Professor Benjamin Lok
University of Florida
We will examine the VR for the Social Good Initiative (vrforthesocialgood.com
) at the University of Florida, co-founded in 2016 with Dr. Sriram Kalyanaraman. What differentiates the VR for Social Good Initiative is its bottom-up structure which enables hundreds of students and innovators to rapidly address social good issues by quickly moving from ideation to realization. To achieve this move from ideation to realization, the VR for the Social Good Initiative connects seekers
(researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs) with ideas on how to apply VR with solvers
(students) who want to learn about VR. Seekers and solvers collaborate, iterate, and receive feedback on their ideas while the institution provides the hardware, software, and training infrastructure.
The VR for the Social Good Initiative is realized through a combination of student-run clubs (e.g. GatorVR) and classes. In the clubs and classes, students of any rank (freshman through graduate student) and any major are provided a curriculum to learn basic Unity development for deploying VR on a Google Cardboard platform. Students are able to build their first VR application within five weeks. Next, comes Pitch Day. Pitch Day has seekers pitch their ideas of how VR can be used to solve issues of social importance. Students self-form teams and choose the ideas they will work on for the next three months. Not all ideas are chosen.
By applying Agile software development methodologies, the teams of seekers and solvers rapidly plan, develop, test, and iterate working software on a regular cadence. Finally, an end-of-class Demo Day invites the local community to try out and identify the projects most worthy of investment.
In less than a year, the VR for Social Good Initiative has generated dozens of VR projects involving hundreds of students. Given that students of any background can learn to apply VR within weeks, we are exploring having VR for the Social Good as a course for thousands of students each year, which would result in hundreds of VR projects for the social good.
We will conclude by discussing effective VR messaging strategies, obtaining support from stakeholders, and challenges with scaling. Finally, attendees will be provided the materials and curriculum to create the VR for the Social Good Initiative at their institution.
Benjamin Lok is a Professor in the Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering Department at the University of Florida and co-founder of Shadow Health, Inc., an educational software company. His research focuses on virtual humans and mixed reality in the areas of virtual environments, human-computer interaction, and computer graphics. Professor Lok received a Ph.D. (2002, advisor: Dr. Frederick P. Brooks, Jr.) and M.S. (1999) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a B.S. in Computer Science (1997) from the University of Tulsa. He did a post-doc fellowship (2003) under Dr. Larry F. Hodges.
Professor Lok received a UF Term Professorship (2017-2020), the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering Faculty Mentoring Award (2016), a NSF Career Award (2007-2012), and the UF ACM CISE Teacher of the Year Award in 2005-2006. He and his students in the Virtual Experiences Research Group have received Best Paper Awards at ACM I3D (Top 3, 2003) and IEEE VR (2008). He currently serves on the Steering Committee of the IEEE Virtual Reality conference. He has general co-chair of IEEE VR 2014 and IEEE VR 2013, and program co-chaired the ACM VRST 2009, IEEE Virtual Reality 2010, and IEEE Virtual Reality 2011 conferences. Professor Lok is an associate editor of Computer and Graphics, and ACM Computing Surveys.