In late December 2021, Dr. Roy Magnuson, Associate Professor of Music Composition and Creative Technology at Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts, reached out to Craig Jackson, Director of Infrastructure and Network Operations in the Office of Technology Solutions, regarding a class. He was planning to teach during the first half of Spring 2022. The class was titled “Exploring Creativity Through (Global) Game Design and Virtual Reality in a Unity Game Engine”, and was one of the semester’s honors exploration options. Honors Explorations are five-week non-credit learning experiences that are open to 25 honors students from a variety of majors and years in school. The class aims to have each student build a working virtual reality simulator from scratch in just five weeks.
Magnuson had taught a similar version of the class before, from the Milner Library, and the students were working on their personal laptops. He had to give them access to Unity software on their personal devices, which can be inconvenient at times. For this class, he decided to reach out to Tech Solutions, with whom he had been involved in previous projects, to see if there were options that might benefit his students and their class – would they have space available with 18 machines?
Jackson pitched the idea to his colleagues at Tech Solutions, who first thought of the Digital Innovation, Graphics, and Game Space (DIGGS). This was eventually overtaken in favor of 113 Julian Hall – it had the space, most of the machinery, and had enough horsepower for all students to use the unit program simultaneously. It wasn’t until Magnuson began teaching in the room that he realized how amazing it was to have this kind of infrastructure built into the space. He said it “completely changed what a class is pedagogically.” All students can grab files online or build within the program without having to absorb delays or system overload. The room also had a demo space (an integral part of VR) and a coach station and was a flexible space that could be set up with input from Magnuson. Kevin Hand, Interim Executive Director of Business and Communications at Technology Solutions shared: “We were able to adapt pedagogy to technology in a visual way with this project. You walk in and everything works.”
Another boon was having endpoint support, an area of tech solutions, close by for backup. The endpoint has helped with everything from testing the hardware before students start class to making sure all software is updated to interfering when audio isn’t working. According to Richie Szaflarski, Director of Endpoint Support, the biggest challenge was finding six additional computers to fit the technology needs of Magnuson’s class before the start of term. The space housed 12 Alienware Aurora R7 desktops, “more powerful than the workstation of regular customers.” But there will be 18 students participating in the class. Fortunately, they managed to get six Acer Predator Orion 3000 desktop computers on loan from a partner company just in time!
Students had positive feedback on their experience in this class and had not only completed their VR experience by the end of the five weeks, but also pushed themselves to try out side projects or think of ways they could use them in the future. Magnuson had the students explore their bowling alleys and even a parkour course.
Junior Acting Senior Katie Freeman added, “As a performance-focused theater student, I don’t often work with technology or the tech side of things. I’ve learned that the possibilities for game design and virtual reality are endless if you have the time, creativity, and patience. In the future, I’d like to In exploring creating an interactive gallery of some sort for artists like me to display and get community feedback on monologues, songs, visual arts, and other art forms.I want to bring virtual reality technology into the world of theater and entertainment, and this exploration has helped me show that this intersection is much easier and more realistic than I was I imagine it.”
Overall, this partnership between Dr. The hope is to devise a model to reserve this and similar spaces and to train students in the latest technologies, so that they can participate in enabling peer access to spaces and resources. Magnuson emphasized how “deeply grateful and myself and honored were for this opportunity. It was so crazy to allow this space and these machines with all the hand-cut fittings and wires ready for our separation. It was Fabulous. It also allowed students to see the added value of their experience in real time.”
“When approaching an innovative idea, we’re here to do our best to say yes,” says Hand. Magnuson is already using the space for a graduate-level class this fall, and Tech Solutions is open to hearing from faculty and other staff about how our campus spaces are being used. Or even convert them to meet the needs of students and become computer labs in the future.