A generation ago, the excitement in the eyes of an 11-year-old Harry Potter perfectly captured the feeling of wonder moviegoers shared upon first seeing the Hogwarts School come to life from the pages of a beloved book series. These days, a new generation hardly needs to be a witch or wizard to enter a world […]
- Unparalleled business coverage of the Iowa City / Cedar Rapids corridor.
- Immediate access to subscriber-only content on our website.
- 26 issues per year delivered digitally, in print or both.
- Support locally owned and operated journalism.
A generation ago, the excitement in the eyes of an 11-year-old Harry Potter perfectly captured the feeling of wonder moviegoers shared upon first seeing the Hogwarts School come to life from the pages of a beloved book series.
These days, a new generation hardly needs to be a witch or wizard to enter a world of imagination and explore a magical institution of learning.
An ordinary school needs only partner with Davenport’s VictoryXR to deliver the endless capabilities of a meta-campus — the institution’s digital twin in the immersive world of Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR).
“Every college and university in the world will have a metaversity in the next five to seven years, and currently we’re leading that space,” as builders of metacampuses worldwide, said Steve Grubbs, the CEO and co-founder of VictoryXR.
“Instead of Silicon Valley, we are Sili-Corn Valley right here in Davenport, Iowa — and that is extremely exciting for our local investors, community, and other tech companies here in Eastern Iowa.”
On Tuesday, April 19, social media giant Meta (formerly Facebook) released a list of 10 American colleges partnering with it on metaversities this fall. Meta Immersive Learning is partially funding the digital twin build-outs by VictoryXR.
Meta also is providing each metaversity student with a Meta Quest 2 virtual reality headset for use during their courses. Students and professors enter the metacampus via the headset, a personal computer or cellphone/wireless device, and use an internet connection for a fully synchronous learning experience.
“For the last five years, we’ve had VR as a tool in the classroom,” Mr. Grubbs said. “But what we did for the revolutionary step forward is make VR the actual classroom where you’re meeting.
“It is so much more than a passive, 2D television experience like Zoom. You are immersed into your subjects and become an active participant — like standing on the Great Wall of China interacting with your classmates and teacher.”
Included in the program are large schools such as the universities of Kansas, Maryland, New Mexico State, South Dakota State and West Virginia. Smaller schools such as Southwestern Oregon Community College also are taking the first step into the metaverse to join historically Black colleges and universities such as Morehouse College in Atlanta and Fisk University in Nashville already using the technology.
“More than any learning innovation I have been involved with, ‘Morehouse in the Metaverse’ has made the biggest difference for the students I teach,” said Muhsinah Morris, associate professor at Morehouse.
The future of education
As the world’s first college to deploy a fully utilized digital twin metaverse campus, Morehouse is in its third semester offering courses such as history, biology, chemistry, and literature from VictoryXR.
“You’re teaching the same material. You’re just teaching it in a better way,” Mr. Grubbs said, noting published research showing VR learning is proving far superior to either Zoom or a traditional classroom in terms of student engagement, satisfaction and retention/performance.
“For example, when you teach about World War II, you can teach the battle in the Pacific theater on a battleship floating in the Pacific Ocean — just like the professor at Morehouse, who is retired from the U.S. Navy,” he added.
Fisk University only offers one class — VictoryXR’s 5G-powered Cadaver Lab — but is in its second semester since launching last fall.
West Virginia and Kansas are both adopting the same lab for anatomy and physiology. The interactive classroom allows students to enlarge and deconstruct/reconstruct a molecule; hold a human heart in their hands; or shrink to the size of an ant to explore the human body and see how it functions.
“Just think about the cost comparison between a real cadaver lab and a digital twin,” Mr. Grubbs said, using a small, private university in Davenport as an example. “St. Ambrose has a real cadaver lab, and every year, they’re buying new cadavers — and they’re expensive and they deteriorate somewhat quickly.
“In the metaverse? You don’t have those problems. Or with animal dissection — you cut that animal up and press a button and, boom, it comes back together. So, this is a game changer as both a better teaching tool drastically improving retention and by being more cost effective with easily replaceable resources.”
