Tech Core Re-Imagines Virtual Engagement in response to COVID-19

April 7, 2020

As higher education classes across the nation transfer to online formats and use tools like video conference calls to mimic in-person learning, the Tech Core in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona is looking a step ahead to revolutionize the way we see virtual engagement. 

Tech Core is a unique professional development experience that prepares students for successful careers in the tech industry by providing robust on-the-job training, while simultaneously advancing the University of Arizona’s positions in emerging technologies such as VR, AR and 360 media. 

“Student engagement is our ‘bread and butter’ at Tech Core,” says Ash Black, Tech Core director. “We are trying to expand the Tech Core experience to reach a much larger number of students so that they can become virtual community builders themselves.” 

“I think universities are doing an amazing job converting classrooms to virtual classrooms through tools like Zoom, but I think we are going to find gaps where the classroom experience isn’t really the same,” says Black. That’s where virtual reality technology comes in. 

Currently, Tech Core is working with the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research in the College of Science to visualize their data into 3D objects that create an immersive experience that will allow students to virtually interact with their data in an online browser. They anticipate this project to be ready by the summer or fall semester.  

“We have been interested in this sort of technology for quite some time, but now we see that the need for this technology will be everywhere if we continue to need to learn online,” says Black. 

 At Eller, Tech Core has teamed up with the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, where Black is a mentor-in-residence, to help convert their New Venture Competition (NVC) to an online format for the first time. Traditionally, teams in the NVC face-off in-person in a series of competitive rounds where they pitch business venture ideas and share prototypes of their products and services with a panel of judges. Now, Tech Core is working virtually with students to develop professional commercials, pitch videos and websites.  

Black is working with John Sharp, a fellow mentor-in-residence to extend the NVC experience to include what they are calling the Innovation Response Award, which will take place a few weeks after the initial competition. “We want to challenge the students to pivot their current venture propositions for a post-COVID-19 world in which the structures of our society may rely more heavily on telecommunications and technological interaction,” says Black. 

“The bottom line is that the COVID-19 pandemic demands adaptation from all us,” Black explains. “Our team will continue to put our weight into these new demands and work to make virtual classroom experiences better for both faculty and staff.”