When learning about the environment, the games provide an important alternative for people who don’t have transportation and those with mobility issues, such as senior citizens who couldn’t easily hike along the Lehigh Valley’s many trails and waterways, Bodzin said.
Some of the games also give a glimpse into the past by showing participants what the area would have looked like hundreds of years ago and recreating meetings with historical figures such as Stephen Palmer, the namesake of Palmerton and former president of the New Jersey Zinc Company.
Bodzin’s team includes about 20 students, five of whom are Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellows from the Office of Creative Inquiry. The office has supported Bodzin’s work by providing paid internships, student scholarships, conference fees and space, in conjunction with LTS, at the Mountaintop campus for a VR lab, audio/podcast studio and video studio.
“This is a real game-changer,” Mehta said. “I’m proud we saw the potential in this several years ago, and we seeded these projects. Now it’s time to hold these projects up as examples and exemplars in how embracing such new technologies can lead to innovations and transformations in higher education.”
The Future of XR at Lehigh
CITL is investigating collaborative applications that have been developed for the Oculus that allow multiple users to be in the same VR experience at the same time.
For example, the technology could be used to connect Lehigh students with other students across the country. A group of students could use the headsets to work on a prototype in real time even though they aren’t in the same location, Sakasitz said.
LehighSiliconValley students are exploring the technology as a way to connect employees who have been working remotely. Their idea is to purchase Oculus headsets that can be used by employees to have regular team-building meetings in a virtual environment, Sakasitz said.
“From my point of view, we need to learn about how all this technology can be used, develop a game plan of how it can be implemented in a sensible way and go from there,” he said.
Putting the technology into the hands of more users is the next step, which CITL hopes to do through the new student-centered lab.
“A lot of it is technology we already have; we are just putting it in one space where students can work collaboratively,” Sakasitz said. Lehigh hopes to launch the new lab in the fall.