Beyond Zoom: XR for Teaching and Research in the COVID-19 Era

A Virtual Conference
Friday, August 7, 2020

Recent large scale engagement with remote learning has brought to the fore the challenges of teaching and learning in an online environment. While technologies like videoconferencing and learning management systems have drawn a great deal of critical review and pedagogical development, we can also apply the lessons of higher education’s sudden foray into mass remote teaching to other types of tools. In particular, XR–a catch-all term including augmented and virtual reality, as well as related technologies for spatial and pervasive computing–holds both great potential and challenges for educational use under pandemic conditions.

This virtual conference explored areas where XR can mitigate the challenges of engaging with students and collaborators remotely, and investigated new opportunities to apply XR technologies across remote, face-to-face, or hybrid environments. In particular, this conference was interested in opportunities to use XR to help teach and work within or across disciplines such as laboratory science, clinical education, studio art, fieldwork, or other object- and place-based teaching and research.

Post-Conference Resources

All sessions other than the mid-day discussions in Mozilla Hubs were recorded and are linked below. In addition, a number of links that were shared in chat throughout the day have been compiled at the end of this page.

Session 1: 10–11AM EDT (UTC/GMT -4) 

Moderator: Peter Decherney, University of Pennsylvania

1.0 Welcome and Introductory Remarks🎞

  • Peter Decherney, University of Pennsylvania
  • Dan Rockmore, Dartmouth College

1.1 Using Immersive Media to Engage Youth in Distant Learning of History🎞

  • Sohail Dahdal, Ph.D, Associate Professor, Department of Mass Communication, College of Arts and Sciences, American University of Sharjah, UAE

This presentation is a case study of using the Once Upon a Time in Palestine XR documentary to engage Palestinian youth in their cultural heritage remotely. The project uses AR and VR technologies to reimagine oral history of pre-1948 Palestine and present it to a young audience remotely via a mobile app or VR headset thus creating an immersive environment that creates an engaging experience and presence without the need to travel to Palestine.

More information:

1.2 MILES (Measurements Immersive Learning Engagement System)🎞

  • Evelyn TEO Ai Lin, Associate Professor, National University of Singapore, Department of Building

MILES proposes an integration of BIM, VR and cloud computing solutions to enhance technical outreach beyond the campus. The proposed project entails the application of an integrated array of AR and VR applications in the context of measurement and of teaching construction technology/FM.

1.3 Major Trauma Resuscitation Simulation🎞

  • Dr. Sarah Fielding, Manager, Digital Learning Team, iSolutions, University of Southampton (Project Team: Mr Paul Blatch, Dr Michael Kiuber, Dr Jack Bradley, Dr Ellie Monger, Mrs Bobbi Moore)

A pilot process for filming and editing 360 degree video for emergency medicine practitioners, created in collaboration with the A&E department of a teaching hospital. The simulation is not graphic in nature and provides multiple reflective learning and knowledge checks for diagnosis and treatment options.

More information:

1.4 Enhancing the Visualization of Atomic Structure in Chemistry Using VR🎞

  • Katherine Mirica, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, Dartmouth College

Connecting the macroscopic and atomic dimensions represents one of the conceptual challenges that students face in the introductory chemistry courses. This presentation will describe how the use of a phone-based app, aided by the use of a personal VR headset, has enabled students to “dive” into materials to examine their structural features on the atomic scale and visualize atoms and molecules in 3D.

More information:

1.5 PASS-IT – PAtient Safety aS Inter-Professional Training Using VR🎞

  • Alfred Kow Wei Chieh, Associate Professor, Assistant Dean (Education), Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore; Senior Consultant (Attending Surgeon), Division of Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery and Liver Transplantation, Department of Surgery, National University Health System Singapore

At the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, we created a patient safety training using VR technology called PASS-IT. It allows students to be immersed in the operating theatre scenario and see the flow of patients within the peri-operative setting from dental clearance, to anaesthesia evaluation, procedures for handling sharps during surgery and safe conduct while performing an operation. Learners can experience processes involving patient safety that they will usually not see, as they are often seen as “other people’s” duties. 

1.6 Multi-user VR for Remote Teaching – Initial Results🎞

  • Matthew McGinity, Jun. Prof., IXLAB, TU Dresden

A university seminar was conducted online over a period of two months using Oculus Quest head-mounted displays and a variety of VR platforms (Mozilla Hubs, AltspaceVR, and EngageVR). Presented here are some initial results on the suitability of these tools for traditional teaching activities, such as lectures, group discussions and student presentations.

