Graduate Student Articles

Encouraging Faculty Adoption of Virtual Reality Tools in Engineering Education

Authors: Sarah El-Mallah (University of Idaho) , Tonia Dousay (University of Idaho)

  • Encouraging Faculty Adoption of Virtual Reality Tools in Engineering Education

    Graduate Student Articles

    Encouraging Faculty Adoption of Virtual Reality Tools in Engineering Education

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Virtual reality is one of the widely emerging technologies and is anticipated to play a substantial role in the future of education. Though many research studies have been conducted on its application in various disciplines, less investigations focused on its integration in engineering higher education. This work, thus, aims to identify the major opportunities and challenges of virtual reality adoption in various areas of engineering. To do so, solicited engineering faculty participants from four different departments at the University of Idaho attended demos to examine a virtual reality technology – namely Leap Motion desktop controller. They were then asked to respond to a survey that collected their feedback on virtual reality possible applications, educational uses, and challenges in their respective disciplines. The survey also collected responses related to their perception, acceptance, and recommendations on ways to encourage virtual reality implementation. Results show a majority of participants being in favor of adopting virtual reality, suggesting areas and classes/labs that would best benefit from such technology. This paper also proposes professional development activities and suggestions for virtual reality applications’ developers.

Keywords: Leap Motion, Virtual Reality, Engineering, Higher Education

How to Cite: El-Mallah S. & Dousay T., (2019) “Encouraging Faculty Adoption of Virtual Reality Tools in Engineering Education”, Issues and Trends in Educational Technology 7(2). doi:



Published on
24 Dec 2019
Peer Reviewed
Encouraging Faculty Adoption of Virtual Reality Tools in Engineering Education

Encouraging Faculty Adoption of Virtual Reality Tools in Engineering Education

Sarah El-Mallah
University of Idaho

Tonia Dousay
University of Idaho


Virtual Reality (VR) is one of the current trending technologies. It is defined as a technology that allows computer-generated imagery to be overlaid onto simulated environments (Lee, 2012). The concept of VR refers to a whole simulated reality, built with computer systems by using digital formats that require hardware and software; e.g. controllers, VR helmets, dedicated glasses, and 3D software, powerful enough to create a realistic immersive experience (Martín-Gutiérrez, Mora, Añorbe-Díaz, & González-Marrero, 2017). We often see it around us in gaming, as in the Xbox Kinect console that tracks the player's body movements and translates them onto the screen to interact with virtual objects.

Several empirical research studies have been conducted on VR-based educational activities in teaching chemistry, biology, mathematics, and history in K-12, higher education, and industrial training (Lee, 2012), showing that VR enhanced learners' motivation, understanding, learning outcomes, knowledge retention and perception of their real settings by giving them more freedom to interact with objects in the virtual (Ausburn & Ausburn, 2008; Lee, Wong, & Fung, 2010; Mariette, 2013). Other studies suggested that VR could support new educational and learning practices, such as social, mobile and networked learning (Sheehy, Ferguson, & Clough, 2013). Moreover, a 50-66% performance improvement, without and with tutorial guidance respectively, has been proven when VR training was employed instead of traditional workshops and computer-based training in industrial and manufactural settings (Stone, 2001). Hence, it was concluded that VR has a very promising future in education and training and is expected to be widely deployed in different disciplines in the future.

However, VR also carries some limitations that have been testified by numerous studies. Some of the major reported VR shortcomings included the high initial cost, up to $3,000 per unit, and user disorientation if used for more than one hour at a time. Nonetheless, these two impediments are expected to be trivial (Sanjiv, 2016) as more manufacturers enter the marketplace causing the cost to drop eventually, and as developers work on solutions to enhance the software so as to eliminate VR sickness.

