As extended reality continues to be adopted in colleges and universities, higher education leaders need to consider regulatory and ethical implications. The authors offer a three-phased implementation approach.
This article is an excerpt from the report Navigating the XR Educational Landscape: Privacy, Safety, and Ethical Guidelines (January 2024).
Higher education is in a process of digital transformation. As we continue to embrace technology as a way to empower our institutional operations, teaching, and research, leadership teams are increasingly recognizing the capacity of emerging technologies to transform learning. Advances in augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and virtual reality (VR), collectively referred to as "extended reality" (XR), are among the most transformative, and higher education institutions ranging from community colleges and vocational schools to R1 research institutions are experimenting with XR technologies in various capacities.
Meanwhile, today's college students are becoming increasingly concerned over how their personal information is being safeguarded by those entrusted with it and may have higher expectations for data privacy, security, and safety. Even though laws and regulations that apply to higher education may not explicitly address XR at this time, existing regulatory frameworks can nevertheless apply as interpretations evolve.
This article looks at how higher education institutions are adopting XR, explores the intersection between regulation, ethics, and innovation, and recommends a three-phased approach for higher education leaders as they prepare to start or scale XR initiatives.
Higher education institutions are experimenting with immersive learning, providing students with interactive and engaging learning experiences utilizing virtual, augmented, and mixed realities. Recent developments in immersive learning have expanded the range of applications, which now include fields such as healthcare and engineering as well as the arts, design, and humanities.
In the arts, immersive technologies are being leveraged to create virtual art exhibitions, providing artists with a platform to showcase their work to a global audience. In the design field, virtual reality is being used to create 3D models, which enable designers to visualize and modify their designs in real time. Immersive learning is also being adopted in the humanities to bring history and cultural experiences to life, offering students an interactive way to learn about different cultures and historical events. Students can develop and advance communication, public speaking, and interviewing skills by practicing in virtual simulations.
Immersive learning is also transforming the way that science, medicine, engineering, and training are approached. In the healthcare field, virtual and augmented reality are used to create realistic simulations, allowing medical professionals to practice complex surgical procedures and diagnose conditions in a safe and controlled environment. In the engineering industry, immersive learning is being used to test and train technicians to repair complex equipment, reducing the need for expensive physical training facilities. In addition, immersive learning is being used to train emergency responders, offering them a realistic and safe environment to practice their response to a range of emergency situations.
These advancements in immersive learning offer a unique and engaging learning experience that fosters creativity and imagination and offers opportunities to scale. By providing a variety of customized and accessible solutions that cater to different disciplines and industries, immersive learning is becoming an increasingly popular approach to delivering education and training. With the accelerated adoption of digital learning solutions during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, immersive learning is poised to play an even greater role in the future of education. The potential of immersive learning in various fields provides opportunities for research and development to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of this innovative educational approach.
Below we discuss the different approaches to immersive learning being used in higher education, including at our own institutions. We highlight formats, opportunities, and challenges.
XR technologies enable faculty and students to meet in social virtual worlds. Students participate by wearing headsets and using hand controllers. Virtual worlds provide for a variety of immersive settings and are able to support some of the activities that we use to engage with students in physical classrooms; they also offer a new set of affordances that come with immersive technologies. While students can meet or participate in a specific platform, a broad implementation of this idea is entering a digital twin campus or metaversity in which courses are synchronous, meaning that students can interact live with others and with their professors. A digital twin campus or metaversity is a virtual representation of a university or college campus. It enables users to access educational resources, engage in learning activities, and interact with educators and peers in a virtual space that mirrors the physical campus, transcending geographical and physical limitations. Some examples of synchronous activities include the following:
- Lectures and class presentations: Students can virtually attend short presentations by faculty and guest speakers or deliver their own presentations. The University of Michigan and The New School offer courses on XR application design, in which students create immersive VR experiences and present their final designs in VR.
