Executive Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic indeed showed the necessity of moving life into the virtual realm. Some sectors embraced and capitalized on the opportunities that came with increased digitization. Others were dragged in kicking and screaming, necessitated by survival. Higher education was not the exception to prove the rule. Ironically, the very organizations that house our most significant, most forward-thinking minds are often the slowest to adopt, let alone embrace, innovation at an institutional level.1

Traditional universities that rely on undergraduate numbers must compete with Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms that offer just-in-time training and micro-credentials. MOOCs leverage data from their millions of customers (learners), generating many data points. They use automation and machine learning for content delivery and course assessment.2 It’s possible for students to complete courses and fulfill duly performed requirements and have little, if any, interaction with another human – as this researcher experienced when she completed a TEFL course during the pandemic.

In addition, universities are under pressure to move beyond their original purpose, the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, to better interface with the world of work. This means breaking down the silos characteristic of Bernsteinian education3 and pedagogies (the way of teaching students, whether it is the theory or practice of educating) between faculties and with commerce and industry.4

Through our research, we discovered that probably only two universities in Ohio State currently offer bachelor’s or master’s programs in virtual and/or augmented reality (VR/AV) and have facilities that support VR and AV. Three universities, Ohio State University, Columbus College of Art & Design, and the Cleveland Institute of Art, are ranked among the top 15% of animation schools in the US.

Three new courses in AV/VR, at least two other universities will come on stream in the spring and fall of 2024.

We did not find much evidence that universities (generally), let alone in Ohio, were exploiting the nexus between AV/VR and pedagogy. This is fertile ground for the creation of safe literal and virtual spaces for skill-based learning and interaction.

A deeper dive into the characteristics of the higher education environment revealed that leadership is either unaware of, has little confidence in, or does not believe that learning technology can positively impact learning technologies. Resources capability and finance seem to be less of a factor in adopting eLearning technology. 5

This unwillingness or inability to innovate is probably attributable to the leadership, which is characterized by baby boomers who are not digital natives.6,7

Advocating for and demonstrating the value of adopting VR/AV, gamification, and e-learning technologies and how they will enhance pedagogy and student outcomes across disciplines and support work at all levels of higher education institutions is critical.

1. Introduction

One of CenterGrid’s key intended strategic directions is offering virtual studio services (rendering, virtualization) and related information technology infrastructure support to the higher education sector in Ohio. Informing this thinking is an understanding that both education providers and students will need access to this infrastructure. Our Google trend analyses into the level of interest in these services from prospective students and businesses warranted further research.

In short, the trend analysis indicates significant and increasing demand for IT (tech) resource-dependent courses from businesses and students.

This and the seven questions arising from the trend analysis informed the research. The questions are summarized/paraphrased below:

  1. How are universities (in Ohio, USA) planning to meet infrastructure demands and concomitant dependence on IT infrastructure among students and faculty?
  2. How are universities currently coping (with infrastructure demands)?
  3. Do these institutions (and, by default, courses) need information technology infrastructure or virtual studios (rendering and high-performance cloud storage in 2025 and beyond)?
  4. Is there a vision for information technology infrastructure options for higher education in Ohio in the next 10 years?
  5. Are there new courses coming on stream where rendering or virtual reality could be integral?
  6. How resource-hungry is the IT infrastructure required for rendering in terms of the associated costs and energy demands?
  7. Assuming existing high and growing future dependence on IT infrastructure dependence on infrastructure is so high…
    1. are institutions dealing with environmental concerns and making use of green energy?
    2. how can the future demand be supported by green infrastructure?

This report outlines what we found and speaks directly to the question: do universities and post-school providers in Ohio have the capacity to deliver on this demand? The short answer is no.

Given what emerged, the key questions posed could not be answered, mainly because much of the data may be confidential and better accessed via a primary research process involving direct engagement with the institutions concerned. This does not invalidate the questions, per se, but rather indicates a need for a different approach to academic institutions in helping them address some of the challenges they face.

Also, given the richness of the other findings, it is proposed that issues associated with costs and energy, specifically green energy, are addressed through a different research piece.