All the above described benefits, and addressable shortcomings, contribute to reasons for introducing VR technology into the higher education curriculum and better understanding of its capacities to provide an engaging, fully interactive, emotionally involving learning environment. Higher education students want to be well-prepared for their professional lives and expect more courses with practical and technological applications of theoretical knowledge acquired during their studies (Häfner, Häfner, & Ovtcharova, 2013). Globalization and digitization have driven a need to change traditional lecture-based passive learning to active multi-sensory experiential learning that maximizes the student's transferability of academic knowledge to the engineering industry (Deshpande & Huang, 2011). Still, decisions to adopt innovations into higher education are restricted by financial resources, class sizes, space, technology, instructional staff time, and student learning and satisfaction. Besides, instructional staff methodological and educational habits greatly influence their students' educational experience. Innovations are sometimes perceived to be more complex than necessary by some instructors (Borrego, Froyd, & Hall, 2010). Such perceptions might hinder innovative teaching initiatives and interfere with efforts to integrate technology in education. Thus, targeting instructors and faculty development becomes central if we are to mitigate such issues.

Increasing VR Adoption

Architecture, engineering and construction disciplines hold enormous potential for VR adoption as learners can experience realistic situations without having to worry about the high cost of materials, or injuries (Hilfert & König, 2016). Using animations, graphics, and an interactive environment, the instructional media can be designed to engage and stimulate students to effectively explain and illustrate course topics, and to build problem-solving skills (Philpot et al., 2003). For instance, having civil engineering students virtually interact with simulated traffic environments and experience road-like simulated conditions to analyze traffic flow through intersections, or make color-coded traffic analysis, could have a positive influence on their understanding and perception of the explained problems.

The Leap Motion Controller is a hand-input device that captures stereoscopic images and motion of the user's hands using two cameras and infrared LEDs (Leap Motion, 2018). It calculates the positions of fingers, hands and wrist with calibrated camera positions and proprietary software algorithms (Hilfert & König, 2016). In looking at the Leap Motion Controller as an affordable VR technology, this device's hand gesture-controlled user interface capabilities have not yet been broadly analyzed. However, the device's proven precise motion can motivate the development of applications in the field of human-computer interaction (Weichert, Bachmann, Rudak, & Fisseler, 2013). Testing has shown that the controller can offer precise tracing of moving hands and fingers. Nevertheless, this detection loses accuracy when the hand moves into an obstructing position to the controller's view or when individual elements of the hands are brought together, which creates an opportunity for further development of the Leap Motion controller (Potter, Araullo, & Carter, 2013). Still, the technology does present a wealth of opportunities when taken into consideration with existing applications available through the Microsoft Windows App Store.

Project Rationale

Considering the earlier described benefits and challenges to adopting VR, it is crucial to understand the engineering higher education teaching environment and culture as it relates to this maturing technology. Engineering subjects are highly theoretical and thus have primarily been taught using a lecture-based set-up, accompanied by rigorous problem-solving exercises (Baillie & Fitzgerald, 2000). McKenna and Yalvac's (2007) study shed light on the unique character of engineering faculty's teaching in different domain areas, showing an espoused teacher-centered approach with pedagogical strategies like recognizing difficulty in learning subject matter, gradually increasing complexity and making connections, contextualizing the information, providing multiple representations to reinforce concepts, and encouraging interaction. The outcome of their study suggests that engineering faculty teaching does not follow the accurate definition of a learner-centered teaching perspective, where students are not only recipients of the knowledge, but rather contributors who develop the intellectual tools and learning strategies needed to acquire the knowledge (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). Yet, the data also suggests that engineering teaching is often engrained in concern for student learning, which is a basis to develop learner-centered methods.

Given the previously mentioned VR potential, need for instructional staff development, and the engineering teaching approach, the purpose of this action research project is to study the extent to which engineering faculty at the University of Idaho (UI) are interested in adopting VR and proposing professional development to aid in such adoption. The focus of the study will be on collecting UI Department of Engineering faculty's feedback as per their experience using the Leap Motion technology and recommended VR applications needed to increase its adoption in educating undergraduate and graduate engineering students. The outcome of this research will help future VR applications' designers and developers in recognizing the needs of engineering education, as well as prescribe professional development activities for faculty.