- Collaborative and project-based studios: Students can participate in the discussion and can break out into groups in virtual spaces. A number of unique activities can be designed to take advantage of the affordances in immersive worlds. As part of the Immersive Storytelling minor offered by Parsons School of Design at The New School, in the signature Immersive Storytelling course 100 students meet on social virtual platforms as part of the regular course activities. Students create interactive narratives and game experiences. They embody avatars, share their 3D projects, receive feedback, and go on virtual trips as part of some of the curricular activities in the class.
- Assessment: Virtual worlds present an opportunity for students to access fully immersive simulations and hands-on activities and receive immediate feedback on their performance. The use of VR for improving student learning outcomes is a central part of the Big Ten Practice-Ready Nursing Initiative, a grant funded by the American Nurses Foundation. Over the semester, senior-level nursing students will complete a series of five VR scenarios in which they will care for increasing numbers of patients. In each scenario, the students receive feedback at the end of their performance. This includes areas in which they performed well and areas in which they may have missed key assessments and interventions. This feedback is used in debriefing the experience and in allowing the students to reflect and improve in the next experience.
- Virtual labs: In the science and medical fields, virtual science labs offer students the ability to see and interact with scientific phenomena and processes. For example, at the University of Michigan, nursing students are using the HoloLens 2 to participate in training sessions and develop skills. In the engineering field, students can receive training for complex tools virtually. For example, the School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech has been developing Dynamics 365 Guides to help students learn how to safely use equipment, including in maker spaces such as the student-run Invention Studio.
In addition to participating in social and collaborative worlds, students can access virtual labs and experiences at their own time and pace.
- Asynchronous group work/projects: Students can collaborate and design in virtual worlds. Across studio and elective courses, students in the Parsons School of Design are using immersive design applications and platforms to develop virtual worlds, games, product designs, constructed environments, and digital fashion.
- Virtual environments and labs: Using VR and interactive 360 video, students can explore cultural, historic, and science spaces with the objective to learn through immersive and authentic experiences.
- On-demand VR and AR: Students enter and view immersive experiences or develop and master a specific skill set, as in competency learning. This can be done through interactive, avatar-based simulations around soft skills. Simulations geared toward interviewing skills are also leveraging conversational AI models like ChatGPT to create more realistic scenarios.
- Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Participants engage in specific and guided learning activities through interactive 360 video, virtual experiences, and/or mobile device AR experiences to enhance the learning goals of a course. For example, the University of Michigan launched three XR-enhanced courses over Coursera in January 2023.
On-Campus XR Labs and Equipment Management
A challenge to implementing XR technologies is the cost of the equipment used to experience immersive content. While VR headsets are becoming more affordable, many still require a computer with a high-powered graphics processing unit (GPU) and the software required to build and run the applications. Higher education institutions are well-positioned to become early adopters. With a long history of procuring and managing educational technologies to provide access to students, and often the general public, college and university campuses are critical in encouraging more equitable access to XR technologies. Any XR device implementation program should pay special attention to potential cybersickness and physical safety of students. Indeed, many institutions have already created XR or VR labs that provide access to these devices in a centralized location. But as institutions develop new facilities and XR labs, additional implementation and management challenges begin to emerge, including in the areas of acquisition of new devices, platforms, and applications; device management for personal and community use; and loaner programs and check-out practices.
At the core, XR headsets represent a new class of endpoints that have to be integrated into the institution's overall approach to enterprise endpoint management and security. For example, at a large institution, managing a VR lab with 25 or more headsets and workstations takes a dedicated staff to maintain the hardware and software updates required to make the experience successful for students and faculty. There would need to be regular discussions about which VR headsets should be made available and how often to update drivers and tools like SteamVR and Oculus Virtual Desktop. Proper administrative controls should also be in place to prevent malicious software from being installed but still allow these XR applications to update regularly.
It is important to consider a schedule and, when appropriate, have an XR office to review which devices will be supported and how often they will be refreshed with newer versions. Additionally, when initiatives begin to scale up, an XR office should be responsible for reviewing a core set of software applications that will be supported on any lab computers to access XR content. The applications should be reviewed to ensure privacy and security of user data and to determine what type of intellectual property rights are being agreed to when creating content on those platforms.
