At Villanova, Virtual Reality CAVE Impacts Teaching and Learning

A virtual reality CAVE facility—which stands for CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment—is impacting teaching and learning at Villanova University. The technology provides viewers with an immersive experience viewing and interacting with 3D virtual-reality worlds, 3D big-data displays, and 3D models of real-world locations and objects.

Funded by a $1.67 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, Villanova’s CAVE opened in Oct. 2014. The grant supported the intended use of the CAVE as an interactive classroom and research tool for students and faculty at Villanova. The key for Computer Science professor Dr. Frank Klassner, who directs the University’s CAVE, was to get faculty to understand how to use the CAVE’s technology for teaching—and the potential benefits and impact on student learning. Klassner proactively met with departments and faculty members across Villanova’s schools and colleges. The result: a 200 percent increase in the number of classes using the CAVE over the last year (from 6 classes to 18).

The CAVE is being utilized by classes across a number of disciplines at the University:

  • A "Digital Forensics" course in the Department of Computing Sciences is using the CAVE to stage a digital crime scene. Helping reinforcing the material learned in class, the digital crime scene allows students to identify digital evidence and describe how they would handle the items as the first responders.
  • Faculty in the Augustine and Culture Seminar course are using the CAVE to give students a glimpse of the Sistine Chapel and experience the art in a way previously limited to those visiting the famous basilica.
  • Faculty in Electrical and Computer Engineering have developed course exercises for use in the CAVE, giving students an opportunity to better visualize, and thereby analyze some of the properties of atomic crystal structures in metal and semiconductor materials.

In addition to classroom use, Villanova faculty members are also using the CAVE to support their research. Computer Science professor Dr. Edward Kim, for instance, is creating an assessment-based virtual reality simulation to train and prepare anesthesiologists to manage complex critical clinical situations during surgery. The end goal of the technology is to enable an anesthesiologist to interact with other colleagues around the world in a virtual operating room.

While other CAVE facilities exist, the size, scope and use of Villanova’s CAVE distinguish it from most others. Villanova’s Immersive Studies CAVE is an 18-ft wide by 10-ft deep by 7.5-ft high enclosure, within which as many as 20 viewers can interact with a virtual world. The Villanova CAVE is unique in that it contains an extendable projected ceiling, meaning it can be operated to project on either three walls and a floor, or three walls and a ceiling. In addition, the CAVE is used to support faculty research projects across disciplines, as well as to collaborate with academic and industry researchers around the world. The central location of the CAVE in Falvey Memorial Library supports its use as a resource for students and faculty across the University’s academic schools and colleges.

The CAVE is having a positive impact on student learning at the University. Students surveyed about their experiences indicated that the CAVE impacted their understanding of a subject and brought the course material to life. To learn more about the CAVE visit www.villanova.edu/cave