Ohio University is currently in the process of introducing a new virtual reality and game development, VRGD, major after OU’s Board of Trustees approved the program’s creation at its April 9 meeting.
Pending approval from the state of Ohio and the Higher Learning Commission, a regional accreditation corporation, the program will combine existing courses within the School of Media Arts and Studies and the McClure School of Emerging Communication Technologies. New courses that have yet to be offered at OU will also be included in the program.
The VRGD program will be funded partially through student tuition and state share of instruction, among other things, Chip Linscott, a professor of information and telecommunication systems, said in an email. Many of the virtual reality aspects of the proposed program were funded through a nearly $900,000 Innovation Grant from OU years ago, Linscott said. Other parts of the program have been funded through Medicaid grants and grants in conjunction with other universities. Additionally, physical space and equipment for the program are currently in place, according to the Board’s April 2021 agenda.
The VRGD major will be housed in the McClure School and will take 120 credit hours to complete, according to the Board’s agenda. Students who pursue the degree will also need to complete a business or communication studies minor to prepare them for employment across a range of industries.
“Our VRG major is designed to teach students to use emerging technologies such as Virtual Reality and digital games specifically for communication purposes – to inform, to persuade, and to educate an audience,” according to the Board agenda. “Students in this major will pride themselves on the use of emerging technologies for social improvement in educational, governmental, corporate, entrepreneurial, and/or entertainment venues.”
Although this program has not yet been officially approved for implementation at OU, Linscott is excited and hopeful that OU will be able to offer the program to students soon.
“We're all very excited in this. We believe in this,” Linscott said. “It feels good to be working in something that is cutting edge, that we believe will help students be more creative, more innovative, more marketable and help push Ohio University into the future in a field that is, again, rapidly growing.”
Despite his optimism, Linscott was not able to speculate when or if the program will be approved by the state and the Higher Learning Commission.
John Bowditch, director of the Game Research and Immersive Design, or GRID, Lab, said the proposed program’s interdisciplinary nature will make students very attractive to future employers. In his eyes, the previous success of OU’s games and animation major, coupled with new virtual reality courses, will provide students with great opportunities.
“Those who have graduated from the (games and animation) program in the past have landed opportunities at EA, Bungie, Disney, Sony, Ubisoft, Unity, 2K Games, Lucasfilm, Google, and NASA for example,” Bowditch said in an email. “Adding VR into what students are already learning about game development will make them more attractive to future employers.”
Bowditch also clarified the proposed creation of the VRGD major will move game development classes out of the media arts and studies program and into the McClure school. The animation program will stay under media arts and studies.
The applications of the VRGD program are almost limitless, from health care to leisure and other areas, Linscott said. He believes having a program like VRGD at OU is great for any student wishing to work in those fields.
“There's no way that any individual who wasn't independently wealthy could have these kinds of facilities, right? And that's one of the things that college is about is going and having experiences that you might not be able to get on your own,” Linscott said. “So, providing some of that access, I think, is a really important role for OU but also just training the next generations of people ... like the students that we have now, who are going to push this technology forward in the future.”
Linscott also understands that while providing opportunities for students is important, the program has even more significant applications outside of the university.
“We love movies, we love making sounds, we love doing creative things,” Linscott said. “But we also believe very strongly that all of these tools and all these exciting toys even can be used to make the world a better place.”
Correction: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that the VRGD program will be funded partially through grants. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.