Action Research Design

This research study was done with the UI Doceo Center for Innovation + Learning (UIDC). UIDC leads teaching innovation and technology integration initiatives at the university and in K-12 schools in the state of Idaho. It supports teaching, modeling, and researching technology integration practices amongst teacher education candidates, school administration candidates, early career teachers, practicing teachers and administrators, university faculty, and K-12 school districts. It also provides resources and research to state and national audiences (Doceo Center, 2018). At the time we started this project, UIDC possessed a VR technology, namely the Leap Motion Controller, that we decided to use for the purpose of our project as an example of a VR technology that is easy to learn and use.

Unfortunately, almost no Leap Motion applications exist for engineering in higher education. However, as the VR technology is still under continuous expansion and development, we aimed, through the outcomes of our project, to provide input to software developers as per the UI Engineering Faculty recommendations, after they had explored the Leap Motion Controller's capabilities. Although no special cultural considerations are associated with this study, it is important to be mindful of the relatively different engineering teaching culture (Neumann, 2001; Neumann, Parry, & Becher, 2002), which was noted earlier in the rationale section of this paper. The following sections detail the process undertaken to explore both the engineering education culture at UI and available VR technology, investigate the potential for VR integration by engineering faculty, implement professional development sessions for engineering faculty, and reflect on the project for possible future revisions and implementation.

Methodology, Procedures & Tactics

We started our project by intensely studying the VR leap Motion technology, investigating its functionality and applications available to the public at the Leap Motion Gallery. Then, we sent emails to Engineering Department chairs to officially request their collaboration approval and we gave them an overview of the action research project. There are six engineering departments at UI; namely Biological, Chemical and Materials, Civil and Environmental, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. We received chairs' approval for the last five. While it was not mandatory, we believed sending these invitations emails to collaborate to be a key step to get administrative buy-in. We then sent emails to solicit faculty participants to complete an online survey, attend professional development workshops, and provide feedback. Seven participants from four different engineering departments responded and participated in the project.

Faculty Perceptions

We distributed a survey via Google Forms to assist with designing professional development demonstrations for faculty and investigate the culture of engineering education on campus. Divided into four sections, the survey asked faculty questions related to demographics, VR opportunities and possible educational uses, challenges, and perceptions, acceptance, and likeability. Demographics included questions like academic department and years of experience in higher education. Opportunities and possible educational uses presented a demonstration video of the Leap Motion VR technology and asked participants to describe uses of VR within his or her respective engineering discipline and specific applications they would like to see developed. Challenges invited participants to openly share concerns and issues that might inhibit their consideration of the technology. Questions in the last section invited participants to: (1) list issues, including concepts and activities, in which traditional classroom activities have failed; (2) discuss the potential of VR to assist with learner motivation and knowledge transfer; (3) comment on the likelihood of VR to have a serious impact on engineering in higher education; (4) suggest methods to enhance faculty adoption of the technology; and (5) provide recommendations for designing professional development workshops/opportunities.

Table 1 details participants' demographics. Of the seven faculty members, three were from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, two were from Electrical and Computer Engineering, one from Mechanical Engineering, and one from Chemical and Materials Engineering. Additionally, 71.4% of the participants indicated 10 to 20 years of experience in higher education, while 14.3% had more than 20 years of experience, and another 14.3% had 2 to 5 years of higher education experience.

Table 1. Demographics
Which Engineering academic department you work in? How long have you been in higher education?
Civil & Environmental Engineering > 20 years
Civil & Environmental Engineering 10 - 20 years
Mechanical Engineering 2 - 5 years
Electrical & Computer Engineering 10 - 20 years
Electrical & Computer Engineering 10 - 20 years
Chemical & Materials Engineering 10 - 20 years
Civil & Environmental Engineering 10 - 20 years

Tables 2 and 3 contain participants' responses to questions related to opportunities and possible educational uses of VR in their respective disciplines. The responses to these two questions were meant as both informational gathering to help with designing professional development workshops/opportunities and also assist developers with considering what to potentially target as the technology matures.