2. Research process

Given that the research was confined to the desktop with no opportunity to discuss critical questions with stakeholders or experts, this was an opportunity to draw on Microsoft’s recently launched Copilot for Bing. This was a considerable time-saver, given the dearth of institution-specific data. That said, a number of syndicated, industry/commerce-based reports on anticipated IT needs and attitudes within universities, work trends, etc., are available. These yielded valuable insights that could influence future thinking and strategies for approaching the sector with a view to supporting it. Reviews of the sources gave rise to other related questions that we tried to answer, largely informed by this researcher’s lens.

2.1 Lens

While the brief for this research focuses on validating the demand for courses in virtual and augmented reality in the higher education space and the concomitant need for IT infrastructure and support, specifically virtual studio services, this researcher brings an additional perspective informed by thirty-odd years in the post-school education space. This includes an understanding of the changing nature of pedagogies thanks to e-learning and technology, learning styles, and the mechanics of how academic institutions function.

3. Findings

Our findings provide an overview of how current IT infrastructure is accessed and managed in higher education and, a list of current and future AV, VR offerings in the state of Ohio and how the animation schools rank when measured against their peers. We consider the current IT trends and challenges facing large institutions, especially universities, before considering the influence of technology on pedagogy in relation to student performance. We conclude with what is probably the most critical: what is hindering the adoption of educational technologies in higher education.

3.1 An overview of how current IT infrastructure is accessed and managed

Very little information is available about universities’ IT resources and how they are managed. The search yielded what services are available to students and faculty. In terms of virtual reality (VR) and associated services, two Ohio universities make use of virtual studios – on and off campus. Both are public universities:

  • Ohio State University
    • offers a virtual desktop service that operates out of the Office of Technology and Digital Innovation. It provides access to applications such as Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft Office, and SPSS from any device and location, and users can save their files to OneDrive or Teams. 8
    • through the Distance Education and eLearning office, has a Digital Union based at four campus locations that are equipped with 3D printers, VR headsets, video studios, and audio booths. These and other tech resources and services are available to students, faculty, and staff alike.9
  • Wright State University has a Virtual Reality Lab to support research and education in VR, AR, and 3D modeling and hosts workshops and events for students and faculty. The lab is equipped with a large-scale immersive VR system, a head-mounted VR system, a 3D scanner, and a 3D printer.10

3.1.1 Ohio Supercomputer Center

The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) was established in 1987 by an act of the Ohio General Assembly, funded jointly by the National Science Foundation and the Ohio Department of Higher Education. Its mission is to “empower Ohio higher educational institutions, both public and private, as well as private industry, by providing capable, accessible, reliable and secure computational services enhanced by training, consulting and research partnership.”
Included in its value proposition is the leveraging of economies of scale to offer “better” services, save costs and prevent the unnecessary duplication or replication of expensive services; it sees itself as a resource to “to place Ohio’s research universities and private industry at the forefront of computational research”. Services include:

  • High-performance research computing.
  • Large capacity data storage but with an emphasis on “data curation, publication, and archiving, to help promote scientific reproducibility and public transparency”.

In addition, and given the focus on research, it maintains and supports the software packages that clients use. It also offers workshops, classes and training designed for “university faculty to incorporate cyberinfrastructure resources into courses” and has the “deep expertise” necessary for “developing and deploying software and web interfaces that run efficiently on powerful supercomputers”.

In addition, the OSC is designated by the Ohio General Assembly as a technology-based economic development entity and works with the Ohio Department of Development and JobsOhio.11 The OSC is one of five supercomputing centers in the US that had their genesis in the 1982 Lax Report.12 

3.1.2 IT and ed-tech (educational technology) spending

In 2020, less than 5% of college budgets were allocated to IT spending. Prior to the pandemic, the primary teaching methodology was campus-based lectures, which were generally low-tech and very people-intensive. This is shifting rapidly and globally. In the first six months of 2020, there was three times more investment in ed-tech than in the previous ten years.13 (our emphasis)

Universities are bureaucracies and tend to lag behind in adopting new technologies to “do” their work to support learning. We explore this in 3.8 below.

3.2 Current and future AV, VR offerings in Ohio, and how schools rate

We deliberately excluded online courses available via platforms like Coursera and through which students can study at out-of-state institutions as close as Michigan or as far away as London, UK.

