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Director of VR/AR Research and Development a Game-Changer for Unity College

The concept of virtual reality was once a far-fetched trope that you would see in science fiction films, knowing that once you left the theater or turned off the TV, the real-world didn’t support technology quite that immersive. Times have changed. Seven years ago when virtual reality was becoming, well, a reality, it caught the attention of David Bass-Clark, who at the time was working in the field of emerging educational technology in Shanghai, China.

David Bass-Clark

Virtual reality has also been on Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury’s radar, who saw potential in how the College could incorporate this emerging technology into its curriculum to better meet the needs of students. He began a search for a new position, a Director of VR/AR Research and Development for Unity College Distance Education. David Bass-Clark fit the bill. He was brought on board in May, working energetically with the Unity College Distance Education team.

While most of us have become familiar with the term virtual reality, David uses the term “extended reality.” Asked for a definition, David explains extended reality (XR) is an inclusive term used to describe a variety of immersive technologies encompassing virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and technologies that have yet to be imagined. Where VR is an entirely computer-generated world, AR uses tools such as smartphones to add digital elements to the real world (as in Pokemon Go!), and MR uses wearable head mounted displays that allow the user to manipulate both digital and physical objects in real-time. Unity College is looking to leverage the full range of XR for its online curriculum.

“I have seen how videogames and virtual reality have sparked the imagination of generations. I look forward to capturing that spark by inviting students to experience the dynamic range of XR technology. I hope to inspire them to shape the next generation of XR learning in order to bring new perspectives to the sustainability of our planet,” said Bass-Clark. “Rather than building XR experiences that mirror traditional education, we are exploring what we can accomplish with XR technologies that cannot be accomplished with traditional educational modalities.”

“Here at Unity College, we’re always pushing the envelope with regards to technology and the modality in which we deliver our education, to ensure we’re meeting the needs of today’s students,” said Dr. Khoury. “Extended reality is not just the latest advancement in gaming, there are so many applications for industries, and of course education is one of them. In talking with David, he has a true vision for how Unity College is going to utilize it, and while we’re still very much in the R&D phase, we’re all very excited to see just what he comes up with.”

By introducing XR into its curriculum, Unity College is familiarizing students with a burgeoning technology that will likely become common in the workplace, a career-ready skill akin to the introduction of the internet and email decades ago. Also, by incorporating XR into its curriculum, students can virtually explore and study all corners of our planet without contributing to the carbon emissions necessary to traditionally travel across the globe.

“David has been working closely with our Distance Education faculty and course designers to see where we can most effectively use XR technology,” said Dr. Amy Arnett, Unity College Vice President of Distance Education. “Within the coming months we anticipate seeing his work integrate into our courses and programs.” 

“For a school the size of Unity College, having David here is truly a game-changer,” added Dr. Khoury. “We are one of the few higher education institutions in the country to have someone dedicated to developing XR experiences for our curriculum, and who knows, in a few years it might become an entire department! It’s truly one more way that we continue to differentiate ourselves and stay ahead of the curve.”