Image: Dreamscape

Arizona State University, which has been at the forefront of the shift to online learning, is partnering with VR startup Dreamscape to help make its classes more cinematic in both approach and storytelling.

The big picture: Shifting in-person classes online too often feels like a "less than" experience. The partners hope that a more ambitious digital transformation of teaching can actually improve on the traditional classroom.

Details:

  • The Dreamscape Learn modules will be able to be experienced via full-body tracking, wearing just a VR headset, or even on a traditional two-dimensional display.
  • The first will teach biology, using real concepts applied to a fictional alien universe, using avatar-based VR.
  • ASU is devoting 150 employees and millions of dollars to build a VR lab.
  • ASU and Dreamscape will jointly own the work, which they aim to offer to other schools and, potentially, direct to students. ASU is also taking an ownership stake in Dreamscape.

Between the lines: Dreamscape started in the location-based VR business, putting attractions in malls, but that business has dried up in many places during the pandemic, especially in the U.S.

  • Unlike Spaces, which pivoted away from in-person VR attractions before being sold to Apple, Dreamscape is hoping for that business to return.
  • "The whole issue of in-person entertainment is very much in flux," Dreamscape CEO Walter Parkes told Axios. "I believe it will come back."

ASU, meanwhile, sees the Dreamscape partnership as the next step in a longer-term push to use technology to fundamentally change learning.

  • Arizona State has 75,000 in-person college students and another 75,000 seeking degrees online and has spent millions of dollars to create an interactive online curriculum, including adaptive classes that proceed at students' own pace.
  • "We’re very much of the view the public university model has not continued to evolve to a path of success," President Michael Crow told Axios. "We’re an exception to that."

What's next: Between now and March, Dreamscape and ASU aim to develop and test the first modules so they can be used in class next fall.

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