3.3 Animation, virtual reality, and design courses

The following two universities have bachelor’s programs in AV/AR and/or gaming:

3.3.1 The Ohio State University – The College of Arts and Sciences

  • Masters in fine art with a specialty in design and with digital animation and interactive media (DAIM); it includes among other things –
    • 12 studio elective credits for hands-on experience
    • real-time graphics and virtual environments, performance animation, game art, responsive and interactive media, and installations
  • The Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD) conducts research that focuses on emerging arts technologies. ACCAD houses are complemented by specialized and flexible studios for interactive design, animation, mediated performance design, motion capture, and media production.

Graduates hold the following roles in a range of industries: Augmented Reality Designer, Mixed Reality Designer, Virtual Reality Designer, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Designer, Interaction Designer, Visualization Specialist, Motion Graphics Designer, Game Designer, Experiential Designer, Multimedia Designer, and CG Generalist.

3.3.2 Ohio University, Athens 

  • J. Warren McClure School of Emerging Communication Technologies (ECT) in The Scripps College of Communication Information and Telecommunication Systems Major (ITS ECT), which has a virtual/augmented reality track. The program leads to a BS degree, with the program covering application, management, design, and regulation, information network technology, the use, production, and implementation of VR/AR, and includes an insight into the commercial side of the business.
  • The School of Media Arts & Studies, in partnership with the McClure School, focuses on VR and game development as part of the Games and Animation Major in a BS in Media Arts and Studies. Students can specialize in animation or game design.
  • Major studios and companies, including Microsoft, Sony, Unity, Warner Brothers, Disney, and Bethesda, recruit graduates. They also work in the U.S. state and federal government offices and the armed forces, as well as in major consultancies such as Deloitte, Accenture, Capgemini, Booz Allen Hamilton, and PwC.

3.4 Animation, virtual reality, and design courses

The following universities will be offering VR/AV and/or gaming courses for the first time in 2024:


When in 2024


Ohio State University
Virtual Reality and Game Development (B.S.C.)14

Spring semester 

Introduction to Virtual Reality and 3D Modeling
basics of creating and interacting with 3D environments using VR headsets, controllers, and software tools such as Unity and Blender

Kent State University15

Fall semester

Immersive Media – 18 credit hours of courses that cover topics such as virtual reality, augmented reality, 360-degree video, spatial audio, and interactive storytelling

University of Cincinnati16

Winter semester

Advanced Rendering Techniques – rendering methods and algorithms for realistic and stylized graphics, such as ray tracing, global illumination, shadows, reflections, and shaders

3.5 Rankings and online schools

Three Ohio animation schools are among the top 15% of schools in the US17. They are:

  • The Ohio State University
  • Columbus College of Art & Design
  • Cleveland Institute of Art

Given the focus on IT infrastructure, there was merit in looking at what universities are online and how they rate. Intelligent.com applies the following criteria:18

  • Academic reputation
  • Admission selectivity
  • Employment data
  • Depth and breadth of the program faculty
  • Value as it relates to tuition and indebtedness
  • Graduation rate
  • Retention rate

The top 10 are a mix of public and private colleges:

  1. University of Cincinnati
  2. Ohio State University
  3. Kent State University
  4. Mercy College of Ohio
  5. Ohio University
  6. Youngstown State University
  7. Ashland University
  8. Mount Vernon Nazarene University
  9. Bowling Green State University
  10. Mount Carmel College of Nursing

It is worth noting that three of the private colleges, viz., Mercy College, Mount Vernon Nazarene University, and Mount Carmel College of Nursing are private institutions. All have a special focus on the health sciences, with the first two also having significant enrolments in education courses. In 3.7 we note how smaller and private institutions are both earlier adopters of and spend more on IT than their larger public counterparts.

3.6 Current trends and challenges facing large institutions, especially universities

We have already noted that institution-specific information is hard to find. That said, given that universities are akin to large bureaucratic businesses, it stands to reason that they are facing challenges not dissimilar to commerce and industry.