For the same reasons, Southwestern Oregon has VictoryXR building a forest for its forestry management program. The Quad Cities company also is building an island with industrial plants and transportation modes for West Virginia’s business and transportation logistics programs.
“Every school seems to have their own unique thing,” Mr. Grubbs said. “But on our base campus, everybody can use any of our template classrooms.”
Mr. Grubbs also is a big fan of the base campus classroom for civil rights. The journey begins on the Amistad slave ship before moving through the Underground Railroad to freedom. The class eventually finishes in Selma, Alabama, to march hand-in-hand with civil rights heroes John Lewis and Hosea Williams across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
“Instead of just seeing photos, this is a chance to really understand what was happening,” Mr. Grubbs said.
The future is now
Morehouse, the alma mater of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., first demonstrated how the VictoryXR metaversity worked last spring, leading Facebook/Meta to begin recommending the Davenport company to schools wishing to join the metaverse.
VictoryXR’s first K-12 experience launched last fall, with Florida’s fully online American High School adding the new technology.
From the initial rollouts, Mr. Grubbs said three primary lessons have been learned.
“We need to make sure that our teacher training is very strong,” he revealed. “A sustained internet connection is needed for this to work — so if I lift my arm up in the air, you need to see that in real time.
“But mostly, we have learned that students love it and that really the greatest limitation is there are not enough classes in the metaverse right now.”
On Thursday, March 22, United Kingdom-based Inspired Education Group —the world’s leader in premium schools — announced more was coming by joining forces with VictoryXR to launch another secondary school in the metaverse.
The pilot program is underway at Inspired’s King’s InterHigh (a leading online school) and St. Louis School (an International Baccalaureate World School based in Italy).
Inspired boasts over 55,000
students and more than 70 private schools spanning five continents, but Chairman and CEO Nadim M. Nsouli said the metaverse is the next step toward sustainable future growth.
“Remote learning is growing, and these schools have decided to look for something better than a Zoom class,” Mr. Grubbs said of the universally panned mode of education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is taking off quickly. Nobody wants to go back to Zoom. And they don’t want to go back to the class, either.”
With students now potentially attending classes with others from across their cities, states, countries or world, Mr. Grubbs said VictoryXR is looking to add social settings to bring the new, far-flung student populations together.
Intercollegiate competitions in bag toss and chess should launch by next spring.
“We’re also building an outdoor concert hall where we’ll have DJs come in and do their thing,” he said. “So, students can come together from all the campuses into one location to socialize together.
“And, frankly, we’re not far from students being able to sit in the school gym and watch an actual basketball game that’s being played in real life. You would sit in the VR gym and watch it together next to somebody who could be 100 or 1,000 miles away. That’s maybe two years away.”
Dreams becoming reality
The last two years of developments are especially exciting to Mr. Grubbs, who holds business and law degrees from the University of Iowa. The former state lawmaker also chaired the Iowa House Education Committee that passed the largest technology funding bill in state history.
The Davenport native built his first website to launch a web development company in 1997. His companies started building mobile apps in 2009 and moved into VR in 2016.
Mr. Grubbs credits his loyal and longtime investors for keeping VictoryXR afloat during the lean, research-and-development years.
He also points proudly to his talented employees, many hired from around the country to work remotely, though some key performers are hometown products.
“Our lead developer is in Davenport. Our lead modeler is from DeWitt. Our head of media — our cinematographer — is a Rockridge kid,” said Mr. Grubbs, whose sister company ChalkBites is leading the way for VR learning in workplace training. “So, it’s still a Quad Cities-led company.”
Now the hope, he said, is for local investors to reap the benefits of their support — as well as offer motivation for more innovation in the area.
“When you’re on the front end of a tidal wave, you just try to make sure you don’t get drowned,” Mr. Grubbs said.
“The challenge now is if we can keep our competitors at bay and don’t have somebody massive swallow us up.”