Tech professor visits MIT to study augmented and virtual reality in learning

By Kyle Roberts

As methods for student learning is ever changing in the world of modern technology, Louisiana Tech’s own assistant professor Dr. Dustin Whitlock of the College of Education and Human Sciences (CEHS) recognizes the need for educators to keep up with these changes.

Thus, Whitlock spent two weeks this summer at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., near Boston in an effort to study the enhancement of STEM learning through mixed and augmented reality in order to benefit students, thanks in part to grant funding at both the state and federal levels.

“The College of Education and Human Sciences, specifically the Curriculum Instruction Leadership program, is continuing to evolve as the field of education evolves,” Whitlock said. “The university and program understand that we have to make sure we are continuing to keep teachers up to date with best practices. There is a big push within the field of education to move toward learning science and encouraging teachers the “how and why” we learn rather than just the “what” to teach.

“In that, there are pushes towards increasing new technologies and doing different things. There have been some new opportunities to look at new technology as it relates to student learning. One of the things that we’ve gotten interested in is the usage of what is known as mixed reality, which is either augmented or virtual reality, within the classroom.

Whitlock spent his two weeks at various seminars at the Scheller Teacher Education Program at MIT, exploring The Education Arcade and seeing new ways to engage in various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) scenarios through mixed reality learning by digitizing opportunities for students, both at the grade-school and college levels.

“We’re looking at ways for how mixed reality can impact teacher preparation,” Whitlock said. “We want to know if we can put a teacher in a virtual reality headset where they are in a classroom standing in front of students, interacting virtually in a computer program that simulates what it will be like to be in a classroom.

“They can also gain an understanding of what it’s like for students who may suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder or dyslexia. If we can equip those teachers in pre-service, then they will be more equipped to handle those situations in-service.”

Louisiana Tech Associate Dean for Research, Outreach and Innovation Dr. Lindsey Keith-Vincent applauded Whitlock’s initiative in seeking out new, unique methods for preparing teachers for the classroom.

“Dr. Whitlock’s vision for connecting with leaders at MIT to strengthen and expand our CEHS work in the learning and cognitive science spaces, has led to synergies that will lay the foundation for world-class research and partnership efforts here in  Ruston,” Keith-Vincent said. “Louisiana Tech University has the opportunity through this work to be on the forefront of instructional and technological advancements that can transform the global learning landscape.

“Because of faculty like Dr. Whitlock, our CEHS has a seat at tables with leaders in key fields that are defining the future for communities of learners.”

Whitlock originally learned of a grant funding opportunity earlier this year through the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, which has components in both federal and state grant funding. Whitlock was able to secure grant funding at the state level through LINKS, which is Louisiana’s arm of EPSCoR.

“(Louisiana Tech) University graciously matched part of the LINKS funding, as well, so they were willing to also support me as a professional,” Whitlock said. “Really, my goal was to understand how one of the top research institutions in the world in MIT is conducting the work they are doing. And I wanted to see how we could better position ourselves as we look to do some similar work.

“LINKS is designed to connect us as a university to other institutions. And now we have a connection with MIT, and I was able to bring some things back and possibly connect some other colleagues to work that is being done there. It was a way to build a bridge between Louisiana Tech University and one of the top research institutions in the world.”

Whitlock concluding by thanking those that made it possible, including members of his college and the university.

“I’m very grateful to the Board of Regents for selecting me for the funding and providing me the opportunity,” Whitlock concluded. “I’m very grateful to Dr. Lindsey Keith-Vincent for her help as she navigated me through the grant writing process. I’m thankful to Dr. Don Schillinger for his work as the dean to help with funding, and to Dr. Ramu Ramachandran for his support.”