As standalone wireless devices become more prevalent, institutions will need to have a device management system and user profile process for updates and security. For example, products like ArborXR, Microsoft Intune, and VMware Workspace ONE can be used to manage devices across the institution, such as by managing updates, content titles, and access to administrative functions on devices. At the University of Michigan, the XR Initiative team manages over 100 VR headsets that can be checked out for students, faculty, and staff. Inventory management and checkout systems, similar to those found in libraries, should be used in device loaner or checkout systems. Additionally, proper cleaning and disinfection protocols should be implemented on checkout and return. And finally, system managers will need to decide on the types of controller batteries that will be included and whether students should be held responsible for any damage or loss of accessories.
Immersive Applications and Software Development for Teaching and Learning
XR technologies enable new instructional capabilities that can encourage more authentic, social, data-driven, and student-centered learning. The following are some examples of the types of applications, experiences, and tools that are already fostering instructional innovation:
- Social and Collaborative Applications
- Virtual simulation of science, medical, and other lab environments (e.g., Labster)
- Industry-specific applications supporting group interaction (e.g., AnatomyX, Arvizio)
- Adventure applications (e.g., Dreamscape Learn) that allow students to embark on immersive exploration that enhance learning
- Metaversity projects and partnerships for creating a digital twin campus experience (e.g., Morehouse University, Harvard University, and the University of Iowa)
- Faculty-developed applications (e.g., Under the Skin and XR Nuclear Reactor Laboratory at the University of Michigan)
- Productivity, Skill Development, and Creative Tools
- Design tools (e.g., Tilt Brush, Gravity Sketch) that enable students to develop and interact with 3D digital assets and create within virtual worlds
- Mixed reality remote assistance applications (e.g., Dynamics 365)
- Mixed reality skill development with physical labs and AR headsets (HoloLens 2, Dynamics 365 Guides)
- Institution-led implementations with external partners to address specific skills or competencies (e.g., the Dynamics 365 Guides mentioned earlier for the Invention Studio at Georgia Tech)
Regulatory and Ethical Considerations
While there has been a renewed interest in XR over the past few years, in part accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a good deal of research and information already exists on the topic of XR safety, privacy, and security:
- Ben Fineman and Nick Lewis reviewed some of the challenges in higher education XR in their 2018 EDUCAUSE Review article "Securing Your Reality: Addressing Security and Privacy in Virtual and Augmented Reality Applications."
- The XR Safety Intelligence (XRSI) promotes privacy, security, and ethics in immersive environments. XRSI has been actively developing the XRSI Privacy Framework, a baseline set of standards, guidelines, and best, regulation-agnostic practices. It incorporates privacy requirements drawn from sources such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA).
- While serving as a policy analyst for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), Ellysse Dick wrote numerous articles on XR policy, including "How to Address Privacy Questions Raised by the Expansion of Augmented Reality in Public Spaces" (2020) and "Principles and Policies to Unlock the Potential of AR/VR for Equity and Inclusion" (2021).
- The IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Extended Reality invites collaboration with subject matter experts from diverse industry and policy backgrounds to create white papers, workshops, and other resources.
- The University of Washington Allen School Security and Privacy Research Lab has frequently published and convened seminars, workshops, and research on the topics of XR safety, security, and privacy including the 2021 article "Security and Privacy for Augmented Reality: Our 10-Year Retrospective" (Roesner and Kohno) and the 2019 Industry-Academia Summit on Mixed Reality Security, Privacy, and Safety.
- Finally, the ACM Computing Surveys 2020 article "Security and Privacy Approaches in Mixed Reality: A Literature Survey" (Guzman, Thilakarathna, and Seneviratne) offers a comprehensive literature review covering various aspects of XR security and privacy threats and protection strategies.
Key Privacy Laws and Regulations
In many cases, while seeking to adopt 3D digital learning technologies, higher education institutions should be able to draw from existing procurement infrastructure and institutional policies that may have been created to mitigate risk associated with the delivery of online courses and the integration of third-party learning and communication tools. Our compliance recommendations thus focus primarily on enhancing existing policies and procedures by broadening their scope to explicitly include XR initiatives and the unique privacy and security concerns associated with XR environments.
