AltspaceVR ed-tech HP

April 7, 2021

3D Modeling for Creative Practice is a Yale College class devoted to learning the tools and techniques of 3D modeling in the context of a creative and critical art-centered discourse, taught by School of Art faculty Justin Berry.  The challenge facing Justin over the summer of 2020 was how to teach an in-person studio course in the socially distanced/remote manner necessitated by Yale’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Even more crucial, how would he get students access to the high-powered computer workstations they would need for course work with the teaching facilities at the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media now off-limits?  With support of the ITS Help Desk staff, a hardware sponsorship from HP, hard work and a bit of good luck everything came together for the fall 2020 semester.

Through his role as principal investigator of the Yale Blended Reality research project, Justin was able to leverage technical guidance and support from project sponsor HP in collaboration with ITS staff.  Working with the HP team he secured enough HP Zbook laptops to provide loaners for each student in the class.  Coordinating with Yale ITS staff, 25 Science Park DSP Ed Foley helped to coordinate the shipping and receiving of the laptops.  David Woyciesjes at the ITS Help Desk configured the laptops to align with Yale security standards, and with the proper group permissions to allow the class students the access they needed for their coursework.  Laptop distribution was facilitated by the Yale Center for Collaborative Arts & Media (CCAM) equipment loan desk. 

The class held many of its meetings in the virtual reality meeting and collaboration platform AltspaceVR (a Microsoft company).  In addition to the laptops students had a virtual reality headset to use when attending the AltspaceVR class sessions.  In AltspaceVR students were able to exhibit their weekly assignments in a fun and collaborative environment — a welcome alternative to Zoom class meetings.  The assignments themselves were created with 3D graphical software such as Autodesk Maya and the Unity Game Engine — running on the HP Zbook laptops.  Student projects ranged from a virtual museum of photography to a walk-through immersive sound wave learning tool.  For one assignment Justin drew on contacts at the School of Medicine to present students with a 3d scan of a human brain.  Students used the model as the starting point to create unique, artistic ways to allow a user to explore the brain. 

The class was a hit and is being repeated for this spring semester using the same model with a new group of students.  Justin has received inquiries from other School of Art staff exploring VR as an element of their courses.  It will be interesting to watch how this type of innovative teaching environment continues to grow and gain adoption here at Yale. 

Image Caption:  Faculty member Justin Berry (right) leads a class discussion in AltspaceVR