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Teaching Goes 'Total Recall' At Texas University, Hologram Technology To Launch In Response To COVID-19

AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) — The challenge of creating safe classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a creative solution: beaming a professor into the classroom as a hologram.

The McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin has contracted with Austin-based Contextual Concept Group to create a new 3D immersive video solution that combines in-person, hybrid and online teaching to deliver an engaging and interactive distanced learning experience.

"We knew we could make the digital experience better," said Joe Stephens, senior assistant dean and director of working professional and executive MBA programs. "Enterprise, tenacity, curiosity and authenticity are the pillars of what we do at McCombs, and we're doing all those things right now. We teach our students to innovate, and we're practicing what we preach. That's what innovation and the world of business is all about."

The faculty member is streamed live as a high-resolution, full-body holographic image, reaching students both in a socially distanced classroom and off campus on Zoom. The technology, known as Recourse, allows the professor to interact with both the physical classroom and the virtual classroom in real time. Students can ask questions and engage with the professor. The professor is set up in a television studio in front of a green screen with high-end cameras, lights, monitors and a control room space.

The Recourse platform is currently being used in accounting professor Steve Limberg's Executive MBA class. He is one of the first McCombs School faculty members to adopt the technology.

"This is an authentic experience because I can see all the gestures and the nuances that students are expressing, whether it be raising a hand or nodding, and as a result, it really is very much like being right here in the classroom," Limberg said.

The COVID-19 pandemic created an opportunity for UT Austin and the McCombs School to offer students a variety of ways to learn during the fall 2020 semester. This was also an opportunity for collaboration with an Austin startup to invent a new way of activating multiple modalities simultaneously, keeping both the professor and students safe.

"This technology is very robust," said Jim Spencer, CEO of Contextual Concept Group. "Our goal is to keep the professors safe, greatly enhance the in-classroom socially distanced experience, and also greatly enhance the online virtual experience, and I'm happy to report it works."

The technology is a good fit for the innovative culture at the McCombs School of Business, according to a news release, and there are plans for expansion.

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