Creating Virtual Learning Spaces Using Mozilla Hubs at the New School

The New School, a private university in New York City, has recently launched a program using the social VR platform Mozilla Hubs as a component of classes. This is an initiative of the New School’s XReality Center, a new research centre and testbed with four core components:

  1. Immersive Learning: Create a resource hub for inspiring XR initiatives within the university with the focus on developing new learning models, design, storytelling, performing arts and the future of learning;
  2. XR and HCI Labs: Learn, design and experience what immersive worlds, XR and Human Computer Interaction (HCI) interfaces offer through our workshops, events, virtual and lab environments;
  3. Research: Lead and conduct research to create new knowledge and better understand the efficacy and impact of immersive and emerging technology in education and across industries; and
  4. Partnerships: Develop XR projects and products with internal and external clients and partners.

Starting in 2020, the XReality Centre began a program to create virtual spaces using Mozilla Hubs to enhance the learning experience:

Starting in Spring 2020, the XReality Center has embarked on creating a set of virtual spaces in Mozilla Hubs as a way to enhance student engagement and provide new opportunities for collaboration. During the fall semester the XReality Center will host virtual events, class visits and other social activities in these spaces. The XReality Center is interested in partnering with faculty, programs, schools, and administrative departments to develop and offer virtual teaching and learning initiatives.

The State of XR and Immersive Learning Outlook Report 2021 (available to download here), recently published by the Immersive Learning Research Network, describes one such application:

In a year marked by lack of access to VR labs, Mozilla Hubs gave opportunities for students to use collaborative tools and explore creating together in social worlds. At Parsons School of Design in Fall 2020, over 100 students enrolled in the Immersive Storytelling course met weekly in Mozilla Hubs to co-create virtual narratives, play, and build worlds.

Inspired by the work at the XR and HCI Innovation Labs at The New School, faculty and students from across the Parsons Art Media, Technology, and Fashion schools exhibited their 3D models and presented projects in virtual galleries using audio, video, and an abundance of student creativity. While students acknowledge the limitations of the Mozilla Hub interface, most reported that they enjoyed the opportunity to be in a shared space. One of the students summed it up: “I think it is very fun to be in a virtual world, for me it is a place where I can explore my ideas that may not be possible to create in the real world.”

Four examples of student-created worlds from the Immersive Storytelling course at The New School’s Parsons School of Design (image source: iLRN State of XR and Immersive Learning Outlook Report 2021)

The use of a simple, accessible platform such as Mozilla Hubs makes it easy for the university to try new things more quickly and easily, without making a massive investment of time and money in building their own platform. I believe that we can expect to see more institutions of higher education set up programs similar to the New School’s XReality Center, as a way to incorporate XR technology in the courses they teach.