AR/VR Graduate Student Findings

During the fall semester of 2020, Studio X staff met with 34 graduate students participating in the course BCSC 570-1 Introduction to Augmented and Virtual Reality. Their research interests range from immersive audio, to data processing, to VR optics, to analyzing brain activity, and beyond. The course provides a broad introduction to AR/VR systems and is also part of the new NSF-funded XR training program for doctoral students. These students will use Studio X and its resources regularly as they complete their practicum work.

During this class session, we guided students through a series of scaffolded questions to better understand their needs for the opening of our physical space in fall 2021. We consider these initial findings to be part of an ongoing conversation, as students are just beginning or have not started their research. We anticipate new needs will develop and be articulated, and we will check in again at a later point.

Top Priorities for Studio X

We asked students to rank their interest in specific Studio X resources. Here are the top five responses:

1. Mixed reality and virtual reality headsets
2. Access to expertise for software and hardware consultations as well as skill-building workshops
3. 3D modeling software
4. Powerful computing stations and smart devices for testing
5. Other types of immersive technologies such as 3D scanners and 360 cameras

Space & Equipment Preferences


  • Online scheduling
  • Longer blocks for single sessions
  • Recurring sessions
  • 3-4 week windows
  • Reminders

Long-term Access

  • Persistent log-ins
  • Admin access to hardware (VR/MR headsets) to upload projects, etc.


  • High-powered workstations
  • Easy connection to monitors
  • Flexibility with equipment
  • Lending outside of Studio X

90% of students indicated they do not own a VR headset.

Expertise & Community

Office Hours

  • Immediate help for when needs arise
  • Scheduled open time
  • Unity assistance

Exposure to Other Disciplines

  • Reinforce interdisciplinary trainings from course with informal lectures, etc.
  • Create ways to share resources
  • Display diverse XR projects on monitors in Studio X
  • Provide demo space for XR projects

How do you connect with other students, faculty, and staff interested in XR at the UR?

Other Considerations…

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Providing immersive sound resources and partnering with Audio and Music Engineering

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Creating policies for guest access (e.g. research participants)

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Building capacity for other emerging technologies such as haptic body suits and gloves

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Making space for creativity and piloting ideas and programs
Is it okay to not have an “official” plan? Yes!

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Keeping in mind the future is uncertain, the technologies develop rapidly, and the needs will vary from person to person.

Faculty Interview Findings

During the spring semester and into the summer of 2020, Studio X staff conducted eight half-hour long interviews with faculty members currently working with immersive technologies to inform our fall 2020 pilot programming. We spoke with faculty across the following disciplines: engineering, history, digital media studies, and education. We view these initial conversations as ongoing, and we hope to expand beyond the limitations of the small sample.

Q1: How have you engaged XR through your own research and/or in your classes and other student-centered work?

Faculty discussed their research projects as very interdisciplinary, requiring diverse perspectives and expertise. Several faculty members discussed being more interested in what XR can facilitate rather than the tools and methods themselves, especially when this comes to teaching and learning. They want to address real world problems and leverage XR for active learning opportunities. Faculty also discussed generating content for future research such as assessing tools to guide future development.

Q2: What platforms and skills do your students require to participate in your courses and/or research that leverage XR?

Nearly every faculty member mentioned Unity 3D and its steep learning curve.

Q3: How do students become involved with XR?

Q4: What does a community of practice look like for XR@UR?

Q5: Where do you find inspiration for new ways of teaching, innovative tools, or exciting projects?

Q6: Imagine you have enough funding to work on an XR project with a small group of students. What projects might you choose?

Half of faculty described expanding on current research projects such as generating more content for assessment or making projects more usable. Several faculty members also discussed creating specific XR experiences such as developing AR walking tours centered on social justice topics and designing machines virtually, so one could see the inside of how they operate.

Q7: What challenges do you encounter when engaging with XR?

Faculty discussed their frustrations with the steep learning curve of XR tools and getting students acquainted at an early stage, so they are prepared for more advanced coursework. Faculty find they often must teach students the basics themselves or rely on their graduate student collaborators, who might have no other reason to learn the tool/method. Several participants emphasized the value of resident expertise and introductory, low-stakes trainings.

Access to enough of the same equipment in the same space is also a barrier. Faculty discussed running experiments and struggling to locate the same versions of VR and MR headsets, which are cost-prohibitive. Their research also often requires dedicated, long-term space, and setting up these unique environments can take hours of work before they can even begin to develop. The technology is also rapidly evolving, requiring users to constantly relearn it not to mention maintaining cross-platform compatibility and addressing storage issues.

XR also has a PR problem in that most do not understand its value or see themselves as users let alone creators. One faculty member mentioned that XR seems overly complicated, unrelatable, and not something that everyone is ready to integrate into their courses. Faculty, staff, and students need to see more use cases to pique their interest as well as have access to the costly equipment. Moreover, the timeless debate between theory and practice endures. At a theory-driven institution such as that of UR, hands-on making and skill building remains a challenge.

Q8: Is there anything we should keep in mind?

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Beginner Friendly
Provide introductory workshops and early onboarding opportunities for students

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Facilitate Interdisciplinary Work
Support all disciplines & collapse departmental silos

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Faculty Development
Create new opportunities, space, and time for faculty to experiment

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Think Outside the Box
Push boundaries, take risks, & make challenging interventions. Studio X is a cross-unit initiative that can help to balance theory and practice.

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Be the Hub for Immersive Technologies @UR
Stay up to date on XR news @UR and beyond and share out

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Practical Advice
Host group events and classes, etc.

Student Survey Findings

During the month of July 2020, Studio X staff administered a survey to undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Rochester to better understand their needs and interests regarding immersive technologies. These findings were used to inform Studio X’s fall 2020 pilot programming. As of the close of the survey in late July 2020, 58 students responded to the survey.

Q1: Please indicate your familiarity with the following tools:

On average, a majority of students are unfamiliar or have only heard of common XR tools and platforms. A minority of students have experienced deeper engagement by either creating something or teaching others.

Q2: Do you own a VR headset?

Few students own VR headsets. It may be reasonably assumed that they remain cost-prohibitive.

Q3: Given your experience with XR, how might you anticipate needing support to develop an XR project?

Q4: Which skill or tool are you most interested in learning?

Q5: What XR platforms or projects interest you? Can you imagine using XR to enhance your own research and learning? If so, how?

In general, students responses were very specific, but a majority of them fall under the STEM disciplines. For example, students envisioned engaging with XR for physical reasoning, machine learning, electrical design, 3D audio, etc.

Many students also expressed uncertainty about how they might use XR technologies but were very enthusiastic about developing a new skillset and gaining hands-on experience.

I’m not really sure, but I want to learn more about it so I can think about how to use it.

This response stood out, in particular, because it underscores the value of exposure not only to the tools and methods but to real examples and use cases. New XR users require opportunities to make and experiment but also to see how others are leveraging these technologies to grasp the possibilities.

Q6: Is there anything else we should keep in mind?

Students’ concerns, questions, and suggestions

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Provide virtual workshops & prioritize hygiene and sanitation of equipment

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Beginner Friendly Options
Demystify XR & cover the basics of tools and methods

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Keep an Open Mind
Provide equal access for all students & create “noneducational” opportunities

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Involve us!
“I would love to help!” & create peer-teaching opportunities

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Stand Out from the Crowd
Campus is over programmed & distinguish your space and services from Rettner

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Practical Advice
VR cables are annoying and Carlson can be out of the way for students