YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University faculty members have shown exceptional creativity this year in terms of engaging students amid the unprecedented environment, and Frank J. Fedel is a prime example.
Fedel, a professor in EMU’s Orthotics and Prosthetics program, faced a distinct hurdle in introducing new students to the decidedly hands-on discipline.
Challenge accepted. Challenge met.
Creating a virtual lab space
During the summer months, he created a virtual environment of the O&P program's lab space, so that incoming students who either had not seen it previously, or saw it only during a quick visit, would be somewhat familiar with the layout of the program’s fabrication labs.
Fedel shared the link to the browser-based VR experience with the new students and received positive feedback. First-time users can click on the “help” link for basic instructions.
“Even though that is not my area of expertise, I just like sophisticated uses of technology, and learned enough about programming when I was teaching it years ago to get involved with it,” Fedel said.
In the interactive virtual reality page, Fedel provided floating labels to identify equipment by name, along with hyperlinks to YouTube videos that faculty created, demonstrating the use of some of the equipment in the fabrication lab, so students got a head start on how it is used.
Fedel worked long hours in creating 3D models and working with programmers to create the experience. “It’s something I did as a way to make students feel more present at EMU; I got an inexpensive hosting service and came up with a domain name that made sense – FrugalProf.tech – frugal because I'm cheap,” he said.
Students help in project
Students are involved in the project as well. One of Fedel’s first-year students, Jace Briggs, has been exploring ideas for uses of the technology, and has committed to submit an abstract for a presentation at the discipline’s national conference.
“I see the potential for helping not only students but also faculty, as using VR eliminates the issues of physical proximity of individuals as they learn and work,” Fedel says. “I see it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things, including interactive experiences that allow students to virtually use tools and learn from making mistakes, without incurring the additional psychological and financial costs associated with using real materials and equipment.
“My thought is that they can transition to the real world and use those tools later and have more insight into some of the things that they could do more correctly and efficiently at that point.
“It's a long road, but I think this first rough draft is at least engaging.”
About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves nearly 18,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.