Students attend a panel discussion on EGADE Business School's virtual campus.
EVEN BEFORE THE lockdown, business schools were experimenting with virtual and augmented reality for a range of classroom applications—both in-person and online. Currently, many educators are still in a mode of discovery, learning where the technology makes the most sense and produces the best learning outcomes.
One such use of virtual reality technology is VirBELA, an online VR platform created in 2012 at the University of California in San Diego, as a partnership between UCSD’s Rady School of Management and Experimental Game Lab. VirBELA was originally intended to provide a virtual space where teams of MBA students could work on projects, run virtual businesses, and experiment in virtual environments where they could take risks without fear of failure. In 2014, the company moved out of the Rady School and now provides companies a tool with which to create virtual “corporate campuses” where remote workers can attend meetings and socialize, as they would in a face-to-face workplace.
For some companies, these types of interactions represent the future of work. That’s the case for eXp Realty, a cloud-based real estate brokerage firm whose 18,000 agents and staff use the virtual campus “to communicate and collaborate from any location,” explains Cynthia Nowak, eXp Realty vice president of marketing and communications, in a UCSD press release. Virtual reality, she adds, allows the company “to save on the cost of bricks-and-mortar offices.” In 2018, VirBELA was acquired by eXp Realty’s parent company, eXp World Holdings.
A virtual auditorium on the VirBELA platform.
EGADE Business School at Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico has created its own virtual campus on VirBELA. Approximately 25 percent of all classes in the EGADE MBA and master in business management programs take place on the platform, explains Julien Depauw, EGADE’s director of academic innovation.
The platform allows faculty to inspire greater engagement with students compared to what they could do using traditional videoconference, says Depauw. He adds that the platform also promotes higher engagement for team-based projects “because students feel that they actually are gathered with their team, presenting, discussing ideas, and executing dynamics.”
“WHILE THIS IS AN EARLY STAGE IN EDUCATION, THE EXPERIENCE BRINGS A BREATH OF VIRTUAL FRESH AIR FOR THE LEARNER EXPERIENCE.”—Julien Depauw, EGADE
The school has used the platform for classes, conferences, and admissions events, as well as networking and orientation events. In June, the school also conducted a four-week online boot camp on designing user experiences (UX), delivered in collaboration with TCUX, a Mexico-based UX design firm. As part of the boot camp, EGADE faculty used VirBELA to expose students to gamification and design thinking.
EGADE now plans to use the platform to create VR experiences for undergraduate students. Faculty can use “different formats within the online channel and give it the perception of a real on-site class,” says Depauw. “While this is an early stage in education, the experience has been really successful and really brings a breath of virtual fresh air for the learner experience.”
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