Regarding data privacy, the following laws, protections, and regulatory frameworks may have unique applications in the context of XR experiences that need to be considered as part of future policymaking efforts in higher education:
- The constitutional right to privacy grounded in the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. When students use XR devices in the home and when room-scanning technologies are employed as part of assessments, for example, what steps do public institutions need to take to ensure they are not conducting an unreasonable search? The cameras on the devices can capture and record the physical space and people in the space in personal and private locations.
- FERPA, which protects students' educational records that feature personally identifiable information, including biometric data. When are FERPA consent and waiver forms needed, when can information be designated "directory," and what data security obligations are created from the collection of the data? Data from XR devices can be collected by the headset manufacturer, the application developer, and the institution that is managing the device.
- Identity verification and privacy requirements tied to federal student aid eligibility for distance education courses and programs under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA). When XR technology is used to satisfy identity verification requirements, what do institutions need to disclose to students, and how will they safeguard the data they are collecting? For XR devices that use biometrics such as eye tracking or voice to verify identity, what responsibility is in place to ensure what is being collected?
- Various state laws with biometric data protections such as the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). What additional disclosure and informed consent requirements apply to operations in these states even if the institution itself is not subject to these requirements through the laws of its own state? XR devices can track eye movements, body movements, and other bio-inferred data that can be used to determine exactly who the user is.
- COPPA and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) for covered entities and activities. For activities being offered by a for-profit institution in particular, what controls are in place regarding participation by minors? What additional obligations do HIPAA-covered entities have regarding health information collected through XR devices and applications? These XR devices can collect a lot of personal data related to movement, eye tracking, heart rate, and gaze.
- International privacy frameworks such as the European Union's GDPR and China's Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL). When institutions offer XR experiences outside of the United States, what additional privacy rights and obligations exist? XR devices and applications have unique privacy policies for each vendor, and many do not have to comply with GDPR or PIPL.
Other Compliance Considerations
In addition to privacy considerations, institutions will want to consider compliance strategies to address the following:
- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin. For example, how will institutions ensure that students have representative options when it comes to selecting or designing avatars? How will institutions address concerns over "digital blackface" and other issues that may arise when students choose avatar features that may not be representative of their appearance, ethnicity, and culture in the real world?
- Title IX of the Higher Education Amendments of 1972, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, and sexual orientation. How will institutions address concerns over gender-based harassment in virtual worlds? How will they handle student complaints that allege sexual misconduct, such as "virtual groping"?
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. How can XR technology be leveraged in providing accommodations for students with disabilities, and what barriers need to be addressed? Are existing digital accessibility policies sufficient in providing accessibility guidance for XR applications?
- Intellectual property (patent, copyright, and trademark rights) and how rights and disputes can materialize in the context of virtual, 3D worlds. For example, to what extent can XR assets that rely on scans of existing sites or objects in the real world receive copyright protections when reproduced in virtual worlds?
- Personality rights, including property and privacy rights concerning the use of someone's name, image, and likeness (NIL) or other unique identifiers in public or for commercial purposes. To what extent are existing institutional release forms applicable or adequate when used for appearances by avatar representations rather than the physical subject?
- Negligence. What updates need to be made to institutional safety protocols, training, and disclosures to address unique risks such as cybersickness and various physical harms that could be experienced by an XR user or bystanders?
- Students' rights to free speech and expression are protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. How can institutions ensure that they are promoting safety and enforcing anti-discrimination laws as noted above without infringing on students' freedom of expression rights? Do misconduct policies need to be updated to address virtual worlds? What norm-setting conversations need to be held?
A Complex Problem
Currently, the exploration of XR in support of instruction tends to involve the use of one specific XR mode (AR or VR). In the near future, any large-scale adoption of XR for instruction will involve multimodal (2D, AR, or VR) scenarios accessed by a large group of geographically distributed users. We are already seeing general-purpose collaborative platforms (e.g., Engage, Spatial) that support concurrent access from smartphones, AR devices (e.g., Magic Leap, HoloLens 2), and VR devices (e.g., Meta Quest).
