Texas Tech University

Animal Welfare Expert Developing Virtual Reality Modules for Student Learning and Development

Weston Brooks

January 6, 2022

Nichole Anderson

Nichole Anderson was awarded a $260,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Higher Education Challenge program.

Virtual reality (VR) has taken the world by storm. The technology allows people to have simulated experiences that replicate real-life scenarios. This allows a person to interact, look and move around in an artificial world that feels very much like reality.

VR technology is most popularly used for gaming. But this use only scratches the surface of its capabilities. It can be used as a tool to enrich learning and teaching methods by allowing people to enter an artificial world and gain valuable experience.

Nichole Anderson, an assistant professor of animal welfare, continues a project she began the University of Missouri that gives the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo an opportunity to implement VR into student learning and success.

Anderson was awarded a $260,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Higher Education Challenge (HEC) program for her project entitled, “Using Virtual Reality to Increase Student Understanding and Interest in Farm Animal Welfare.”


Anderson is joined by Christopher Byrd from North Dakota State University. Together, they will investigate an additional mechanism for students to gain on-farm experience through VR modules, created by a VR company called Be More Colorful, focusing on swine and dairy production systems, and welfare issues they might potentially come across while working in the livestock industry.

“Why not figure out a way to use virtual reality to help teach students?” said Anderson. “Virtual reality is becoming common practice in medical teaching but has barely been utilized in agriculture. VR will allow students to access an environment regardless of distance, weather, experience, biosecurity, or any other factors that might make it difficult to visit in real life. I am excited to be able to present to students those real-life situations with real farms in a virtual environment.”

Anderson and Byrd have three objectives as part of the project. The first is to create, develop and evaluate the use of VR modules in an entry-level course to increase student interest and understanding of swine and dairy production systems. Second, they will create, develop and evaluate the use of VR-based animal welfare case studies that can be introduced in upper-level animal welfare, capstone production, or first-year graduate/veterinary courses.

VR Module
Screenshot from a VR module.

Lastly, they will provide training opportunities for animal science-related faculty at other U.S. institutions to utilize and assess the success of the VR modules in their own classrooms.

“We are so fortunate to have Dr. Anderson join our school. She immediately launched her research program in animal welfare, including projects of heat stress and pain management and how these are impacting cattle, as well as continue her passion in teaching on animal welfare-related topics,” said Thu ‘Annelise' Nguyen, associate dean for research and professor of toxicology. “This award validates her interest in advancing animal welfare education and improve management practices and subsequently provide good care and reduce stress and pain to animals.”

Anderson wasted no time in launching the project into the next phase. A prototype module, which takes a person into an immersive journey through both pig and dairy farms, has been developed. Now, this prototype is being shown to different swine and dairy productions so they can begin partnering with farms to develop more succinct modules that will help give students the best possible opportunity to engage virtually in an animal production and welfare environment.

Anderson's innovation paves the way for the future of learning. As the next steps unfold, Anderson will continue using cutting-edge technology to combine her expertise of animal welfare with student learning and experience so students have a chance to achieve excellence.

About the School of Veterinary Medicine

Thanks to the generosity of Amarillo and communities across Texas and the commitment of legislators from around the state, the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo was established in 2018. In March 2021, the school was granted the all-important status of Provisional Accreditation from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Council on Education (COE) and welcomed its first cohort of students in August of that year.

The School of Veterinary Medicine recruits and selects students with a passion to serve rural and regional communities. Its curriculum focuses on the competencies and skills necessary for success in practice types that support these communities. Texas Tech's innovative and cost-efficient model partners with the wider community of veterinary practices across the state to provide clinical, real-world experiential learning.