University of Miami: A Unity case study
How does a school expand student capabilities and job skills while improving instructional effectiveness?
The University of Miami (UM) built their XR Garage program for students to learn how to create real-time 3D (RT3D) and virtual, augmented, and mixed reality (AR/VR/MR or XR) content while helping enhance curricula.
To innovate and modernize curricula while imparting high-demand job skills
Unity solutions in use
XR Garage powered by Unity Pro, AR Foundation, ArtEngine, Asset Store, Pixyz, Reflect, XR Interaction Toolkit
15 students, 2 instructors
Preparing students for in-demand careers
A clear choice that checked all the boxes
To get their XR Garage program off the ground, UM turned to Unity. Max Cacchione, the IT department’s director of innovation, had previously used Unity to develop AR solutions for autistic students. “It’s imperative that any solution we use is easy to adopt, easy to scale, and can be rapidly deployed across a variety of departments and academic areas.”
UM answers the demand for XR developers
With the rapid onset of XR technologies in the workplace, UM needed to advance their interactive design and development programs to meet the skyrocketing demand for XR developers.
To this end, the UM IT department’s Innovate group, which Cacchione heads, founded the XR Garage in May 2019. He says, “We needed an XR development platform that had a low barrier to entry for both students and the faculty that would guide them.”
The importance of this was quickly apparent. Given the high demand for skilled Unity developers, finding qualified instructors for the new technology had been tough. Yet Unity’s ease of use let students quickly jump in and start experimenting. UM also leveraged Unity’s large, active community and a wealth of free educational content from Unity Learn to jumpstart the adoption process.
This is where the magic happens
In the XR Garage, a team of 15 students and professional staff collaborate, completing courses and research in user experience, interaction design, human-computer interaction (HCI) technologies, machine-learning as well as Creative Coding, which teaches Unity as the primary platform.
Typically, a professor comes to the XR Garage for help creating a more engaging and effective learning experience for their students. A project comes to life after considerable brainstorming and collaboration between students and staff, as Cacchione says, “That’s really where the magic happens – students know Unity, professors know the subject matter, and they work together as peers.”
The benefits are considerable: professors gain powerful XR instructional aids, their students learn more, and the XR Garage developers come away with vital career skills.
Critical tools for surgeons, caregivers, educators, and adult learners
Using AR to visualize medical images from CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasounds is a breakthrough technique that the UM School of Medicine faculty encouraged. With their guidance, the XR Garage built the DICOM Visualizer application currently in use by several early adopters. According to the Innovate team’s core programmer, Rachel DePaz, “Doctors can now view images such as holograms of a patient’s spine during surgery – right in front of them. The app has the potential to really improve outcomes.”
To cope with the pandemic, UM has been able to develop Unity-based applications for remote learning. Students and educators can share 3D models and interactive exercises from their own environments. These activities can connect educator communities and students in real-time from Miami to Europe and throughout the Southern Hemisphere.
Rich Unity capabilities for diverse applications
UM leveraged a number of specialized Unity capabilities for creating more effective learning content. For example, for the UM School of Architecture, UM employed Unity Reflect to create 3D building walk-through experiences for both AR and VR headsets. They also used Unity ArtEngine to experiment with different architectural surfaces for reconstructing historical buildings.
To speed content development for different headsets, XR Garage took advantage of both the XR Interaction Toolkit and AR Foundation packages. In particular, the toolkit’s friendly and accessible UI empowered students who lacked coding experience, while AR Foundation helped make their content cross-platform compatible for different head-mounted displays and hand controllers.
The report card looks good
Since the inception of the program, the XR Garage has developed 20-plus UM projects, obtained four grants, hired two student grant writers, and trained 30 students in Unity, with two springboarding to full-time jobs as Unity developers. The university is redesigning its Interactive Media program to be entirely Unity based, and according to DePaz, “Working with Unity at UM opened doors to additional internship opportunities in the industry.”
An advanced tool for the entire school
UM originally adopted Unity to help solve short-term needs with RT3D research and solutions. It’s beginner friendly for students, a powerful teaching tool for educators, and the ease of onboarding lets XR Garage deliver solutions for stakeholders across UM quickly. And it’s helping UM students develop the skills needed to meet an industry demand for RT3D and XR applications that will continue to grow.
Cacchione concludes, “This collaboration generates multiple opportunities. Instructors will get the support and training they need to enhance classroom education; students will acquire new, in-demand skills that mean greater employment opportunities; and, collaborating with Unity will advance our vision to be a leader in immersive media and technology.”