While XR devices represent another class of endpoint devices that have to be managed, they also introduce new management, security, and privacy challenges because of the nature and number of their embedded sensors. Increasingly, outward-facing sensors that are used for hand tracking, room scanning, and positioning (as found today mainly in VR headsets) will be complemented by inward-facing sensors such as eye-tracking cameras found in AR/MR devices (e.g., the HoloLens 2 or the Magic Leap 1). Moreover, with each new generation of XR devices developed, the level of data collection significantly increases with the addition of new sensors. The Meta Quest Pro has a total of 10 cameras (5 inward and 5 outward), compared with only 4 cameras in its predecessor, the Meta Quest 2. Meanwhile, the Apple Vision Pro, which is scheduled for release in 2024, will have 12 cameras, according to reports.
In early 2023, faculty from the University of California Berkeley performed a study on a popular VR game and determined that with just "simple head and hand motion data," they could identify people, with 94% accuracy, with only 100 seconds of usage. As highlighted by XRSI, the amount of personal biometric data collected by XR devices can lead to the inference of much personal information—for example, Biometrically Inferred Data (BID)—such as mental health, gender or sexual orientation, and cultural background.
In the long run, we are likely to see an AR/VR device convergence (similar to the Varjo XR-3 headset), but in the meantime, higher education institutions will have to manage multiple classes of devices for the short to medium term. Therefore, security, privacy, and safety impact assessments will have to consider, at a minimum, the use of different classes of XR devices to access the same instructional application or environment by geographically distributed users, what type of data is collected and processed by each class of device, and whether the data is processed locally or remotely.
Since colleges and universities vary considerably in terms of size, resources, and the degree to which administrative units and processes are centralized we cannot offer a one-size-fits-all approach to XR compliance and risk mitigation. However, we have seen institutions succeed by taking a multiphase, strategic approach that meets an institution's goals while building on its strengths. This three-step approach provides a framework for higher education leaders to assess their progress, maximize buy-in, create impact, and continue to grow.
Phase 1: Connect & Explore
Considering the distributed and entrepreneurial nature of higher education, many colleges and universities already have a nascent ecosystem of early adopters looking at XR technologies for teaching and learning. Therefore, any institution that wants to develop or formalize an XR educational program should start by focusing on (1) connecting and engaging early adopters, power users, and potential community leaders, and (2) exploring ways to coordinate initial XR activities.
This phase should not be perceived by early adopters as another "innovation stifling, bureaucratic, top-down approach." We suggest that any communication should center around three core messages:
- Recognizing and appreciating the work done by early adopters
- Highlighting the institution's intent to invest in the XR ecosystem to accelerate the adoption of XR technologies in support of teaching and learning
- Communicating the need for and importance of safe and responsible innovation that respects the privacy of students
A first move toward developing and promoting an XR program is to engage a small group of people who will lead an initial XR task force. The composition of this group should be diverse and inclusive, involving early adopters from different disciplines. This group should be empowered to engage various cross-functional stakeholders: not only faculty, academic departments, and the IT organization but also other parts of the institution as needed. The early XR adopter community should not perceive this group as a governing committee. Instead, the task force should clearly state an objective of partnering with early adopters to leverage their experience while paving a path for the larger adoption and democratization of XR technology in a safe, responsible, and ethical way.
The task force should consider how best to facilitate engagement with faculty and departments; additional funding may help in this effort. The dialogue initiated by the task force also presents an opportunity for institution-wide discussions on how XR technologies will support or accelerate current or future strategic plans.
The following are possible deliverables for this initial XR task force:
- Establish a leader or a smaller XR team that will serve as the point of contact to address existing and upcoming questions around XR, grow the XR Team, develop the first XR lab (if one does not already exist), train staff and faculty, and increase the institutional capacity in terms of positioning XR within the curricular and extracurricular activities.
- Host XR community "mixer" activities that bring XR early adopters together to share expertise and experience.