Session 1 Q&A🎞

Session 2: 11AM–12PM EDT (UTC/GMT -4)

Moderator: John Bell, Dartmouth College

2.1 From the Chaos of COVID-19 to Immersive Initiative Opportunities🎞

  • Bill Egan, Senior Instructional Designer, Penn State University

In the midst of creating an immersive web-based experience for an online nursing course, COVID-19 derailed project plans which caused a shift in strategy that has the potential to open up future opportunities for development of immersive and VR-related experiences.

2.2 Experiential Preparation & XR Leadership🎞

  • Bethany Winslow, Instructional Designer, eCampus San Jose State University

XR can be a great way to mitigate some of the challenges of remote teaching, but it’s a quickly evolving landscape of multiple technologies. Instructional designers and technologists who leverage the crowd-sourced knowledge of a diverse community of practice already active in virtual worlds will be uniquely positioned to provide real leadership in the field of XR for education.

2.3 3D Modeling and XR for Student Exploration of Landscapes in a Remote-Instruction Course on Geovisualization🎞

  • Jonathan W. Chipman, Director, Citrin Family GIS/Applied Spatial Analysis Lab, Dartmouth College

At Dartmouth, several courses in the spatial sciences in 2019-2020 included pedagogical experiments with XR for visualizing landscapes and geologic features, culminating in lab assignments in which students constructed 3D landscape models for sites of their own choosing and built VR applications around them for use with VR headsets. Instructional materials and curriculum are now in development for the use of 3D landscape visualization technologies in an upcoming course on geovisualization.

2.4 Build a VR Rapid Development Toolkit🎞

  • Hunter H. Janes, Designer and Data Scientist at Ubisoft Entertainment

Rapid development is a cornerstone of VR production in the gaming industry. Learn to build a rapid development toolkit using off the shelf and open source tools.

2.5 CircuitLab – A System for Aiding Remote Electronics Labs🎞

  • Xing-Dong Yang, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Dartmouth College

Participating and learning in remote exercises (or labs) for circuit prototyping using video conferencing is still a challenge. Remote instructors may not be able to manage a class effectively and efficiently when multiple students need assistance. I will present preliminary findings of a study to identify the challenges encountered by instructors and show a prototype interactive system that addresses some of the identified challenges.

2.6 Fort LeBoeuf in VR🎞

  • Christopher R. Shelton, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology and Director, Virtual/Augmented Reality Lab (VAR Lab), Penn State University, The Behrend College
  • Jasper Sachsenmeier, Coordinator of Testing and Summer Programs, ELSC, and Lecturer of Composition, Penn State University, The Behrend College
  • Erica Juriasingani, Researcher, Penn State University, The Behrend College

This project uses cutting-edge XR technology to create a dynamic, full-size, virtual model and tour of Fort LeBoeuf, which can be visited through XR headsets or related hardware. The project furthers the preservation of this important colonial site and its history and will significantly enhance access to the site for educators, researchers, and the general public.

2.7 Educational VR for Remote Teaching Environments🎞

  • Paula MacDowell, Assistant Professor, College of Education, University of Saskatchewan

Learn how a professor is deploying VR to enhance teaching and learning in her classes, including instructional design strategies and challenges for engaging students in creating their own interactive worlds and immersive experiences. Get inspired by practical examples of how VR can be used to build community and achieve specific learning objectives that complement course goals.

2.8 Hubs Orientation🎞

  • Matt Cook, Digital Scholarship Program Manager, Harvard Library

Shared online spaces, like Mozilla Hubs, are versatile enough to support a range of educational applications, although some level of training is required to onboard and orient new users. This talk will describe preliminary efforts at Harvard Library to “train the trainers” on Hubs, the strengths and weaknesses of the platform, and the implications of productivity-type VR software.

More information:

Session 2 Q&A🎞

Mid-Conference Break: 12–2PM EDT (UTC/GMT -4)

Discussions and Demos

Between noon and 2PM, small groups of attendees will have an opportunity to meet virtually in Mozilla Hubs rooms with links to a number of project demos. Attendees and presenters will receive more information on how to activate your Hubs account via email in the days before the conference. For most users, no specific software setup will be needed beyond claiming your account. We recommend Firefox or Chrome as best browsers to use with Hubs, though others may work as well.

We have created a quick video guide to logging into Hubs.

Hubs can be viewed through a number of devices and platforms, from web browsers to VR headsets. For more information on how to use Hubs after signing in, please see the Hubs documentation at .