Table 2. Opportunities & Possible Educational Uses
In your opinion, what are some possible educational uses of Virtual Reality in your discipline?
Possibility of reaching out to underground depths and determine properties of hard to reach rock materials
VR could be used as supplementary tool in civil engineering classes such as reinforced concrete, statics, and structural analysis where students usually struggle in understanding the 3D problems.
Virtual interactive demonstrations that can be setup for students to increase engagement;
Interactive learning, provided that supporting apps exist
VR can be used in several educational components in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) education. It can be first employed for training on safety measures in electrical lab experiments involving high voltage or machine stability, before having the students run experiments in real settings. VR can be also used to enrich the experience for the computer-based simulation works required in ECE. For example, they can replace circuit building in schematics for simulation by virtual hands-on circuit connections that mimic the real-world. They can be used in cascading simulation blocks and functions instead of typing them as codes.
The Virtual Reality can serve as a complementary tool in aiding engineering laboratory activities, particularly for teaching purposes. One can develop virtual laboratory showing various equipment and how to operate them. It can be much like the flight simulators the pilots may train on in the initial stage of training. I think this can also help in offering long distance courses online where students are not able to attend the laboratory class in-person. Also, in lecture classes, some of the difficult concepts may be better explained using virtual reality, such as understanding crystal structures and other difficult-to-visualize concepts.
This hands-on experience can be used to introduce students to new concepts or emphasis concepts that they already know.
Table 3. Opportunities & Possible Educational Uses
After watching the scaffolding video below, what Virtual Reality applications you think would be helpful in addressing your students' educational needs?
Can't think of any
The 3D effects will be really very helpful in teaching classes and it will save a lot of time and money spent in building full-scale prototypes.
I think that today's students will be tomorrow's designers and innovators. The current input devices of today are still amongst the original input devices of modern computing. Our computational power has grown so much during the last few decades. It is time for our input devices to follow. There will be a learning curve/time period. However I feel that devices and applications such as these help to address the new and differing ways that today's students will be expected to interact with design software in the future.
labs, bringing some interaction to the classroom. I believe many students would be interested interacting with VR than a human, however, the bottleneck would always be the existence of relative and exciting apps.
After watching the scaffolding, I restate that this technology can have a great impact on replacing many of the simulation and coding work needed in most ECE labs and courses by their more hands-on building versions. This will give the students a much better simulation experience that mimics the real-world work they need to do, instead of doing those using simple schematics and codes.
Understanding crystallographic planes and directions (need more information though to make a definitive comment)
endless opportunities: for example a demonstration of the forces on a vehicle or an object travelling on a sharp horizontal curve, relationship between distractions and traffic collision risks, alternative roadway construction techniques, etc.

Table 4 describes some challenges as perceived by the study's participants. When asking this question, we envisioned the possibility to inform professional development as well as designers. The resulting responses also provide good reminders for administrators.

Table 4. Challenges
What are the major challenges that you think could stand in the way of considering the use of Virtual Reality in your educational area of focus?
Building models (applications) in VR
The major challenge is to program, code, and implement problems at hand to be an easy tool for instructors and students to use.
Older faculty buy-in to importance; Cost(s)--both upfront and maintained; Current performance of technology is clunky
Suitable applications that capture the scientific content and are exciting as well. for example, connecting electrical circuits w/o the possible dangers accompanied in a real lab is great. However, I am unaware of any app that would allow me to do so in VR.
I believe the major challenge would be having well-designed and tested applications and software developed, with all the required technical details encompassed. One way to do so is to work with current simulation software owners to develop a VR environment for building circuits and blocks and interface them with their already developed simulation software. However, these owners are usually license protected and working with them may not be easy. Developing these simulators from scratch will require quite sometime to build trust from the faculty and professionals to employ them as replacements for the current employed tools.
The major challenge is who will make the models. We don't have skill base to do those sort of things.
1) cost of development, 2) student acceptance of non-traditional educational methods

Table 5 highlights participants' perception, acceptance, and likeability of VR adoption in education. These two questions were meant to help gather details regarding the current engineering education culture on campus, which may in turn assist with further Leap Motion activity designs. The first question yielded responses of this type but also revealed pedagogical concerns that apply to engineering education in general. These pedagogical concerns provided considerations for professional development.

