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Tuskegee to pilot virtual reality STEM education through new NSF-funded grant

September 19, 2019

Contact: Brittney Dabney, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing
  

Chadia Aji
Aji

The National Science Foundation has awarded Tuskegee University a two-year, $250,000 grant for a pilot program to develop and implement a new virtual reality learning environment. The project — iVR to STAR — is a new learning tool that aims to improve undergraduate students’ engagement and enhance learning effectiveness through the use of virtual reality.

The project — which involves technology-based active-learning and retention through virtual reality — will allow undergraduate students to integrate VR active learning in order to improve their academic performance. STEM student’s today’s struggle with low self-efficacy, poor motivation and limited engagement, all of which are interlinked. Of these challenges, classroom engagement plays a pivotal role and is a major influencer of their self-efficacy and motivation.

Dr. Chadia Affane Aji, a professor of mathematics and the project’s principal investigator, said she considers it her mission and responsibility as an educator to expose students to real-world experiences — and virtual reality technology offers a wealth of ways to do that.

“In order to fulfill our mission as educators, we should not shy away from using all new tools and resources that today’s high-tech world is using to entertain our students,” noted Aji. “Since our students are already native technology consumers, we should be leveraging the same resources they are already accustomed with to educate them for the contemporary, high-tech workplace.”

M. Javed Khan
Khan

From a student-learning research perspective, the project will provide much-needed empirical evidence to better understand VR’s impact in the higher education environment. The iVR experience will incorporate communication and interaction among professor and students, while ultimately developing a social presence that mimics the experiences received in the on-campus classroom setting. Creating such a virtual space will allow students the ability to increase their retention and participation in class, which in turn will help increase their motivation.

According to Dr. M. Javed — head of the Department of Aerospace Science Engineering and a co-principal investigator of the project — the attributes of iVR to STAR include realism, interactivity and immediate feedback, which are all essential elements of an engaging learning environment.

“The iVR to STAR will foster behavioral, affective and cognitive engagement of students, thereby strengthening learning and increasing their academic success,” he explained.

Other participating faculty from different disciplines who will develop and incorporate additional iVR approaches include Dr. Honghe Wang, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology; Dr. Chitra Nayak, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics; and Dr. Sadegh Poozesh, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Mohammed Qazi
Qazi

“It is expected that the iVR to STAR project will positively impact our students’ STEM learning outcomes,” added Dr. Mohammed Qazi, a professor of mathematics and assistant dean for development and outreach in the College of Arts and Sciences, who also is a co-principal investigator of the project.

At the completion of the project, Aji said the team will encourage other faculty colleagues to integrate VR technology in their teaching efforts. Aji plans to share the team’s research findings with Tuskegee faculty, as well as other researchers, to increase awareness of how technology — and specially VR — cognitively engages students and deepens their learning.

© 2019, Tuskegee University