3.6.1 Edge Computing

Edge computing came into its own during the pandemic and will become increasingly important to business and, arguably, even more so for universities. Edge computing is the decentralized extension of campus networks, cellular networks, data center networks, or the cloud, with technology that enables data processing and storage closer to the source of the data rather than in a centralized cloud server.19 The upshot is better performance and efficiency, and it is these hybrid functionalities that support hybrid forms of working and learning.20 Again, given the shifts that came with (and remain after) the pandemic, edge computing will be central to how universities function. In 3.7.1 we discuss hybrid models and implications for pedagogy and students’ learning needs. Edge computing will be central to addressing these needs.

3.6.2 University-specific challenges21

Universities have specific IT needs given the range of users that access their systems: students, faculty and staff. Each group of stakeholders has different needs, and given that none of these groups is homogeneous, suggests even more complex needs.

  • Security and compliance
    As IT infrastructures become more complex and interconnected, they are also increasingly vulnerable. This is a critical concern for universities that store and work with confidential student and research data. In light of the absence of up-to-date recent references, it is relevant to underscore the importance of this observation. A 2021 Telehouse survey revealed that 36% of UK IT decision-makers said that “maintaining security and compliance” is likely to be their top IT infrastructure challenge by 2030.22
  • Green matters
    As IT infrastructure consumes more energy and resources, reducing its environmental impact becomes a key challenge and opportunity for universities. In light of the absence of recent references, it is relevant to underscore the importance of this observation. According to the same survey by Telehouse, 30% of UK IT decision-makers say that in 2030, ‘reducing the environmental impact of IT infrastructure’ is likely to be one of their top three IT infrastructure challenges. 
  • Collaborative and active learning across time and space
    Thanks to the pandemic, the resistance to blended learning and the adoption of different strategies for online collaboration and active learning has waned somewhat. As a pedagogical approach, active learning is the polar opposite of the passive approach to learning (and teaching), i.e., lectures and text-tased learning that has characterized universities for centuries.
    Active learning, including the Socratic method23, engages students in the learning process, producing better-motivated students and, thus, better outcomes. They also develop and use skills, such as problem-solving critical in a world where the only constant is change. Trends already shaping the future of higher education are personalized and collaborative learning and especially relevant, experiential learning. These are all forms of active learning that must be supported by IT infrastructure using online platforms, including interactive tools and virtual/augmented reality.24 

3.6.3 Institutional considerations

In a 2022 review by Educause, Grajek (et al.)25 identified ten IT issues that are likely to frame how the world’s universities approach learning, teaching and institutional management. These are in response to the pandemic, listening more to students and what works for them, and recognizing the need for universities to adapt and change more quickly. The ten issues, clustered into three “building blocks”, reflect all the elements discussed above, as well as the role of leadership:

  • leading with wisdom
  • the ultra-intelligent institution, and
  • everything is anywhere

All ten are reflected in Figure 1, which has been annotated to reflect issues on which CenterGrid is well placed to advocate, advise and/or render services to higher education.

Figure 1: Top 10 IT issues and implications for universities - as organizations (after Grajek, 2022)

The barriers preventing higher education from adopting eLearning technologies are discussed in 3.8.

3.7 Technology, pedagogy, and improved student performance (throughput)

In a 2022 McKinsey report26, Brasca et al. (2020) looked at the impact of “new” collaborative classroom technologies introduced during the pandemic.  Students surveyed said that their grades had improved, attributing this to the classroom exercises (80%) and “machine-learning-powered teaching assistants” (71%).

While AV/VR is not widely used, 88% of students surveyed said that while uncertain about its impact on learning outcomes,  this technology would make learning more entertaining.  However, that would be a logical deduction when considering the effect of active (and fun) learning and the motivation that comes with that. Learning outcomes would likely improve.  The results of a pilot study in an introductory biology class support this. Students used a VR tool to complete coursework, and on average, they “improved their subject mastery by an average of two letter grades.

Interestingly, Brasca et al. (2020) also note that:

Small public institutions use machine learning–powered TAs, AR/VR, and technologies for monitoring student progress at double or more the rates of medium and large public institutions.