- Organize XR promotional events designed to allow early adopters to showcase their work and engage faculty/instructors who are interested in experimenting with XR in their courses.
- Create an inventory of existing institutional XR hardware and management practices. Does a department (including the library) or faculty own XR headsets that can be loaned to students? While early XR pilots were focused on the creation of instructional labs with dedicated equipment (e.g., VR headsets tethered to workstations), new standalone headsets may be harder to inventory.
- Create an inventory of courses that have adapted or experimented with XR technologies. This includes the use of VR headsets and applications, mobile AR applications, and XR-based collaboration platforms. Ideally, this inventory would be updated at the beginning of each semester. The following questions should be asked:
- What existing XR content (e.g., applications or platforms) is being used?
- What consent forms or guidelines do faculty provide to students as part of the course?
- Is the course using paid XR applications/platforms or free tiers?
- Does the course use custom content or applications, whether developed in-house or through a third party? Do other institutions share the content or applications?
- Are XR devices used exclusively in the classroom? Are students allowed to borrow the XR headsets to take to their home or dorm room? Can students bring and use their own headsets?
- Is there potential in the course to use an avatar or digital twin?
- What information is there about the course format and student demographics, including whether the course is hybrid? And if applicable, are remote students located only in the United States or in other countries as well?
- Explore XR risk assessment and accessibility tools to incorporate into procurement processes and guidance.
Phase 2: Create, Identify, & Adopt
The next phase in the journey to a meta-university or XR-empowered institution is (1) creating an XR management team and faculty development programs, (2) identifying relevant XR content, and (3) adopting XR content within the curriculum. All of this work will involve developing services to support faculty and students in XR courses, research, and labs.
Based on the participating faculty and programs, the specific content of immersive experiences and productivity applications should be identified. Workshops and seminars should be offered for faculty and students to become familiar with immersive applications. Students are key drivers in the adoption of XR. Providing curricular and extracurricular opportunities for students is an important way to generate interest in XR on campus.
Content is also one of the key drivers of XR adoption. In many cases, a small group of faculty, students, and staff can leverage existing or create custom content to prove that these technologies are having a positive impact on teaching and learning. Students can be empowered to create research projects for custom content, and faculty can employ a full-time team of developers and 3D artists. Any content-creation efforts should follow professional software-development processes. This would include using commercially available tools for project management, source control, and development environments as well as documenting processes and all code.
The institutional XR team should evaluate which XR services should be licensed to support the first courses. These services might involve XR meeting or collaborative platforms and also management-oriented services (e.g., XR MDM solutions, XR SSO integration). Any licensing of software and solutions should follow a rigorous procurement process to ensure that data privacy and security are addressed at the institutional level.
While creating custom content can be a powerful way to rapidly prototype ideas and solutions, this method can be difficult to staff and maintain over the long term. Any custom development strategies should be combined with an evaluation of commercial platforms and solutions that allow more rapid content creation. We recommend evaluating solutions that allow students, faculty, and staff to create content on a distribution platform that prepares the institution for scaling up these efforts (see Phase 3). For an XR program to be successful, creating XR content is the single most important challenge to solve.
Another important consideration is how to supply XR devices to faculty/instructors who want to develop XR content and also to students. A loaner or grant program can facilitate access to XR devices that implement the necessary safeguards for data protection.
As work progresses, the dedicated XR team should consider drafting preliminary guidelines for the use of XR technology and services for instructional purposes. These guidelines should contain the following, at a minimum:
- A description of how student activity records that are potentially subject to FERPA and other privacy laws can be created in online environments
- Disclosure of best practices, including notifying students, via the course description or syllabus, about how personally identifiableinformation, such as biometric data (e.g., inputs used for facial recognition) and location data, will be collected and shared
- Directions for the use of FERPA and XR-oriented consent forms (drafted in partnership with the registrar's office and legal counsel) in instances where a faculty member wants to use XR services that have not been reviewed and vetted by the institution
- An overview of institutional and faculty obligations to provide accommodations for students who cannot use, or do not want to use, XR technology
- Recommendations regarding the use of XR devices or services as part of any class assessment activities
- Best practices for the acquisition and management of institutionally owned XR devices
- Best practices for letting students use their own personal devices to access class XR resources
Phase 3: Scale Up
The final phase is to scale up the campus XR program. Scaling up XR programs will require integrating curricula across multiple programs and schools, developing more content, and engaging with internal and external partners. To create the biggest impact, an institution should combine centralized support and departmental innovators. Having a dedicated team that can act as the hub to connect all XR labs and all faculty, students, and staff using and interested in XR will lead to successful widespread adoption.
