prospective students using the headset as part of their tour experience. It averages over 20 users a day.
“X-Labs is such a relatively unique operation on a college campus,” Campbell said. “We want to showcase that’s what they do.”
After an initial showing, JMU marketing saw virtual reality integration as a unique way of incorporating it into the JMU Unleashed event in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 11. Individuals were greeted with a 270-degree view of the Quad presented on a screen similar to an IMAX theater. It was designed by students as part of the JMU X-Labs virtual reality class.
Senior computer information systems major Christian Caruso took the augmented/virtual reality class in the fall semester of 2017. Students created a virtual tour of JMU over the semester and participated in different interdisciplinary teams.
Individuals in the class took photos with an Insta 360 Pro, which looks like a small basketball. It captures images through six lenses and then stitches them together to form one that’s 360 degrees. After importing a few hundred images, it allows the user to explore the world in virtual reality.
“It was an amazing experience,” Caruso said. “At the time, I had never used virtual reality before. “It was cool to work on a project that had a real problem, real solution and a real impact.”
Contact Matthew Sasser at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.