Private institutions used classroom interaction technologies (84%) more than public institutions (63%)

3.7.1 Hybrid models and their implications for students’ peak learning time and learning styles

Advancements in understanding how humans learn and how their brains change as they grow from children to adults are grist to the mill for introducing hybrid models of teaching to support learning. It is now understood that being a morning person is a phenomenon: not everyone can learn and be creative at the same time of day. In other words, it is a fallacy that most people are at their freshest first thing in the morning.27 Similarly, understanding why teenagers and young adults (around 20 years old) struggle to wake up in the morning28, provides insight into why some students happily skip class and take advantage of asynchronous learning: podcasts, recordings of lectures, and collaborative platforms. The last also offers real-time (synchronous) peer-to-peer and student-to-lecturer interaction opportunities. Hybrid models offer the best of both worlds to young adults and “un” morning people.

Since the 1950s, there has been a growing understanding that not all children learn in the same way. Learning is usually rooted in one of four sensory modalities: visual, aural, read/write and kinesthetic.29 These preferences or a combination of preferences – usually persist into adulthood. Logically, these considerations should have a bearing on the pedagogies used in higher education. However, this is not so in many faculties, as evidenced by the dominance of the “teacher-tell” classroom-based lecture. The exception, though, is health sciences, where medical schools have done significant research into the learning preferences of their students, which influences the methodologies they use and how courses are developed and run.30

Logically and notably, it is in the health sciences that VR and AR seem to be most readily adopted. This technology enables simulation (practice for the real world) and supports visual and kinesthetic learners.

That universities are, by and large, slow to adopt and/or are resistant to embracing hybrid and varied learning modalities may underpin many students’ resistance to returning to the classroom. This could be complicated by many institutions’ dyed-in-the-wool approach to change that does not accommodate students’ needs, as discussed in the next section.

3.8 Stumbling blocks preventing the adoption of ed-tech in universities

While the pandemic did fast-track the development and adoption of ed-tech to keep the business of education going when it comes to recognizing the need for a different approach to pedagogy, the same McKinsey research31 reveals some interesting insights. Brasca et al. (2020) identify learning technologies as central to enabling change. In addition to connectivity and machine learning-powered teaching, they include augmented or virtual reality. Figure 2: Eight learning technologies that enable change (after Brasca, 2022).

Figure 2: Eight learning technologies that are enabling change (after Brasca, 2022) McKinsey & Company

Of these technologies applied during the pandemic, AV/VR was second to last, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Use of technology in the classroom during the pandemic (after Brasca, 2022) McKinsey & Company

3.8.1 Hearts and minds versus resources

Given the potential for using VR/AV as a teaching tool, not to mention the potential for using technology to monitor student progress, it begs the question, why?
Again, drawing on Brasca’s work for McKinsey, the answer lies in beliefs and attitudes. Eighty-two percent of respondents didn’t know about and/or did not believe in the value that learning technologies bring. Only 18% blamed the lack of adoption on cost and skill (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Top 5 barriers to using learning tech (after Brasca, 2022)

Attitudinal and belief barriers are notoriously difficult to overcome: they are rarely based on reason. In the university context, this will be further complicated by the age profile of the senior leadership and faculty: most are baby boomers interspersed with Generation X-ers.32 It is these two groups that are least comfortable and most anxious using technology33 in contrast with the digital natives that make up generations Y (millennials) and Z.

It’s this intergenerational and attitudinal divide that partly explains the tardy and silo-based adoption of digital learning technologies beyond the prominent schools and faculties that teach IT and design. As noted, our research showed significant adoption in the health sciences, but it could be very successfully used, for example, in engineering, the humanities, and social sciences.
Gallagher and Palmer (2020) make the case that brick-and-mortar universities need to move beyond “simple ‘remote learning’ via live Zoom classes, a method little evolved from video conferencing from the late 1990s” as a way of both reaching more students and securing a more financially viable education business.

During this digital learning transformation, institutional, student, and employer behaviors are all simultaneously shifting, making this a critical time for evaluating outcomes and business cases and revisiting strategies and policies through a fresh lens.34

Our research suggests that more than strategies and policies need revisiting. In addition to attitudes, it is time to review and shore up the IT innovation that is integral to preparing the workforce of tomorrow by including a digital strategy as a facet of institutional strategy, making institution’s investments much more future-proof.