Along with developing new policies, institutions should take an enterprise risk management approach in order to proactively reduce frictions and concerns susceptible to slowing down these scaling-up efforts. Therefore, the enterprise XR team, in partnership with the institutional enterprise risk management function, should initiate the following activities:
- Update technology acquisition processes to facilitate the review and procurement of XR technologies and services. The XR team should work in partnership with institutional legal counsel and cybersecurity staff to develop supplemental guidelines as needed. In particular, a data protection agreement may need to be updated to address data domains such as biometric and BID, avatars, and digital twins.
- Engage data governance staff to determine if new data domains and data stewards should be identified (e.g., who will be the data steward for the digital twin models of institutional spaces?). Data retention for XR data should be discussed.
- In conjunction with the legal counsel, address specific aspects around intellectual property, including copyrights and rights such as NIL.
- Determine the role IT governance should play as part of the adoption of XR across the institution.
- Evaluate students' use of personal XR devices. Existing student computer/technology ownership policies should be updated to provide guidance on which XR headsets are supported.
- Develop an XR risk register. This risk register should be aligned with the institutional cybersecurity risk register and should be integrated within the overall enterprise risk management program (if such a program exists).
- Provide guidelines regarding minimum requirements and recommended XR devices for institutional acquisition. These guidelines should cover multiple usage scenarios, such as using third-party platforms and services and internally developing content or applications.
- In partnership with the central IT organization and existing academic technology groups, develop processes and best practices to manage and secure institutional XR equipment. Evaluate the acquisition of XR device management software or platforms.
The convergence of XR technologies will play a significant role in the development of new financial and organizational models in the decentralized, blockchain-based Web 3.0 and in the introduction of innovative digital and immersive experiences in the metaverse. Web 3.0, or the semantic web, signifies the evolution of the internet, focusing on intelligent, connected, and tailored user experiences by leveraging technologies such as AI, blockchain, and 3D graphics. It emphasizes enhanced interoperability, user data control, and the development of decentralized applications, representing a convergence of advancements in various technological fields and pushing the boundaries of how users interact with and experience the web. The metaverse is conceived as an immersive and persistent virtual space, merging augmented and virtual reality with the internet allowing users to have experiences that transcend the physical limitations of reality. The evolution of XR and its convergence with artificial intelligence will continue to present opportunities for higher education to pilot unique solutions for learning.
Yet as higher education continues to experiment with XR and enter the metaverse, legal and ethical challenges will also arise. Colleges and universities will need to create and foster inclusive and diverse spaces for learning and research as well as keep students' and institutional data private and safe. An ever-increasing set of critical questions concerning identity, ownership, security, privacy, and intellectual property will need to be addressed. Those of us involved in XR implementation in higher education must devote time and resources to continuously reviewing and updating our strategies as we collectively create the future of teaching and learning.
Maya Georgieva is Senior Director for the Innovation Center and XR, AI, and Quantum Labs at The New School.
Jeremy Nelson is Senior Director of XR, Media Design & Production at the University of Michigan Center for Academic Innovation.
Ricky LaFosse is Associate Director for Compliance and Policy at the University of Michigan Center for Academic Innovation.
Didier Contis is Executive Director of Academic Technology, Innovation, and Research Computing for the Office of Information Technology at Georgia Tech.
© 2024 Maya Georgieva, Jeremy Nelson, Ricky LaFosse, and Didier Contis. The content of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY 4.0 International License.