Introducing High School Students to Virtual, Augmented (and College) Reality

When is a treasure hunt not exactly a treasure hunt? When it’s augmented, as in Augmented Reality Treasure Hunt, the theme of this summer’s High School Academy Applied Computer Science course on the Woodbury campus.

Woodbury’s High School Academy invited four rising juniors and seven seniors from area high schools to take a peek inside college life. Students were given the opportunity to learn about basic programming, 3-D modeling, and develop projects for the “HTC Vive” (a virtual reality device). Upon successful completion of the five-week, three-class-per-week intensive course, students earned college credit and received both a certificate of completion and a Woodbury application fee waiver.

Working with Applied Computer Science (ACS) Department Chair, Ana Herruzo and adjunct Professor Ivaylo Getov, recent ACS graduate Matthew Gonzalez developed the curriculum, based on discussions and prior experience in the program. “While I was Matthew’s faculty advisor, this was really his initiative — a crash-course introduction to some of the concepts and technologies we teach at ACS,” Professor Getov says. “He did the heavy lifting.”

“Within a little over a month of graduating from the ACS program, I went from being in the classroom as a student to teaching others using the knowledge and skills I developed during my time at the university,” Matthew says. “The more I began to prepare materials for the course, the more I realized how much I had gained from the ACS program. The experience of being an instructor also helped me to solidify my understanding of some basic computer programming concepts. In a sense, the students and I were both learning simultaneously.”

Augmenting the outreach were partnerships with two local community organizations focused on preparing students for higher ed. The Augmented Treasure Hunt class drew students from Bert Corona Charter High School in Pacoima, in partnership with Youth Policy Institute, and San Fernando High School, in tandem with longtime Woodbury partner Project Grad LA, along with Kennedy High School in Granada Hills and West Ranch High in Valencia.

While the accent was on ACS technology, no technical proficiency was required. “The course was designed to be accessible to students of all interests, specifically so we could attract a wide range of students to ACS,” Professor Getov says. “We definitely hope the seniors will consider applying to ACS as a result of this class.”

For AR treasure hunters, the assignment at hand involved collecting virtual items by moving in physical space. “Some students went even farther, adding narratives or other game mechanics to their projects,” he explains. As Professor Getov describes it, the class served as an introduction to both “realities.”

“Because of the nature of the technology, it’s actually a bit easier to hit the ground running in VR, so the students first created their own virtual environments as a way to apply the concepts the course introduced,” he says. “Once students developed some familiarity with the systems involved, they were assigned an AR project. AR involves a more complex process to actually get a project running on a mobile device, so we tried to encapsulate that process as much as possible and keep the focus on designing for AR and VR.”

Ultimately, students developed an AR app for iPad Pro, demonstrating how the identical skills and concepts can be used to augment the “real” world, rather than just existing in a virtual world. “Students clearly understood the fundamental differences between AR and VR, specifically in terms of creating experiences for both,” Professor Getov says. “The interesting thing is that they didn’t seem to see a significant difference in the two in terms of consuming these experiences, given how prevalent digital experiences are becoming.”

“The kind of digital media practices we teach at ACS don’t have a broad cultural exposure in the same way as, say, Game Design,” he suggests. “Offering a class like this helps high schoolers understand what we do and what they may want to pursue.” And while there’s an element of simulation in AR and VR, the tools of the trade in the AR Treasure Hunt were the genuine article – “the same tools used by professionals in the industry,” Professor Getov says.

Which, for some students, may prove to be a treasure in itself.


Learn more about the Applied Computer Science program

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