XR Initiative boosts education, research, collaboration

School of Nursing and Health Studies student Jackie Ferreira wears Magic Leap goggles, which the school is using to develop an application to help familiarize nurse anesthesia students with a hospital operating room. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami
By Amanda M. Perez and Kelly Montoya

School of Nursing and Health Studies student Jackie Ferreira wears Magic Leap goggles, which the school is using to develop an application to help familiarize nurse anesthesia students with a hospital operating room. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

XR Initiative boosts education, research, collaboration

By Amanda M. Perez and Kelly Montoya
The University of Miami launched a new website that highlights the progress being made with extended reality technology that is being used to pursue innovative solutions.

The University of Miami is reimagining teaching and learning. Across disciplines, students and faculty members are developing innovative research and applications through the use of extended reality (XR).

“We live in an age where technologies are rapidly converging, and new computational environments like XR are thriving in collaborative settings,” explained Kim Grinfeder, chair of the Department of Interactive Media. “UM is uniquely suited for such an endeavor. We are a small campus with a very diverse faculty. I hope this interdisciplinary collaboration we see now is the beginning of something new that will continue to grow,” he said. 

The XR Initiative is founded on the premise that immersive environments will be the next pervasive platform for a variety of fields including communication, education, and health care, eventually evolving into nonintrusive interfaces and seamlessly blending the real world with digital information. 

At the School of Nursing and Health Studies, faculty members and students are developing an application using Magic Leap goggles to help teach nurse anesthesia students how to familiarize themselves with the operating room.  

Greta Mitzova-Vladinov, assistant professor of clinical, decided to create this application in an effort to better prepare her students for the real-world settings they will encounter.  

“Some of the biggest problems novice learners and junior students have when they're first into the clinical area is their lack of confidence and high anxiety levels in the unfamiliar operating room environment,” explained Mitzova-Vladinov. “We're planning to use XR to enhance teaching in simulation by practicing virtually in mixed reality prior to encountering those very high-risk scenarios in the operating room.” 

Kelsey Boily, a graduate nurse anesthesia student, believes this new tool gives students an upper hand in training.  

“When I first walked into the OR it was very intimidating. I felt very lost and I didn't really know how to set up the equipment. So, now this provides the students an opportunity to really see the equipment and learn how to set it,” Boily said. “Students can now extensively practice; so, when they walk into the OR they can feel much more confident.” 

Dr. Lee Kaplan, director of the UHealth Sports Medicine Institute, is also using XR technology to enhance the patient experience at the Lennar Foundation Medical Center. The application he has helped create—which was co-sponsored by the Miami Clinical and Translational Science Institute—provides patients the opportunity to virtually experience the main aspects of what to expect on their surgery day.

“Some people are often very nervous around their surgical date. We actually filmed and digitized the Lennar Foundation Medical Center so that they are looking and going through the whole process—that ranges from the check-in process, getting an IV, and what it's like to go back to the operating room. We hope this effort we’ve created decreases the patient’s inhibitions and anxieties,” he explained. 

Kaplan built the application with the idea that if individuals feel prepared and more familiar with their environment and what to expect on the day of surgery, their results will be better.  

“What excites me is that we, as an institution, are just at the beginning. These cross-collaborative opportunities are what an institution like ours can offer to a community that hungers for the best in everything we do,” said Kaplan.  

In 2018, the University of Miami began an alliance with Magic Leap, which is headquartered in South Florida, to help enhance research around XR. President Julio Frenk explained how this union will transform learning and make spatial computing an important part of the University experience. 

“There is a power of place,” said Frenk. “If you look at history, most major cities were a product of chance. Alexandria in Egypt was selected on the basis of a strategic choice. It was meant to be a connector for the east and west. I think of Miami as the Alexandria of the 21st century, and the University of Miami is perfectly positioned to advance this exciting, collaborative technology.” 