Each Hubs rooms has links to supporting documentation and demos for the day’s lightning talks. There are three additional links as well:

B.1 VirBELA Virtual Immersive Collaboration Platform

VirBELA is a virtual world environment designed to promote social interaction and collaboration among participants. With the most industry experience, VirBELA is designed to support 10,000+ users concurrently from anywhere in the world. More information:

B.2 The Virtual Basilica of St. Paul, Rome

  • Scholarship and Pedagogy Nicola (Nick) Camerlenghi, Dartmouth College

When the Christian Basilica of St. Paul in Rome burned down in 1823, the site of the Apostle Paul’s burial and the epicenter of his cult since the fourth century was all but lost to scholars. This VR project combines archeological and visual evidence to reconstruct the lost building and offer analyses of its features accessible to scholars and students. In a second edition of the project, currently under elaboration at Dartmouth, the VR model will acquire fine details, clickable historical annotations, and the ability to visualize earlier phases in the building’s history. As a result, students, teachers and scholars will be able to explore this important monuments and learn about its decorations, relics, and other built features, many of which would prove influential across Christendom.

More information:

B.3 (1 PM) – Mid-Day Discussion on XR and Experiential Learning

  • Moderator: Jeffrey Pomerantz, Simmons University

In addition to unstructured discussions, there will be one structured session during this time where all attendees can participate. Jeffrey Pomerantz will lead a discussion on XR and Experiential Learning:

Experiential learning is one of the oldest approaches to learning there is, while XR enables learners to have a whole new set of experiences that might have been impossible earlier. We will discuss XR as an instructional technology for providing “hands-on” experiences in the classroom, whatever “classroom” may mean in the COVID-19 era.

More information:

Session 3: 2–3PM EDT (UTC/GMT -4)

Moderator: Mark Williams, Dartmouth College

3.1 So Many Worlds, So Little Time!🎞

  • Dr. Valerie Hill, Library Director, Peninsula College

This session provides an overview of the various immersive learning environments available (including pros and cons) and illustrates the need for embedding deep learning and critical thinking beyond the WOW factor of a “cool interface” presented by a researcher with 15 years’ experience in XR.

More information: and

3.2 VR Citizen Kane: Making Interactive Lessons in Film Style and Meaning Remotely Accessible🎞

  • Matthew Solomon, Assoc. Prof., Department of Film, Television, and Media, University of Michigan
  • Vincent Longo, PhD Candidate, Department of Film, Television, and Media, University of Michigan

Our presentation showcases a custom-made, 3D-animated immersive VR environment modeled on the temper tantrum scene in Citizen Kane (1941) which allows users to reshoot the iconic scene. We will share lessons learned from implementing this VR teaching and learning tool in a course enrolling 150 students during a term abruptly interrupted by the COVID-19 health crisis, forcing us to move the tool online and transition the assignment to remote use to ensure its completion. To request a demo download, see

More information:

3.3 VAR Lab’s Practices for Safely Sharing XR Resources While Trying to Contain Viral Spread🎞

  • Erica Juriasingani, Researcher, Penn State University, The Behrend College
  • Christopher R. Shelton, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology and Director, Virtual/Augmented Reality Lab (VAR Lab), Penn State University, The Behrend College
  • Jasper Sachsenmeier, Coordinator of Testing and Summer Programs, ELSC, and Lecturer of Composition, Penn State University, The Behrend College

This presentation will focus on the practices VAR Lab has adopted to help limit the health risks that can be associated with using shared VR headsets. We will discuss the safety measures VAR Lab had before the pandemic as well as what we have added since the spread of COVID-19.

More information:

3.4 Remote XR Research Options🎞

  • Richard Corey, Director, VEMI Lab, University of Maine

Like many academic establishments, the VEMI Lab at the University of Maine was challenged by unprecedented conflicts involving collaboration, awareness of emotional reaction, and communal energy that required human connection beyond a two-dimensional screen. We sought solutions that allowed for virtual gatherings and collaborative workspaces through VR and AR products but found a lack of human engagement, bandwidth issues, equipment failures, and unforeseen negative effects on the quality of behavioral/usability human subject experiments. We have thus far concluded that no current combination of technology meets the encompassing needs of our research laboratory, so VEMI will continue to explore new mechanisms that meet proper HCI guidelines and assist in the lack of direct human contact.

3.5 The Floating Farm – Demystifying AR🎞

  • Andie Rodriguez, XR Instructor, Instructional Specialist Coordinator, University of Arizona

The Floating Farm is a workshop series aimed at democratizing AR development and utilizing the technology in 4H learning and project creation with limited resources (in funding or equipment). Students learn the basics of AR and create a virtual farm using free software: Unity, Tinkercad, and Vuforia. The project provides instruction via a workbook, online video tutorials, and scheduled virtual training sessions. The project goal is to inspire more (youth and adult) instructors to take what they learn and serve as mentors to their communities.

