Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) present opportunities for creative teaching in higher education, making learning more interactive, engaging, and effective. While VR devices place users in a fully simulated three-dimensional environment, AR overlays digital information onto the real world through devices like smartphones or AR glasses. 

Both technologies promote experiential learning, enabling students to engage with complex subjects in a hands-on, interactive way. Whether it’s stepping inside a virtual cell to explore its structure or overlaying historical data onto a real-world site, students benefit from a ‘learn-by-doing’ approach. This not only enhances comprehension but also promotes retention and application of knowledge. VR and AR have the remarkable ability to transform abstract concepts into tangible, interactive experiences. 

Read on to learn more about the AR/VR headset Meta Quest and the AR/VR platform Sketchafab. While these technologies are not supported centrally by the University of Chicago, if you are interested in exploring these technologies, we invite you to speak to ATS about your use case.

Meta Quest

Oculus quest 2 on white desk with lamp.

The Oculus Quest 2, image by Vinicius Amano (Unsplash).

Meta Quest is a series of standalone headsets that offers an immersive digital experience without the need for external hardware like computers or sensors. It combines a user-friendly interface with robust capabilities. When used correctly, AR/VR isn’t just a flashy accessory: It can be a transformational pedagogical tool.

Innovative language instructors at UChicago are already using VR to offer their students an immersive and engaging learning experience, utilizing Oculus Quest and 360 videos to enable students to virtually “travel” to simulations of public spaces in different countries. They can interact with signage, engage in conversations, and explore cultural landmarks, providing a fully contextual academic experience. 

While devices like Oculus Quest offer incredible options for use in higher education, their price tags can make them inaccessible for widespread classroom adoption or individual student use. A complete Oculus setup can cost hundreds of dollars per unit, and additional costs can be incurred for the use of apps or content.

Augmented Reality (AR) technologies can offer a more budget-friendly alternative for creative teaching. With AR, instructors and students can simply use their existing smartphones or tablets, devices that most people already own. 

AR and Sketchfab 

Platforms like Sketchfab allow users to upload, share, and view 3D models in AR, making it a versatile tool for educational scenarios. From exploring historical artifacts to visualizing complex scientific models, educators can enrich their teaching methods without hefty investments.  

Key Features

Sketchfab Logo

Sketchfab has numerous features and aspects that are potentially useful for educators:

  1. Viewer: Sketchfab offers a 3D viewer that can be embedded in other websites, making it easy to showcase 3D content on personal portfolios, product pages, or social media. 
  2. VR & AR Ready: Some models on Sketchfab can be viewed in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, making it a platform of choice for many creators interested in these technologies. 
  3. Model Inspection: There are tools available to view the wireframe, shaders, textures, and other model components directly in the viewer.
  4. Annotation: Creators can add annotations to their models to provide additional information or highlight specific features.
  5. Integration: Sketchfab offers integration with various 3D software tools like Blender, Maya, Unity, SketchUp, Rhino and Qlone, making it easier for artists and designers to upload their models directly.

AR in Action

The Epigraphic Survey Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures at the University of Chicago has been capturing images of inscriptions and relief scenes on temples and tombs in Luxor, Egypt, since 1924. The institute shares 3D models of the architectural spaces it has been documenting on its Sketchfab account

Users can view and interact with these high resolution models using the Sketchfab viewer in a web browser. Once a model is loaded (e.g., The Western High Gate of Medinet Habu), you can click and drag to rotate the model, scroll to zoom in and out, and click drag with the right mouse button (or press and drag with two fingers on a touch device) to pan the view. A rendering of the Western High Gate of Medinet Habu on a grey background, illustrated in Sketchfab. The model features small, numbered and expandable annotations that discuss distinct features.

The numbered circles in various locations on the model are annotations, which can be clicked on and viewed. This will center the model on the annotated area and display a sidebar or pop-up with information about that specific part of the model. 

A rendering of the Western High Gate of Medinet Habu, zoomed in on the West Axis. A textbox describes the feature.

In the toolbar at the bottom of the viewer, you can find various options such as toggling between different view models (e.g., matcap, wireframe), adjusting the field of view, entering VR mode, etc. 

A rendering of the Western High Gate of Medinet Habu on a grey background, illustrated in Sketchfab. The model features small numbers on distinct features, and an open sidebar offers a range of options for model inspection.

In addition to the Sketchfab viewer, you can inspect the 3D models in virtual reality with Cardboard (or similar VR headsets) on your mobile phone or VR devices like Oculus. If you have the Sketchfab app on your phone, you can use it toproject these 3D architectural models and view them on their true scale.

A rendering of a close up of the Western High Gate of Medinet Habu, as it would be displayed in augmented reality, showing a the model overlaid in a camera view of the inside of an apartment.

Use Cases of Sketchfab

As a versatile platform, Sketchfab offers a plethora of opportunities for university professors to engage in creative teaching across disciplines. Here’s how you can use Sketchfab for creative teaching and some types of 3D models that might be beneficial:

  • Virtual Lab Sessions: For subjects that involve physical objects or machinery, such as anatomy, archaeology, or engineering, use 3D models to simulate lab sessions. This can be especially helpful for online courses or when physical resources are limited. 
  • Student Projects: Encourage students to create their own 3D models and upload them to Sketchfab as part of their assignments or projects. This can foster creativity and give them hands-on experience with digital tools.
  • Complex Concept Visualization: For subjects like physics, chemistry, or mathematics, 3D models can help visualize complex concepts, such as molecular structures or geometric shapes.
  • Virtual Field Trips: Students can explore archaeological sites, geological formations, or architectural wonders in 3D, providing a virtual field trip experience when a physical visit isn’t feasible because of travel restrictions, expenses, or other factors. 
  • Game-Based Learning: Leverage Sketchfab’s integration with game engines like Unity or Unreal Engine to create educational games that incorporate 3D models.

When selecting or creating 3D models for teaching, especially from open-source platforms, ensure that the models are accurate, appropriately detailed, and sourced or licensed correctly. It may be helpful to engage with the Sketchfab community, as many artists and professionals share their work, which can be a valuable resource for educators.

AR and VR hold promising applications across a wide spectrum of academic disciplines, spanning from the Humanities to STEM. For further details, we encourage you to explore the links provided below. 

Further Resources