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Emerging Technology Lab completes USFSP’s Innovation Lane

Mark Parker



David Rosengrant, dean of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg's College of Education, tests equipment in the new Emerging Technology Lab. Photos:

From touring the International Space Station to interacting with special needs students, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s new Emerging Technology Lab will open a world of virtual possibilities.

Monday marked the first day of USF’s fall semester, and David Rosengrant brimmed with excitement. Rosengrant, dean of the College of Education on the St. Pete campus, is putting the finishing touches on a new Emerging Technology Lab inside a school corridor dubbed Innovation Lane.

The lab will provide student and community access to the latest augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and drone technology. However, the primary goal is to offer burgeoning teachers a glimpse into future classrooms.

“I always tell my students, I can’t prepare you for the classroom you’re in now,” Rosengrant said. “I need to prepare you for the classroom you’re going to be in five years from now.”

The facility is nearly finished, with supply chain issues causing a slight delay. Rosengrant now awaits monitors and electronic connections for display walls inside two rooms.

He called the expansive displays a “big expense” but crucial to accomplishing the program’s goals. The standalone VR stations have arrived, and the wall monitors will project what someone sees on individual computers.

While his focus is training new teachers, the lab will allow all students – and community stakeholders – to experience VR tech. Rosengrant bought 25 Oculus headsets that immerse users in a digital environment, like the space station, museums or another research lab.

“Whether that’s a loaner program or going out to schools with different stuff,” he explained. “But you also have the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts … The current director for the Girl Scouts was actually a rocket scientist. And there’s a lot of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) badges.”

Workers transformed two unused classrooms inside USFSP’s Heller Hall into the Emerging Tech Lab over the summer. It neighbors the university’s STEM Lab, and the corridor is now known as Innovation Lane.

School officials are interviewing candidates to serve as Innovation Lane’s project director. Rosengrant said they seek someone with related experience and will incorporate their feedback into the lab’s programming.

He said a federal appropriation funded most of the $500,000 project. USF also received a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant in late 2022 to create AR simulations that help students learn physics.

Dr. David Rosengrant shows students an augmented reality platform he helped create to teach physics.

The software utilizes a phone’s camera, GPS and mapping features to create an augmented reality that overlaps the natural world. Video games often incorporate the technology, and Rosengrant said he helped create a cybersecurity game for Girl Scouts to earn STEM badges.

“It’s more than just, ‘Oh, let me create a cool video game,'” he added. “It’s the coding. There’s so much involved with this.

“I’m using a lot of this as a hook to get people excited about STEM … and think about things that you’ve never thought about how you use these pieces of equipment in different areas.”

He explained how farmers increasingly use drones in agricultural applications. Many tractors now operate autonomously.

Rosengrant also believes VR training platforms can help future teachers interact with special needs students. He said the immersive tech will help them develop empathy skills by better understanding what an autistic student experiences when triggered.

Rosengrant said the concept could also apply to non-English speaking students attempting to learn math in a foreign language. “We’re all looking at this from different perspectives; what can we do to enhance what’s being done?”

USFSP’s College of Education is also helping develop a program to foster STEM participation among women and minorities. Rosengrant said the area is becoming a national technology hub.

“You have a mecca being developed here within the Tampa Bay region,” Rosengrant said. “So, how do we capitalize on what’s happening in the area and be a part of it at the same time?”

The ARK Innovation Center, which neighbors the USFSP Campus in the Innovation District, will open in October. Rosengrant said conversations regarding potential partnerships are ongoing.

He explained that community members and home-schooled students could also schedule times to use the university’s Emerging Tech Lab. Rosengrant said it would also open this fall.

He expressed his excitement to begin showing students the technological possibilities and stressed that the equipment is more than just throwing on goggles connected to a phone.

“These are the whole, standing up, moving around immersive-type experiences,” Rosengrant said. “You’re getting a much more in-depth feel of, ‘Oh wow, I’m here.’ Just the ability to get students and individuals into this environment to help them see things they may have never seen before – that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.”





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