More information:

3.6 Anivision🎞

  • Sam Gochman, Dartmouth Class of ‘18
  • Cathy Wu, Dartmouth Class of ‘21
  • The Anivision Team and the DALI Lab

Anivision is an educational VR experience that contrasts how humans and other animals see the world. We aim to foster empathy by letting students experience the visual adaptations and behaviors of these unique animals in an immersive, exploratory environment.

More information: and

3.7 Technology Prototyping in Virtual Campus Environments🎞

  • Matthew Lewis, Assistant Professor of Design, The Ohio State University

Design students studying emerging technologies can no longer freely collaborate and experiment within our university spaces. I will introduce accessible XR strategies I am pursuing to help them model, program, and share.

Session 3 Q&A🎞

Session 4: 3–4PM EDT (UTC/GMT -4)

Moderator: Barbara Knauff, Dartmouth College

4.1 Breaking New Ground in Black Theatre and Tech: Reimagining the National Racial Narrative on the Virtual Stage🎞

  • Monica White Ndounou, PhD, Associate Professor of Theater, affiliated with African and African American Studies and Film and Media Studies, Dartmouth College

For this project we will custom build a multi-user platform while using Black theatre texts as inspiration to model a safe space in the virtual world for Black storytelling on stage as a creative practice for artists as well as a viewing experience for audiences. In doing so, we will build a functional, virtual theatre space with avatars that can be used to teach and learn theatre practice as well as produce stage productions.

4.2 Project Komodo: Catalyzing Browser-Based VR Instruction🎞

  • Robert Wallace, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Brandon Dang, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • David Tamayo, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Alex Cabada, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois is developing an easier way for instructors and research groups to develop and deploy social, interactive, and analyzable WebXR classrooms. We will discuss the evolution of our development goals and describe what growing an ecosystem around VR in higher education looks like.

4.3 Teaching VR Art & Design-In VR🎞

  • Steve Guynup, Director, Hayfield Isovista
  • Adam Walker, Digital Artist, Hayfield Isovista
  • Brian Clevely, Faculty, University of Moscow Idaho

For the past decade we’ve run a summer studio art internship on VR/Web3D art and design in a virtual class space. Thirty years of award winning virtual works, deep design theory, and tours of current work inform our interns as they create their own virtual artworks.

More information:

4.4 Dartmouth Remote XR Class, Spring 2020🎞

  • James Mahoney, Lecturer, Computer Science, Dartmouth College 
  • Justin Luo, Class of ’20, Dartmouth College
  • Nick Feffer, Class of ’21, Dartmouth College

In the spring of 2020 the third Dartmouth XR class offered in the CS department endeavored to build a collaborative VR space for teaching and social interaction. In this presentation, I’ll share our results and future plans.

4.5 Making a Case for the Role of your Library in your XR Project🎞

  • Jill Ellern, Systems Librarian, Western Carolina University
  • Laura Cruz, Associate Research Professor of Teaching and Learning Scholarship, Penn State

We interviewed 11 librarians (or people who work in/with libraries) about how and why they support XR. Their answers may surprise you. Our talk will provide a brief overview of the roles that libraries can play, as well as examples of successful partnerships and resources to get you started collaborating with your library.

More information:

4.6 If We Had To Do It Again: Lessons Learned from Teaching VR at a Liberal Arts College🎞

  • Adam Sulzdorf-Liszkiewicz, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University
  • Cord Lambrecht, Technical Design Consultant, Class of ’19, Occidental College
  • Ian Lehine, Fulbright Teaching Assistant, Class of  ’19, Occidental College

In this talk, we will offer several practical examples that could be adapted to any remote learning class that uses XR technologies, regardless of class content. We will draw from our background teaching “The Art and Politics of Virtual Reality” at Occidental College in Spring 2019.

4.7 VR in Participatory Design Research: A New Paradigm🎞

  • M. F. Yang Chen, Design Researcher, The Ohio State University

VR today has achieved milestones that have enabled it to become a tool within the design research process. Paired with remote applications such as Zoom, VR has propelled research work even during a pandemic lockdown.

Session 4 Q&A🎞

Closing Remarks🎞

  • John Bell, Dartmouth College

Note: For privacy reasons, the contexts in which these links were shared have been removed. Click through to explore!

General Resources

Resources Related to Specific Talks


  • Dartmouth College:
    • Information, Technology, and Consulting
    • The Neukom Institute
    • Film and Media Studies
  • University of Pennsylvania:
    • Cinema and Media Studies
    • Online Learning Initiative

This conference is sponsored by Dartmouth COVID-19 Spark funding, the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning’s Experiential Learning Initiative, and the University of Pennsylvania Online Learning Initiative.