PennImmersive A Penn Libraries Report for 2017-2018

In the 2018 academic year, approximately 700 people participated in more than 50 events to explore immersive technologies in teaching, learning, and research at Penn.

This is our story.

The Penn Libraries launched PennImmersive in July 2017 as a community-driven research project to explore the potential educational applications of virtual reality; augmented reality; and 3D modeling, scanning, and printing.
Ad hoc planning meetings were used to develop our goals and activities for each semester

PennImmersive Goals

  1. Provide concrete examples and case studies across disciplines that explain how immersive technologies are used in teaching, research, and learning at Penn.
  2. Experience and create immersive content.
  3. Learn from other institutions and organizations using immersive technologies.
  4. Be in a better position to rethink pedagogy and learning spaces.

What we did...


We wanted people to have the chance to experience immersive content in order to discuss, critique, and reflect on its potential in education and research.

Robert tries HoloLens
Mobile augmented reality with Zappar
Testing cardboard apps & headsets at Tech Open House
Students in Theater Arts (THAR 130) develop 3D model set designs
Students in The Material Past in a Digital World (ANTH 127) test out the HoloLens
Students in the Penn in Kenya Summer Program capture footage for VR documentaries

Students in ARCH 737: Semi-Fictitious Realms experience designs using HTC Vive


We wanted to provide entry-level-to-advanced opportunities for people to create immersive content.

Scan this library-created zapcode with the free Zappar.com app.
We created 360 photos & videos of spaces like the Moelis Grand Reading Room in Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Scan the zapcode to see inside the Idea Factory
The Gorman Cardiovascular Research Group presents their work with the HoloLens
Barbara demos 3D modeling software to create 3D prints

Learning Together

Byron, a student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, leads a workshop on 3D modeling

Connecting to one another, thinking together, and sharing experiences was an important component of our exploration. With more than 50 events to choose from, we wanted to make it easy for people to join in whenever they could, in whatever way they could.

Evaluating Google Cardboard apps

We also visited people outside of Penn including a field trip to Penn State's Teaching and Learning with Technology team and a webinar with the University of Oklahoma Libraries to learn about their immersive programs and facilities.

IMEX (Immersive Experience) Lab at Penn State - University Park
At the University of Oklahoma's Visualization Lab

What did we learn?

Quotes from the community

There is incredible work happening at Penn albeit distributed widely. Students are an amazing source of knowledge, energy, and inspiration. Also, there seem to be very few courses where people can formally learn design/production skills for immersive techs.
“I learned the real potential of virtual reality as not only a teaching tool, but as a healing tool for humanity (recovery from strokes, teaching students about refugees, etc.). During a time where we sorely need people to understand what it is like to walk the path of another different human being, technology is offering that opportunity.
“There is an interested network with a wide open opportunity to work across silos at Penn and with external partners to shape the future of education.
The Library is the perfect place to share expertise and equipment across the University, and I hope that this type of engagement will increase substantially over the coming year.

Thank you for an amazing year!

What is next?

Merging more of the physical and digital to explore the full mixed reality continuum


1. SharE Stories

Jessa Lingel, Ph.D. & Kyle Cassidy from Penn's Annenberg School of Communications allow the community to demo their Payphone Portraits immersive exhibit

There is a substantial amount of immersive content creation and use at Penn in teaching, research, and learning. Documenting Penn-specific examples and sharing stories to inspire more people on campus is a future priority.

2. Build Capacity

Chris Kao, a senior at Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science demos his site of high resolution 360-cityscapes by Philly By Drone.

We need more capacity at Penn to develop immersive content. Many faculty, staff, and students have ideas for immersive projects but lack the expertise, experience, or staffing to realize them. Foundational skills in the following areas are recommended: immersive storytelling, immersive interaction design, and 3D modeling. To the extent we can provide opportunities for the community to build or enhance their skills in these areas, we will create greater capacity on campus.

3. Widen the LENS

Nearly 100 people attended the PennImmersive Fall Symposium

The boundaries between virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D environments are elusive. Initially, PennImmersive focused on technologies. For example, we mentally filed Oculus Rift under "VR" and HoloLens under "AR." However, as technologies evolve and converge, we need to broaden our thinking. We propose expanding PennImmersive to encompass the mixed reality continuum of immersive experiences. This reframing makes possible the inclusion of machine learning and robotics as well as the study of emerging competencies related to programming, algorithms, and blockchain, to name a few.

1 Adapted from Paul Milgram, Haruo Takemura, Akira Utsumi,& Fumio Kishino. (1995). Augmented reality: a class of displays on the reality-virtuality continuum (Vol. 2351, pp. 2351–11). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1117/12.197321

4. A #FutureTech Model

Demo mini-golf AR using ZapBox.

The open community research project approach worked well for PennImmersive. This may be due to a rapidly evolving technical landscape, limited access to technologies and real-world academic examples, high-demand/high-interest, and the power of networked learning (as opposed to the learning an individual alone could achieve in the same time). Given that changes to our technical landscape show no signs of slowing, it is in our collective interest to learn faster, better, and smarter together.

Exploring the full mixed reality continuum to include AI, robotics, and tangible computing.


PennImmersive was successful and rewarding, in part, because it was integrative, interdisciplinary, exploratory, and playful. As a result, it brought together different people from within and beyond Penn who shared their time and expertise to learn, discuss, create, critique, and reflect. It embodied the Penn Compact 2020 pillars of Inclusion, Innovation, and Impact, and inspires us to reach higher and go farther in the year ahead.

We hope you'll join us in 2018-19!

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