Dreamscape Learn at ASU operates through a partnership between ASU’s EdPlus and Enterprise Technology teams. While EdPlus leads on working with faculty to develop the pedagogy powering these immersive experiences, ASU’s Enterprise Technology manages a team of student workers, or pod operators, through the Learning Experience team.
These pod operators support and lead fellow ASU students enrolled in the biology courses through the experience, from correctly using the virtual reality equipment to running the course modules inside pods and answering questions. Over 5,000 in-person and online ASU students go through the Dreamscape Learn experience weekly.
The pod operators also engage with hundreds of visitors each month, including university leadership and special guests that have included ASU President Crow, football players from the Arizona Cardinals and world-renowned anthropologist Jane Goodall, to name a few. In doing so, they gain exposure to diverse perspectives and learn to navigate complex situations.
“We're fortunate to have the most brilliant students in the world and to be able to connect them with all the talent and expertise of visitors that come through the Dreamscape Learn experience,” said Allison Hall, senior director of ASU’s Learning Experience. “It’s a wonderful catalyst for starting learners on their career path — from learning how to introduce people to new technology to making connections with experts in a variety of fields.”
As students develop these skills, they become better equipped to compete in future career opportunities. They learn to think critically, reason quantitatively and communicate effectively with others — all skills that are highly valued in today's evolving job market.
“It's a way to engage and support our students with immersive storytelling and exceptional pedagogy while giving them a set of transferable skills to carry them through their careers,” said John Vanden Brooks, associate dean of immersive learning at ASU. “That's what Dreamscape Learn is all about.”
Launched in partnership with Dreamscape Immersive in 2020, students entering the virtual world can explore the intricacies of introductory biology concepts in a way that is both engaging and accessible. They can see the inner workings of fictional, yet biologically realistic creatures up close, learning about everything from their physiology to their genetics and evolutionary history.
The Alien Zoo, an orbiting intergalactic wildlife refuge for endangered life forms, was developed by some of the biggest names in media and entertainment — including co-founder and Hollywood executive Walter Parkes and Academy Award-winning director and producer Steven Spielberg. Every aspect of their design has been meticulously crafted — from their movements to their sounds — to provide a truly immersive experience for students.
“We believe that 2020 will be seen as an inflection point in the history of education — the moment when society recognized it had both the urgent need and the digital tools to provide first-class educational experiences remotely to a previously unimaginable number of students in previously unimaginable ways,” said Parkes in ASU News. “We intend for Dreamscape Learn to be a uniquely important educational asset moving forward.”
And it's not just the students who are benefiting from this technology. Professors can use this immersive VR experience to teach in new and innovative ways, opening up new avenues for educational research and exploration.
“We can use data to predict future scenarios or shrink to the size of a nanobot and travel at a microscopic level — the possibilities are endless,” said Lisa Flesher, Chief of Realm 4 Initiatives for EdPlus at ASU. “We are revolutionizing education with immersive technology and enabling students to be explorers of their own education.”
Looking ahead, ASU Dreamscape Learn aims to expand to new subjects — such as chemistry, climate science and sustainability — and include student storytelling from ASU courses like Designing for Dreamscape into their immersive educational experiences.
“The future of education is now,” said Vanden Brooks. “We are re-envisioning how we engage and teach our students with innovative learning experiences — that’s what we’re doing here at ASU.”
Written by Kevin Pirehpour; Photos by Mike Sanchez and Kevin Pirehpour
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