SUNY JCC Awarded Innovative Instruction Technology Grant to Create VR Room

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Jonathan Blair

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SUNY Jamestown Community College

Computer Science students at SUNY Jamestown Community College will soon find their learning experience is more immersive and hands-on than ever before. The college was awarded a $12,500 Innovative Instruction Technology Grant, and used the funds to create a virtual and augmented reality room in the Sheldon Center on the Jamestown Campus.

“Computer Science, by its nature, is a field that changes rapidly,” said Jonathan Blair, instructor of Computer Science at SUNY JCC. “I felt it was important for the students to have the ability to do a focused study on a cutting-edge topic that directly impacts the area of Computer Science they are hoping to spend their career in. When you add in the fact that most employers want some type of experience in order to be hired, it makes sense to have them complete a project that they designed, constructed, and managed.”

Blair believes that students in the program are sure to do big things with this new technology. His capstone students have already shown him they are capable of producing big ideas and bringing them to fruition.

Blair recently challenged his students to complete a 16-week project on a topic of their choosing. The variety of ideas captured in the 17 project submissions were vast, and included everything from hardware-based projects like security cameras created from mobile phones, to mobile shopping and project-tracking apps, and even game projects that included everything from physics to random world generation. One of these projects was presented in virtual reality.

“To have them complete the projects as well as they did was quite satisfying,” Blair shared. “Once they realized they truly could research any tech topic they wanted, they took off and most never looked back.”

Just like many people experience with cell phones, mobile apps, and computer software, Blair explained that one of the downsides to technology moving so quickly is that there is a constant need to upgrade and update classroom materials.

“Virtual and Augmented Reality technology is becoming so ubiquitous that it is almost mandatory for students to not only know how it works, but be able to build off that knowledge base to create their own systems,” Blair explained. “Applying for the IITG grant seemed like a no-brainer to remove that problem.”

The new VR/AR room will allow for students studying Computer Science to write and test virtual and augmented reality programming.

“The project will improve learning outcomes and increase student engagement in the classroom,” said Laura Parmenter, director of Online Learning at SUNY JCC. “Most importantly, this project will provide students with hands-on experiences and critical thinking skills as they create, test, and adjust VR/AR programming for use in the real world.”

The dedicated space will give students the ability to move about freely, as though actually in a museum or a foreign country for example, or even a hospital room if a nursing simulation were created. Though initially the room will be for Computer Science students, future goals include the incorporation of training opportunities for other departments and Workforce Development certifications in the future.

“Star Trek fans can imagine a holodeck, and they’ll have the idea,” Blair explained. “It’s the next stage for VR and we figured if we are going to introduce the technology to the college, we might as well go to the very front.”

As of 2022, the median pay for computer and technology occupations is more than $100,000 a year, and it is projected that there are 9,600 new openings for computer programmers each year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The college being willing to sign on to something like this was a big boost to our confidence in being able to pull it off,” Blair said. “People like Laura Parmenter, Paula Pichon (grants coordinator and writer for the City of Jamestown and JCC), and Kyle Brown (executive director of Information Technology at JCC) put in a lot of extra work to make sure students would have access to the system we are building. Everyone from President DeMarte through the vice presidents and deans has been 100% behind the Computer Science department’s efforts to bring these new systems to our students. It makes a big difference knowing that they see the importance that these things will have in our students’ ability to be successful after their college career is over.”

Parmenter looks forward to showcasing the room and offering demonstrations for students, employees, and the community.

“Not only will the VR room help prepare JCC students for their future careers, but it will also help JCC excite the community about STEM, art, and Global Learning to name a few,” Parmenter said. “We intend to use the room for connection events with local high school students and for summer camps.”

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new room is planned for 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 29 in the Sheldon Center. For more information on the Computer Science program, visit sunyjcc.edu/ComputerScience.