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San Diego State University Nursing Students Diagnose Holograms

SDSU Information Technology Consultant Antonio Deninno testing out a vitural reality headset.
Kris Arciaga
SDSU Information Technology Consultant Antonio Deninno testing out a vitural reality headset.

Virtual reality is not just for video games. A new EdTech report said about half of universities and colleges use the technology in courses. And San Diego State University has embraced VR.

The university was recently recognized by the California State University system for its advancements in virtual learning.

James Frazee, director of Instructional Technology Services at San Diego State University, is leading the university’s exploration of virtual learning.


Frazee said virtual learning is particularly useful in helping students understand mathematics and science concepts. Astronomy students, for instance, study images and models to understand the phases of the moon.

“Being at the moon looking at the earth which is kind of difficult to do in reality but in virtual reality that is easy to do,” Frazee said.

“In many disciplines, things are really dangerous or expensive or kind of high-risk, ... some of these technologies can enable students to experience simulations and experiences that would never be possible in a conventional classroom,” Frazee said.

Frazee and his team are researching the impact of what they have named Virtual Immersive Teaching and Learning or VITal.

“Thanks to the entertainment and gaming industry, the technology is becoming within reach for institutions of higher education and K-12 institutions as well,” Frazee said.


At SDSU, 26 courses use virtual-, augmented- or mixed-reality technology. Frazee said each iteration of virtual reality becomes more affordable, reliable and applicable to learning.

SDSU nursing students use augmented mixed-reality — where computer-generated information is used to enhance natural environments — to test diagnostic skills on holograms.

“Not only are (the students) able to walk around the patient and examine them, they’re also getting prompts and information overlaid onto that experience,” Frazee said.

The theory is a more realist experience will enhance understanding and student motivation, therefore improving academic success.

Frazee said this experience is more consistent than hiring virtual patients or actors, and less expensive than human patient simulators which cost as much as $100,000, plus maintenance fees. The holographic computers students use — the Microsoft HoloLens — cost between $3,000 to $5,000.

SDSU has partnered with Microsoft and educational publisher Pearson to create holographic content.

“The spirit behind our work, with the virtual teaching and learning initiative, is to improve student success by making the learning experience much more interactive and much more real,” said Frazee.

San Diego State University Nursing Students Diagnose Holograms
San Diego State nursing students are using augmented reality to test diagnostic skills.