Table 5. Perception, Acceptance & Likeability
Are there any areas in your discipline where you think that traditional instructional learning has not been effective? If you answered "yes" or "maybe", please explain.
Yes Students are hard to visualize how loads create stresses in structures as one example
Yes concrete design, statics, and structural analysis
Yes I question the modern class, considering the classic classroom setting. I don't think that the classic textbook is an effective teaching mechanism considering today's 'information superhighway' opportunities
Yes Most students today are used to different audio, visual, and interactive stimuli (mobile/video games, etc.). This is not followed in most classrooms, simply due to the material covered mainly being in textbooks and the lack of interactive applications to make learning more exciting for students.
Maybe It is hard to figure out how non-traditional methods in engineering education can be replaced with more active learning approaches. VR can indeed help in that, especially in labs as previously mentioned. However, it is not easy to see how this can make its way to class lecturing.
Yes The concepts which are difficult to conceptualize such as crystalline structure - the way atoms are arranged. Also, there could be other applications.
Yes I would not say have not been effective, rather interactive hand-on techniques, such as virtual reality, would "maybe" be more effective.

While the vast majority of participating faculty felt that VR might serve as a motivational and learning tool, results varied on the perception of VR having a serious impact on engineering higher education. Six of the seven faculty members indicated "yes" when asked, "Do you believe that Virtual Reality may be used as a means of motivating and enhancing students' understanding of certain concepts?" The seventh participant responded "maybe" to this question, indicating a unanimous assumption of the technology's potential. However, when asked about the potentially disruptive nature of this technology, one strongly disagreed, one was undecided, three agreed, and two strongly agreed. While outside the scope of this project, emerging technologies are often overestimated in their impact, which may adversely impact long-term adoption and satisfaction.

Related to encouraging faculty to use VR, we realized the value in exploring internal suggestions for both adopting the technology as well as designing professional development opportunities. Such an approach was intended to give the participants ownership of their experience and enhance buy-in. Tables 6 and 7 show participants' recommendations for ways to encourage VR adoption in engineering education.

Table 6. Recommendations
Please provide any suggestions on how to encourage faculty adoption of Virtual Reality in education.
In my discipline, creating VR applications for basic engineering science principals such as stress-strain visualization
I need to see a step forward to start the implementation of VR in our teaching materials.
Create demand amongst students--they're the customer segment
Supplying faculty with a suite of interactive applications.
The encouragement of using VR in education is subject to the trust-building challenge I previously mentioned. I am quite sure faculty will be excited to use VR tools in their labs as long as they are sure of the outputs they get from the developed software are as good as the ones they get from their current computer-based simulation tools. So, the rigorous development of the right applications and their meticulous testing is the way to facilitate this adoption.
The faculty need to know the VR resources available on campus or outside where from they can adopt the essentials and start using VR tools in their classes.
help with development
Table 7. Recommendations
In your opinion, what is the best way to design informational sessions, or conduct in-depth Virtual Reality training for faculty and students?
First, have real demos in various disciplines that show potential. The demo provided here for scaffolding is too trivial and won't attract me to apply VR.
start meeting with instructors interested and I can participate by providing initial information to be coded.
A running tutorial series--with food!
hands on, and having relevant apps to each course/discipline.
I believe the best way to provide information and/or training about VR can be done through department/college workshops, with some certification of training attendance. However, this again has to follow the development of dedicated software addressing the needs of each discipline. Sharing information or training for games or general purpose VR applications will not receive significant appreciation.
I think a workshop fully focused on the VR technology applications in an educational setting. I will be interested to see some standard VR tools applied to engineering problems (both in crystal level and also on component-level) as examples and success stories of integrating VR in classroom settings.
on-campus series of half-day sessions

Findings and Recommendations

All participating faculty made specific recommendations for possible educational uses of VR. Civil engineering faculty indicated topics related to properties determination of hard to reach rock material, supplementing classes such as reinforced concrete, statics, and structure analysis; avoiding building full-scale prototypes, demonstrating forces on vehicles or objects, simulating alternative roadway construction techniques and studying the relationship between driver distraction and traffic collision risks. Electrical engineering faculty proposed that VR could be used in training on safety measures in electrical labs, to replace on-screen circuit building in schematics, and to replace simulations and coding work. Chemical and materials engineering faculty recommended VR in enhancing students' understanding of crystal structure and crystallographic planes. Furthermore, mechanical engineering faculty endorsed VR as an effective tool in virtual interactive mechanical demonstrations. Generally, the technology is also seen to be effective in offering long-distance courses.

