As students paraded in and out before the start of that evening’s meeting of the Broward College Intech Club, Mariela Lopez and Jorge Ortiz stood in front of the classroom with a pair of goggles over their eyes and looked out at the future of computing.

The sleek space age-looking glasses or something resembling them, are expected, at some point, to converge all extended reality (XR) technologies including virtual, augmented and mixed into one wearable and mobile device. Imagine what that might mean: information from a desktop computer or mobile phone would no longer be bound to a screen but projected instead into real-world fields of view seen through the lenses of a wearable device. With that promise in mind, think about how XR may transform the way people work, spend their leisure time, and learn.

“There’s wide agreement that a big bang is ahead of us,” said Dr. Raz Ben-Ezzer, who is part of a Broward College team of faculty and administrators charged with developing initiatives in spatial computing, extended reality, and other advances around augmented technology. “Once this platform or device hits the marketplace, the product is going to change our world like the smartphone has, but probably even more.”

When that explosion bursts onto the scene, Broward College students will be prepared to take advantage of the technology’s rippling effects. The College, in partnership with Magic Leap, the Plantation, Florida-based creator of the mixed-reality goggles, is establishing an IDEA (Invent, Design, Education and Accelerate) LAB on A. Hugh Adams Central Campus. The collaboration also involves Broward College’s Entrepreneurship Experience (BCEx).

The Next Smartphone

InTech Club students with VR glassesInside the lab, students will learn the fundamentals of extended reality, the umbrella term for computer-generated environments that either merge the physical and virtual worlds or creates an entirely immersive experience for wearers. So far, the centerpiece for instruction in spatial computing are the 42 mixed-reality headsets and pocket-sized wireless computers supplied by Magic Leap. From those devices, digital content is blended with live environments, enabling students to interact with both in real-time.

“It’s really cool when you put them on for the first time,” said Lopez, who will begin classes in the fall in the College’s B.S. in Information Technology, which has a spatial computing specialization. “It’s something we’ve never seen before.”

From advanced robotics to self-driving cars, to the viral app Pokémon GO, elements of augmented reality are popping up everywhere. Students and faculty at Broward College hope to take the technology a step further by creating new teaching and learning opportunities.

In the not too distant future, nursing students at Broward College might don mixed reality goggles to practice inserting catheters into a virtual patient’s bladder, eliminating the risk of performing the procedure on a live human being and the expense associated with creating a life-like situation. The same thinking applies to most disciplines – think history and geology or STEM or communications and aviation, to name a few.

“Everybody needs to be exposed to spatial computing technology,” said Michelle Levine, district director of Faculty Development. “But not everybody right now understands the need to get onboard or sees the relevance.”

On Frontlines of Learning

Levine was among a team of 12 faculty and administrators, who last month attended “Realities 360,” an augmented and virtual realities conference for workforce training and higher education. The team is in the process of taking what they learned at the California conference to determine how faculty can apply XR to supplement and improve learning on campus.

Following a training “boot camp” later this month with Magic Leap and a Hackathon devoted to spatial computing in September, the team will present a campus symposium, April 3-4, 2020, to share what they’ve learned about the technology and how some basic principles can be immediately applied in the classroom.

“I feel like we’re pioneers,” said Ben-Ezzer, while he downloaded an app that would enable him to play a virtual drum set in the confines of his office. “At a certain level, colleges and universities are getting ready for this. We are not the first, but we are certainly at the forefront.”

Are you interested in a career that bridges the physical and digital worlds to transform the way people live, work, and learn? Then see how a degree in Information Technology will put you on the frontlines of the next must-have technology.