Innovation Fund 2017

Last year I received a $10,000 pilot project funding from the Grinnell College Innovation Fund to explore the use of 3D/VR/AR technology to teach liberal arts topics. The grant has up to this point proven to be very successful, and I was encouraged to submit another proposal for continued funding and to broaden the scope of the project. Below is the updated funding proposal and requested operating budget:

Project area:

Learning Space

Short Title:

Grinnell College Immersive Experiences Lab (GCIEL)


Three year pilot project funding ($48,000 per year) is being sought to support the Grinnell College Immersive Experiences Lab (GCIEL). The lab will function as a site where interdisciplinary communities of inquiry can explore new ways to approach the liberal arts and make them more widely accessible through immersive three-dimensional (3D), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) experiences.

Project Description:

The Grinnell College Immersive Experiences Lab (GCIEL) received $10,000 of planning project funding in 2016 to explore the feasibility of using immersive 3D/VR/MR technologies to teach liberal arts topics. A portion of the grant money has been set aside for the 2017-18 academic year to fund the development team working on the Uncle Sam Plantation Project. Additional funding ($6,200) to support site-based research for the development team in Louisiana has been provided by the Institute for Global Engagement. With supplemental funding from the CTLA, the remaining portion of the planning project funding was used to provide a very successful summer faculty workshop on immersive environments. Workshop tweets were collected under the #gcielsw17 hashtag and faculty reports on the workshop can be downloaded from Dropbox. Building on the momentum made possible by the planning project funding, further Innovation Fund support is being sought to expand GCIEL lab activity, provide continued support for ongoing faculty projects, and launch new faculty projects. Lab activity will include developing outreach programs to increase the visibility of immersive computing technologies among the college community; inviting outside speakers and scholars to discuss emerging immersive computing topics; providing workshops that equip faculty with best practices when using these technologies in their teaching and research; democratizing access to immersive computing technologies for members of the college community from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and with varying programming capabilities; and creating interdisciplinary development teams that advance ambitious digital liberal arts projects. These teams will consist of faculty, staff, and students who come together around a project, research this project in depth following an inquiry-based learning process, augment their investigation of the project with site-based research when applicable, and then use 3D, VR, and MR technologies as a platform to synthesize and present their findings. In the process students learn to work across interdisciplinary boundaries in an agile team setting, develop a “systems thinking” about the project subject matter, and acquire training in industry-standard software that can help them secure internships and employment opportunities after graduation. Faculty projects include a VR simulation of the sugar house and mansion once located at the Uncle Sam Plantation (Dr. Sarah Purcell); a VR environment to capture full-body motion data (Dr. Damian Kelty-Stephen); a VR Mathematical Museum to teach mathematical concepts and history (Dr. Chris French); and a VR recreation of a Viking mead hall (Dr. Tim Arner). Full descriptions of these projects can be found on the GCIEL projects page.

Strategic Goals:

The GCIEL complements several areas addressed in the Grinnell College Strategic Plan: (1) enrollment (the GCIEL will help to establish Grinnell as an innovative leader in educational technology and the digital humanities, thereby influencing market perceptions of prospective students and their families, and attracting and retaining students through program offerings that align with student interest); (2) teaching and learning (the development work done in the GCIEL will require interdisciplinary collaboration and creativity, producing an adaptive curriculum that changes based on project scope and emerging technology); (3) learning spaces (a dedicated space for the GCIEL will promote interdisciplinary collaboration and creativity, and support emerging forms of inquiry-based learning); and (4) post-graduation success (the GCIEL speaker series will facilitate networking and provide opportunities for students to make connections between GCIEL activity and internships, employment, and travel experiences).

Diversity and Inclusiveness:

The interdisciplinary nature of many of the projects that will be undertaken by the GCIEL necessitates the inclusion of people with diverse backgrounds and cultures, and also provides an opportunity for these backgrounds and cultures to be explored and discussed in a mutually supportive learning environment. As mentioned above, a large part of lab activity will consist of democratizing access to immersive computing technologies for members of the college community from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and with varying programming capabilities. Finally, by making short-term study abroad experiences available to a larger number of students whose lives and schedules may not permit a full semester of study abroad, the GCIEL also supports the efforts of the college to provide more students with a meaningful study abroad experience before graduating.

Learning Objectives and Measurable Outcomes:

Although specific learning objectives will vary based on the type of project, general objectives could include (1) proficiency with hardware and software, measurable by industry standard certification; (2) the ability to think about problems typically encountered in a liberal arts curriculum and express possible solutions within a technology framework, measurable by survey, debriefing, and evaluation of the final product; (3) transfer of analytic and problem-solving skills acquired in a liberal arts education to a professional setting, measurable by survey, debriefing, and employer interview.


For the first time in human history, immersive environments allow users to assume the first-person viewpoint of another human being, to experience reality from the perspective of this person, and to be virtually immersed in recreated, remote, or even hypothetical sites. These environments hold the promise of providing innovative approaches to teaching and research and need to be more fully investigated.

Project Lead Qualifications:

Dr. David Neville (PhD, German Language and Literature; MS, Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences) has over 20 years of university-level teaching experience and 6 years of lab management experience. He has also published widely in national and international journals on immersive environments and digital game-based learning.

Suitability for Innovation Fund:

In the past ten years, 3D, VR, and AR technology has become more commonplace at institutions of higher education. Innovation Fund support for the GCIEL would allow Grinnell College to quickly position itself as a leader in the field of immersive environments for educational purposes and would also produce new knowledge about the way these environments can be marshaled in the teaching and learning process. The GCIEL would, in the words of President Kington, assist Grinnell College in becoming a “learning liberal arts college” that is constantly in pursuit of offering the best educational experiences possible.

Grinnell College Immersive Experiences Lab (GCIEL)
Budget Breakdown and Total (Per Semester):

Student lab workers ($9.50 for 10 hours week / 14 weeks) for 4 projects

Unity developer (4)


3D model developer (4)


Subject-matter expert (4)


Faculty advisory work

Semester stipend ($250 for 4 projects)


Unity Pro annual license (3 seats, 6 months)


Unity Bundled Certified Developer Courseware and Certification (5 seats, 6 months)


Unity Assets Store purchases


Software purchase fund


Autodesk 3ds Max Certified User Training and Exam (5 seats, 6 months)


Speaker series (One speaker for two days, including campus tour, reception, lunch and dinner, campus presentation, student/faculty workshop)



Airfare (1 person @ $800)


Hotel (1 person @ $250 for 2 days)




Site-based research support for projects




Additional computer for VR lab space (one-time purchase Spring 2018)

(1) Dell Precision Tower 5810: Intel Xeon Processor E5-1650 v4 (6C, 3.6GHz, 4.0GHz Turbo, 2400MHz, 15MB, 140W); Dell Precision Tower 5810 685W TPM Chassis, v2, BW; NVIDIA Quadro M5000 8GB (4 DP) (1 DP to SL-DVI adapter); 32GB (4x8GB) 2400MHz DDR4 RDIMM ECC; 1TB 3.5″ Serial-ATA (7,200 RPM) Hard drive


(2) Dell P2416D 24 Monitor with QHD 23.8-Inch Screen, Black ($298.98 per unit / 2 units)


HTC Vive




Budget items are recurring yearly expenses beginning in FY2018 and lasting until FY2021 (Fall Semester 2018 to Spring Semester 2021).

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