1Clark, C., Selingo, J.J. and Cluver, M. (2023) Higher Education’s New Era, Deloitte Insights. (Accessed: 16 November 2023).


3Bernstein, B. (1999) ‘Vertical and horizontal discourse: An essay’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 20(2), pp. 157–173. doi:10.1080/01425699995380.

4Op. Cit.

5Brasca, C. et al. (2022) How technology is shaping learning in higher education, McKinsey & Company. (Accessed: 07 November 2023).

6Round-up: College presidents remain older, male and white despite diversification efforts – April 1 (2023) National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. (Accessed: 16 November 2023).

7Culp-Roche, A. et al. (2020) ‘Generational differences in faculty and student comfort with technology use’, SAGE Open Nursing, 6, p. 237796082094139. doi:10.1177/2377960820941394. (Accessed: 16 November 2023).

8Virtual Desktop | Office of Technology and Digital Innovation. (Accessed: 7 November 2023)

9Office of Distance Education and eLearning. (Accessed: 7 November 2023)

10Virtual reality (2018) Wright State University Newsroom. (Accessed: 7 November 2023).

11Ohio Supercomputer Center. (Accessed: 7 November 2023).

12From supercomputing to the teragrid (2006) NSF. (Accessed: 7 November 2023).

13Gallagher, S. and Palmer, J. (2020) The pandemic pushed universities online: the change was long overdue., Harvard Business Review. (Accessed: 15 November 2023).

14Ohio University (Accessed: 07 November 2023).


16The Ohio State University (2023) Virtual reality prepares Ohio State Students for Real World. (Accessed: 7 November 2023).

17Top 50 animation schools and colleges in the U.S. – 2023 college rankings, Animation Career Review.  (Accessed: 15 November 2023).

18Best online colleges in Ohio of 2024 (2023) Intelligent.com. (Accessed: 07 November 2023).

19What edge computing means for infrastructure and operations leaders (no date) Gartner. (Accessed: 14 November 2023).

20Bigelow, S.J. (2021) What is edge computing? everything you need to know, Data Center. (Accessed: 14 November 2023).

21In the Media: Future Perfect: What will universities look like in 2030? (no date) Stanford Graduate School of Education.  (Accessed: 14 November 2023).

22Vision 2030 (2021) Telehouse. (Accessed: 14 November 2023).

23Maden, J. (2021) Socratic method: What is it and how can you use it?: Philosophy break, Philosophy Break.  (Accessed: 15 November 2023).

244 trends that will shape the future of higher education (2022) World Economic Forum. (Accessed: 7 November 2023).

25Grajek, S, et al, 2023 Top 10 it issues: Foundation models (no date) EDUCAUSE Review. (Accessed: 14 November 2023).

26Brasca, C. et al. (2022) How technology is shaping learning in higher education, McKinsey & Company. (Accessed: 07 November 2023).

27The best time of the day to study day or night, Oxford Learning. (2023)(Accessed: 15 November 2023)

28Kelley, P., Honorary Associate in Sleep (2023) The biological reason why it’s so hard for teenagers to wake up early for school, The Conversation. (Accessed: 15 November 2023).

29Prithishkumar IJ, Michael SA. Understanding your student: using the VARK model. 2014 Apr-Jun;60(2): J Postgrad Med. 183-6. doi: 10.4103/0022-3859.132337. PMID: 24823519. (Accessed: 15 November 2023)


31Brasca, C. et al. (2022) How technology is shaping learning in higher education, McKinsey & Company. (Accessed: 07 November 2023).

32Round-up: College presidents remain older, male and white despite diversification efforts – April 1 (2023) National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. (Accessed: 16 November 2023).

33Culp-Roche, A. et al. (2020) ‘Generational differences in faculty and student comfort with technology use’, SAGE Open Nursing, 6, p. 237796082094139. doi:10.1177/2377960820941394. (Accessed: 16 November 2023).

34Gallagher, S. and Palmer, J. (2020) The pandemic pushed universities online. the change was long overdue., Harvard Business Review. (Accessed: 15 November 2023).