Students at the virtual Alien Zoo

ASU Learning Transformation Studios Leadership Team Helps Bring the Power of VR and Cinematic Storytelling to Glendale Community College

A Virtual "Alien Zoo" for Biology Students

Biology students at Glendale Community College (GCC) will soon be able to enter a virtual "Alien Zoo," where they will transform into field biologists, dissecting its fictional creatures and studying their behaviors and habitats.

Students discussing the virtual Alien Zoo

Taught in a new state-of-the-art Virtual Reality Center on the GCC campus, this immersive learning experience was created by Dreamscape Learn in partnership with Arizona State University.

GCC students will use Dreamscape's immersive biology lab curriculum to act as biologists solving real-life science problems in a complex world of novel creatures and ecosystems. GCC will also have access to the Dreamscape Learn tools for building new immersive environments in critical academic programs, including architecture, history, and other disciplines.

While the learning takes place in a virtual world, a collaboration in the real world led to the development of the Dreamscape lab on the GCC Campus.

Alan Arkatov, Executive Director of the ASU Learning Transformation Studios and Center EDGE, and Claudia Wiedeman, Ph.D., Deputy Director of the Studios and Center Edge, nurtured the project from its earliest days, making good on the Studios' mission of bringing together people and resources to improve educational outcomes.

"Strong partnerships and collaborative efforts form the foundation of transformative education. Our collaboration with Dreamscape Learn and Glendale Community College is a testament to the power of collective innovation. At the ASU Learning Transformation Studios, we firmly believe that the best solutions emerge from diverse perspectives converging towards a common goal. This partnership is more than just integrating cutting-edge technology into the classroom; it's about combining our strengths, resources, and visions to redefine the educational landscape and prepare students for a dynamic, technology-driven future," said Alan Arkatov, Executive Director of the ASU Learning Transformation Studios and Center EDGE.

A collaboration years in the making

The path from idea to implementation began when Arkatov and Wiedeman arranged for GCC's Superintendent and President, Dr. Ryan Cornner, to visit Dreamscape Learn's Culver City headquarters. After seeing the potential of VR technology for his campus, Arkatov and Cornner introduced the Dreamscape Learn leadership team, Walter Parkes, co-founder and chairman of DSL and the former head of Dreamworks Pictures, and Josh Reibel, CEO of DSL, to the GCC campus where the team identified potential VR learning pod locations.

Alan Arkatov and others at the event
(L to R, Sevan Benlian, Ph.D., Board President, Glendale Community College District, Darneika Watson, Ph.D., Superintendent of Schools, Glendale Unified School District, Ryan Cornner, Ph.D., Superintendent & President of Glendale Community College, Walter Parkes, Co-Founder and Chairman, Dreamscape Learn, CA State Senator Anthony Portantino (D-Burbank), and Alan Arkatov, Executive Director, ASU Learning Transformation Studios and Center EDGE.)

To secure funding for the project, Arkatov and Cornner turned to California State Senator Anthony Portantino (D-Burbank), who has a background in entertainment and immediately understood the benefit of cinematic storytelling in VR experiences. Senator Portantino secured a $4.5 million state grant for a five-year pilot program at GCC to demonstrate the use and benefits of virtual reality in science classes, general creativity, and immersive education.

"As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and technology-driven, this investment marks a decisive step towards encouraging more diverse STEM enrollment and success while equipping students with the necessary skills to excel in an ever-evolving global landscape," said Dr. Ryan Cornner, Superintendent/President of Glendale Community College. "We've been really impressed by the results at Arizona State and are excited to bring this powerful educational experience to our campus. We're grateful for Senator Portantino's unwavering dedication to fostering innovation in the classroom."

GCC will be the first community college in the U.S. to offer introductory science courses with integrated VR instruction. GCC will also have access to the Dreamscape Learn tools for building new immersive environments in other academic programs, including architecture, history, and other disciplines.

Based on success at Arizona State University

Since 2022, more than 12,000 Arizona State University (ASU) students have taken the introductory biology lab that incorporates Dreamscape Learn's "Alien Zoo" curriculum in the virtual environment conceived by Parkes and Steven Spielberg as a movie concept. Students who participated in the lab were twice as likely to earn an A on assignments compared to their peers in a traditional wet lab setting. These results were consistent across all student demographics, except honors students, whose performance was unchanged regardless of the format. As a result, ASU has transitioned all of its introductory biology wet labs to the Dreamscape lab.

"Storytelling is the age-old bridge between knowledge and imagination. Our large-scale implementations at ASU have made clear that using VR to immerse students in compelling cinematic narratives is driving new levels of motivation and persistence," said Walter Parkes, co-founder and chairman of Dreamscape Learn. "We are thrilled to be partnering with Glendale Community College, which has been at the forefront of preparing students for both academic and workforce success across Los Angeles and beyond."

VR coming soon to Glendale Community College

Scheduled to open in 2024, the Virtual Reality Center will be located on GCC's Verdugo Campus between the college's renowned Planetarium and a new 116-thousand-square-foot science building. The three buildings form an "innovation alley," offering GCC students a modern in-person learning experience. The $4.5M in state funding will be administered by the Glendale College Foundation during the initial 5-year project.

Students being presented with check

"We are lucky to have Glendale Community College in the 25* Senate District and take pride in the world-class education it provides to students in our district, as well as the difference it makes in the lives of countless families," stated Senator Portantino. "This new investment presents a really exciting and original way to learn - whether we're preparing future biologists, screenwriters, or elementary school teachers. I'm proud that Glendale Community College is not only thinking about how these learning experiences can benefit their college students but are also working intentionally to offer the experiences to local high school students."

Dreamscape Learn is the result of a two-year partnership between Arizona State University and DreamWorks Motion Pictures co-founder and award-winning writer Walter Parkes. The Culver City, CA-based organization has developed both VR-enabled biology courseware and a teaching platform that enables instructors to conduct classes from any location relevant to their students' area of study. By combining experiential learning, cinematic storytelling, and cutting-edge immersive technologies, research at Arizona State University has found the approach dramatically enhances student engagement and improves learning outcomes.

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