A tour of UNF’s Virtual Learning Center

Marie Billow, Reporter

UNF’s new Virtual Learning Center has opportunities for students to engage with virtual reality for educational or personal purposes.

The center opened in April and is funded entirely by the Thomas G. Carpenter Library. They cater to a wide variety of needs and are open to all students by appointment.

Kelly Hovinga supervises the lab and specializes in library instruction, meaning she helps students effectively use the technology available to them.

“Virtual reality has advanced a lot the last three years, especially since COVID,” she said. 

In the past, she has helped lab users 3D print prosthetics and other accessibility aids. Hovinga said these are her favorite projects. Another project that has been conducted at UNF puts the subject in a virtual lion’s cage to study fear responses.

Photo Courtesy of Marie Billow.

One of the more difficult simulations available to students is a virtual tracheotomy. “I’ve killed my patient three times,” Hovinga laughed. A tracheotomy is an operation to create an opening in the neck for increased airflow. 

One of the lab’s specialties is experiential learning which puts the user in situations they cannot experience firsthand. Hovinga said it’s a great way for people to experience things in a more impactful way than reading about them. 

One such example that she has overseen is a program that allows social workers to experience homelessness. The user rides a bus (a safe space for the homeless) and speaks with other homeless people about their experiences.

I was lucky enough to try a simulated experience myself. I love Rome, so when I learned I could visit the Sistine Chapel, I was thrilled. First, there is a virtual reality tutorial. It allowed me to get used to the controls and the “walls” of the room. It was highly disorienting at first and I couldn’t see my hands or feet.

Photo Courtesy of Marie Billow.

Then I was transported to one of the greatest artworks of all time. Michelangelo originally commissioned to paint a simple image of the 12 apostles, painted numerous themes. He depicted a journey from sin to morality, Pagan and Catholic images, and people representing Christians on all seven continents. The sculptor somehow managed to make the people look as though they were chiseled from marble, even in two dimensions. It was incredible, and I never left the library.

Whether you want to game or train for your career, the Virtual Learning Center is here to help. Sign up for an appointment here.


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