The vast majority, 85.7%, of participants thought that there are areas where traditional instruction has not been effective—such as crystalline structure, atoms arrangement, and how loads create stresses in structures—and that VR may be used as a student motivational tool to enhance understanding and learning. The main challenges articulated by participants included challenges with implementation, building models/applications, software licensing, cost, faculty resistance, student acceptance, and the clunky performance of currently available VR technologies. Fewer participants, 28.6%, agreed that VR holds the potential to have serious impact on engineering in higher education; 42.9% slightly agreed, 14.3% were neutral about this statement, and 14.3% disagreed with it.

Implementing Professional Development

Participants highlighted a need to increase awareness of VR resources available to them and motivating students and instructors to explore this technology. Following a recommendation to design and conduct information sessions and training for faculty, we created initial demonstrations and summarized designs for future professional development targeting both faculty and students. Suggested content for these sessions includes VR potential using relevant applications to each course/discipline, examples of success stories of VR integration in classroom settings, and standard VR tools applied to specific problems.

Initial Demonstrations

Following the survey distribution, four small group and individual demonstrations for faculty development were scheduled. These demonstrations brought all seven-participating faculty in to the Doceo Center. During these sessions, the faculty familiarized themselves with the Leap Motion controller and tested its functionality, capabilities, and accuracy. They had questions and comments regarding the VR technology in general, our project's methodology, and UIDC's role at UI. The feedback received during these demonstrations helped enhance subsequent offerings and contributed to design considerations for future professional development.

A typical demonstration started by introducing UIDC to participants, talking about its history, mission and the services provided. The demonstration itself began with an introduction to the Leap Motion controller, explaining the physical hardware aspects of the technology, followed by using the Leap Motion Playground to show the Leap Motion controller's functionality and how it translates hand motions on screen. Following the demonstration, we familiarized faculty with the available free applications on the Leap Motion gallery website and tested these with participants as requested. For example, multiple faculty wanted to explore the frog dissection app; therefore, we used this self-directed interest to foster testing the technology. Each of the faculty were then given an opportunity to use Leap Motion further to examine its functionality, capabilities, and flaws.

Finally, we invited faculty to engage in open discussion with comments and questions. This open discussion was characterized by three primary themes: comments/questions about the VR technology, questions about the UIDC services, and/or questions/comments about the action research project itself. With respect to the VR technology, faculty were most interested in the cost of the technology, how to purchase Leap Motion, and where to locate additional applications. These conversations always included additional observations that the technology does not yet have a robust offering of engineering-specific applications, details that have been shared with Leap Motion developers. Questions related to the UIDC primarily revolved around how to reserve the facility for class meetings to explore more VR technologies, supporting the intent of the project. Lastly, the participating faculty were curious about future professional development opportunities and how their participation will shape these opportunities.

Future Professional Development

Based on the survey responses received and initial professional development offered, future professional development for faculty will involve three primary components. These components each represent targeted one-hour sessions dispersed throughout the academic year so as to respect competing time commitments while simultaneously generating sustained interest and support.

The first component, VR brainstorming, invites faculty to engage in broadly brainstorming discipline and course-specific opportunities to integrate VR. This component, divided into two phases, purposefully does not expose participants to available technologies, focusing instead on educational gaps that faculty think could be addressed by VR. During the first phase, faculty are divided into small groups of three to five participants based upon specific discipline or course goal. Together, the faculty target common concepts they teach where traditional methods often require supplementation and/or students commonly struggle. With engineering specifically, session leaders can provide some of the earlier suggestions noted by project participants to facilitate the brainstorming session.

During the second phase, the small groups generate a separate list of the VR applications they already know of that might help address the identified gaps. This phase also entails session leaders introducing VR technologies already available that fit the needs identified during the brainstorming. Using this brainstorming and exploration approach helps the faculty participants take ownership of the decision to evaluate and use specific technologies, a design consideration to support buy-in from adopters. It should be noted that groups will be given either digital collaboration or physical note-taking tools to capture the discussions from this brainstorming to facilitate other components and support faculty who are unable to attend every session in sequential order.

