UNF’s Virtual Learning Center now open

Shelby Senesac, News Editor

Wander the streets of Tokyo, take flight into space, swim through a coral reef, see the world through a colorblind person’s eyes, participate in an operating room, and experience so much more at UNF’s new Virtual Learning Center.

The Virtual Learning Center (VLC) is located on the third floor of the Thomas G. Carpenter Library and provides a space for faculty and students to interact with virtual content that enhances learning. The virtual content is delivered through VR/AR technologies.

UNF Virtual Learning Center / Photo by Justin Nedrow

The VLC offers the following:

-16 Dell desktop computers: 3 standing and 13 sitting spaces

-13 wired Vive Pro Eye Virtual Reality headsets

-3 wireless Vive Pro Eye Virtual Reality headsets

-Steam – Virtual Reality software. Offers experiences and games.

-Unity – Software that allows Virtual Reality builds and customization. Users must provide their own Unity login. 

Library staff is available to help with learning how to use the equipment if faculty/students are unfamiliar with it.

Virtual Reality / Photo by Justin Nedrow
Photo by Justin Nedrow

The dean of the Thomas G. Carpenter Library, Dr. Brant Mai, said that research and planning for what is now UNF’s VLC began shortly after his arrival at UNF in July 2019.

We interviewed staff and even visited a number of ‘similar’ spaces at other institutions – but most of them had only begun to incorporate VR/AR technologies into existing ‘maker spaces’ where students could play with this sort of technology,” Mai explained. “What we were seeing on the library’s horizon, however, was that burgeoning VR/AR technologies were becoming much more critical to content delivery for the curricular and research endeavors at a university than merely ‘playing’ with it.”

According to Mai, funding for the VLC was secured from Academic Affairs and donors. Before COVID hit, August 1, 2020 was planned to be the original grand opening of the VLC. The library shut down on March 18, 2020 due to COVID and external planning halted.

Eventually, planning and construction were able to resume. “Everything from planning to permitting to construction to getting occupancy has taken longer during the pandemic, but eventually Adam Chalmers [Systems and Digital Technologies Librarian] and his team had all of the new furnishings and equipment in place and tested, and for the past several weeks we’ve had ‘soft opening’ activities going on in the space,” Mai said.

The grand opening of the VLC took place on March 4, 2021. UNF President and First Lady Szymanski were present for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony at the grand opening of VLC on March 4, 2021 / Photo by Tom Caswell
UNF President and First Lady Szymanski joined staff members of the Carpenter Library at the grand opening / Photo includes Adam Chalmers and Stephanie Boilard from the Library’s IT department / Photo by Ryan Fairbrother

Mai also mentioned that “Kelly Hovinga from Fort Hays State University will be joining the Library’s faculty in April as UNF’s first Virtual Learning Librarian. Her primary responsibility will be to work with classroom faculty on integrating content provided by the VLC into the courses that they’re teaching and the research that they’re doing.”

The VLC is “uniquely UNF,” Mai said. “We are not aware of any other institution that has something like their VLC in operation right now.”

The VLC is open Monday-Thursday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. and Friday: 1:30 p.m. – 5 p.m. Students and faculty will need to reserve an RV station prior to visitation. However, since the number of people who are using the space right now is relatively low, it is possible to show up and make a reservation on the spot. COVID safety protocols are in place and reservations are required so that staff has time to effectively clean the equipment between users.

All new users must complete the Virtual Learning Center User Acknowledgement and create a Steam Account before using the equipment. 

Stop by the VLC and enter the world of virtual reality!


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