“Some excellent XR applications are being produced at the University of Miami, and there is a great deal of momentum behind these technologies,” said Grinfeder, who is leading the push for the continued development of this technology. “I feel enthusiastic about all that’s going on. The most exciting part is the student engagement; the classes that teach these technologies are full. And we are about to launch our first-ever Student XR Competition.” 

Jeffrey L. Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, is looking forward to seeing how the University will flourish as a leader in implementing this technology to the South Florida community. 

“As a trained engineer I am excited by the myriad applications of XR technology all our students and faculty, well beyond those in engineering, can explore and develop. As the U’s chief academic officer, I am thrilled by XR technologies’ limitless potential for fostering collaboration between all our schools and colleges, which will lead to new inventions and enhanced ways to live, learn, and work. We are seeing the future of education being shaped here at UM,” he said. 

The XR initiative is part of The Roadmap to Our New Century—a strategic plan that was outlined by the University of Miami as it approaches its centennial in 2025. Under the priority of education for life, the University aims to shape the future of education by using innovative approaches that drive student success through engaged learning. 

Karen Mathews, associate professor of art history, is another faculty member who is using XR technology to revolutionize her field of study. Mathews has helped create an application that provides a virtual experience of the chapel of Nuestra Señora de la Merced in the Miami neighborhood of Allapattah. Using Magic Leap headsets, a user can visit a 3D model of the structure and explore details of the building and its decoration on the interior and exterior. 

“I think this is really going to change the way that we think about art history,” explained Mathews. “One can now have the opportunity to take art to people and to democratize the experience of art and architecture, so that people can look at these objects and structures in their own space and in their own time. They can also create innovative juxtapositions between their environment and what they see in a virtual world.”

According to Mathews, the creation of this app has given her opportunities to collaborate with different disciplines. 

“This has been an extraordinary opportunity for me. I have enjoyed every second of the work that I've done with truly talented people from a variety of different disciplines and areas of expertise,” she noted. “And that too, I think, is the way of the future and is going to create an opportunity for even more positive, eclectic, and innovative kinds of collaborations.” she said.

In a collaborative effort between the College of Arts and Sciences and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, a team of faculty members are using the Magic Leap goggles to enhance the field trip experience. 

“In general, people are fascinated with shipwrecks, but the majority of people aren't able to access these shipwrecks or visit these sites. The application we’re developing is allowing us to be able to take these sites to people rather than people having to figure out how to get to them,” explained Frederick Hanselmann, lecturer and director of the underwater archaeology and exploration program in the Department of Marine Ecosystems and Society at the Rosenstiel School. “This is something that's super unique and extremely interesting and important when you think about issues of equity and access.”

Arthur Gleason, research associate professor in the Department of Physics, said that the main objective is to explore ways that mixed reality, in general, and the Magic Leap headsets, in particular, could be used to enhance field trips. He envisions a framework in the future into which any University department or individual could place content for their own instructional needs, building up a large library of sites across the South Florida region over time in the process.                   

When you put these goggles on, and you see these sites in 3D, it’s pretty amazing. It really is very emotional, and it has a big impact,” said Gleason.  

Sam Purkis, professor and chair of the Department of Marine Geosciences, is most excited about how XR can transform how he  teaches. 

“We can now virtually go to remote places on the earth and explore them in three dimensions as if you're actually there,” he said. “It may not fully replace the field visits, but it can significantly help teach students about the area we're going to go to before we leave the University. So, it makes the experience more enriching.” 

“You never know who the next Jacques Cousteau or the next underwater explorers or geologists or archaeologists or biologists are going to be,” said Hanselmann. “Being able to excite students—undergraduates, graduate students, elementary school kids, high school students—and provide them access to things that they might not know about is extremely exhilarating.” 

Most recently, Grinfeder launched a new website which will host all of the comprehensive projects the University community is working on. He hopes the website will inform the greater community about all of the exciting innovations that are being created. 

“These technologies are both immersive and interactive, giving our students access to hands-on learning and experiencing remote places without the incurred risks or costs. The possibilities are endless,” remarked Grinfeder. 

Visit https://xr.miami.edu for more information about the University’s XR initiatives and a list of projects.