Guided by the outcomes of the first component, the second component requires offering a series of workshops targeting specific gaps identified during the brainstorming session. For example, a one-hour workshop could target the "atoms arrangement" concept noted earlier and provide different VR solutions to teaching and reviewing how atoms behave and combine into molecules. During this session, there might be a station configured with a VR headset and computer that launches a simulation where users are immersed in water and oil molecules and are able to virtually manipulate the individual atoms that make up the molecules. At another station, faculty can play with MERGE Cubes that have simple augmented reality (AR) simulations related to atoms and the periodic table of elements. A third station could have Leap Motion setup to play with their Particles app. Faculty can rotate through these stations and explore how the different technologies might support their classroom instruction. At the end of the workshop, faculty would share their initial thoughts and identify a goal for integrating one of the tools into a future class. This reflection component is key, as faculty all too often do not have an opportunity to engage in professional development of this nature much less share their experiences with colleagues in a positive, collaborative learning experience. The number of subsequent workshops will vary based upon the number of concepts identified during brainstorming.

The third component targets the feedback received from faculty during their initial demonstrations regarding how little is known about the UIDC and strategically plans for how to better incorporate the center into the campus teaching culture. This component includes scheduled tours to the Doceo Center, where faculty could learn about VR resources available on campus. Creating a structured, established time where faculty can visit the UIDC provides the necessary exposure to facilitate campus-wide adoption of effective technologies. Currently, the center provides drop-in opportunities and frequent on-demand sessions requested by administrators. However, the center and its purpose are not widely known to all faculty as indicated by the survey responses and subsequent demonstrations. Having an established schedule that is included on the main university calendar, noted in the daily newsletter distributed to faculty and staff, and regularly promoted at faculty meetings, would reinforce to faculty that the resource center is available and open for their use, which is not dissimilar to other services such as the library. During these tours, different technologies can be featured each month and upcoming workshops on specific tools and strategies for technology integration can be promoted. At these other workshops, faculty can be recruited to test emerging technologies or more deeply integrate existing technologies and serve as leaders for their discipline as well as the broader campus community. Lastly, some of these tours will target leaders specifically to help elicit leadership buy-in necessary to better support faculty requests to use VR and similar emerging technologies. As leaders become more aware of the tools and their potential use, faculty who opt to use these technologies effectively can be rewarded during annual evaluation.


This action research project sought to better understand the engineering education culture at the University of Idaho and facilitate the use of VR technology by engineering faculty. Using a four-phase cycle of plan-act-observe-and-reflect, the analysis of the problem included surveying relevant faculty, designing initial professional development, gathering additional data during the demonstrations, and reflecting on the overall project to recommend future professional development. Additionally, the project yielded relevant feedback for the industry to help guide the future development of the technology.

Based on the participants responses, we recommend developers consider VR applications for basic engineering principles and to involve instructors in the development process. Accuracy of the developed applications is seen to be crucial when it comes to engineering problems, and hence it is highly recommended as a fail-safe factor in the application development stage. These recommendations have been provided to multiple software companies, including Leap Motion.

Future implementation involves delivering hour-long workshops following a three-component plan. The three components include targeting engineering faculty for a brainstorming session to guide the topics used for the second component. During the second component, faculty are provided with an opportunity to explore targeted VR technology that can address specific concepts and strategies and help reflect on their experiences. The third component invites the broader campus community to explore the Doceo Center to learn more about effective technology integration and engage in subsequent professional development, contributing to both leadership and faculty buy-in.

While not necessarily detailed in this project report, some policy changes may be needed to reflect higher-level administration's appreciation and support for innovative teaching, such as providing certificates for training, and taking them into consideration in evaluations. Combined, these recommendations might encourage VR adoption and diminish the perception that such adoption represents unnecessary complications with no added value.


We would like to thank UI engineering department chairs for encouraging faculty members to participate in this project, and all participants for providing their time, insight, and expertise. We also thank UIDC director, Cassidy S. Hall, and research assistant, Yudi Zhu, for helping to answer participants' questions during the professional development demonstrations.