Texas Tech University

Researchers Developing Interactive Virtual Tours to Bring Food and Agricultural Sciences to Students

George Watson

September 17, 2021


The project is supported by a large grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

When it comes to gaining valuable experience, no matter the field of endeavor, nothing can replace being on site, getting hands-on learning and immersing oneself in the situation.

In today's world, however, that's not always the case. But, also in today's world, technology has advanced so far that certain devices, such as virtual reality (VR), can transport someone to a completely different place, time or situation from the comfort of their home or office and simulate a hands-on experience as closely as possible.

The same can be said for education, and a project being led by a group of researchers in the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources (CASNR) is utilizing 3D camera technology to create VR compatible interactive virtual tours, bringing learning experiences in the world of agricultural sciences and natural resources directly to college students.

Dollhouse View
Still image from an interactive virtual tour similar to the one being described. This is a dollhouse view of the Texas Tech University Greenhouse. 

The project, “iVisIT: Interactive Virtual Tours for Advancing Food and Agricultural Sciences,” will develop and implement interactive virtual tours within classrooms to increase food and agricultural sciences exposure, literacy and workforce development. The tours will be supported by curriculum to enhance integration into classes and will include virtual tours of facilities, including a greenhouse, flour mill, feedlot, food processing facility, green roof, dairy and food science laboratory, among others.

“This project addresses the need for low-cost, practical opportunities to expose students to real-world agricultural sciences and natural resources settings regardless of location,” said Courtney Meyers, CASNR professor in the Department of Agricultural Education & Communication and the head of the project at Texas Tech, “potentially expanding opportunities for student learning and vastly increasing the number of students who have access to tours at the locations. Through this project, we will enhance students' exposure to potential careers in agricultural sciences and natural resources.”

The project is supported by a $749,995 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Cooperative State Research Education & Extension Service. Joining Meyers on the project are Erica Irlbeck and David Lawver, professors in Agricultural Education & Communication; Department of Landscape Architecture assistant professor Muntazar Monsur; Department of Plant and Soil Science assistant professor Catherine Simpson; Scott Collins, an assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources Management; and Agricultural Education & Communication assistant professor of practice Lindsay Kennedy.

Exploring 3D View
Still image from a 3D walkthrough of the Texas Tech University Greenhouse. 

Texas Tech is not the only university participating in the project. Meyers said the university is partnering with Kansas State University and the University of Florida, which will provide expertise in grain, animal and food sciences.

The project will use 3D spatial scanning equipment and software to create the interactive virtual tours. With supplemental curriculum, educators and students will have enhanced access to various food and agricultural sciences industry sites through virtual exploration, interactivity, training and instruction.

The goals of the project are to develop and disseminate these interactive virtual tours, enhance instructors' abilities to use these tours when discussing certain topic areas and evaluate the educational benefits of these tours to both the students and instructors.

“As educators, we recognize the importance of providing experiential learning opportunities for our students,” Meyers said. “We appreciate the need to be innovative and creative in how we engage students in the learning process when we are not able to provide in-person tours or face-to-face classes. These interactive virtual tours will provide more opportunities for students to explore locations that may be difficult or impossible to visit in person due to budget constraints, time limitations, geographic separation or safety concerns.”

Through these interactive virtual tours, Meyers said she hopes to increase students' knowledge and understanding of the food and agricultural sciences, propel students toward careers in these areas and provide support for these methods of learning to develop a more informed workforce and customer base.