Thunderbird School of Global Management brings Hollywood-style technology and digital avatars to classroom
The same technology that once dazzled an audience at Coachella by delivering them an otherwise impossible performance by the late Tupac Shakur via hologram has now made its way into a legitimate academic setting.
It turns out that the 3D presence of a remote professor or instructor has the same effect to engage an audience of students from across the globe at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University.
The $1.1 million volumetric capture lab — also known as a metaverse lab — on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus is showing what is possible when audiences can react to holograms in augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and on 2D screens.
"Our vision at Thunderbird is to be the most global and digital leadership and management school in the world," says Sanjeev Khagram, director general and dean of Thunderbird and the Foundation Professor of Global Leadership and Global Political Economy. "That means harnessing the 12 key technological transformations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — AI, IoT, blockchain and especially AR/VR — which have only accelerated since the onset of the pandemic.
"We're shifting the paradigm of in-person and online education from the 'sage on the stage' or someone lecturing from a PowerPoint presentation, and hoping a student, learner, professional can listen for two-and-a-half hours to something that is multi-dimensional, multimedia and engaging."
The volumetric capture lab is so cutting edge and highly technical, that it’s almost hard to describe. It works on many different levels, but here’s an easy way to think of it: It's what Zoom might look like in a “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” movie.
“The lab is a huge investment in terms of time and resources to put together, so the question is how do you leverage this?” says Tomas Bilbao, Thunderbird’s executive director of branding and communications. “We do this by finding cutting-edge ways in which we can enhance the experience for learners around the world. Leveraging all these technologies provides a completely different experience than the traditional in classroom experience for our students, executive clients and lifelong learners.”
Hollywood multimedia studios are starting to build their own volumetric capture labs for large-scale feature films, documentaries, television series, TED Talks, AR apps, VR headsets and future devices that have not been commercialized yet. Paramount Studios recently shot a performance of dancers singing “You’re the One That I Want” from “Grease” for a 3D display and interactive poster. Whenever studios are not shooting, they lease the space to third-party vendors for their endeavors.
While volumetric technology is helping to redefine the entertainment industry, Thunderbird leadership believe it will do the same for education. Thunderbird is also planning for the lab to enable the school to reach an ambitious goal: to educate more than 100 million learners by the start of the next decade.