Immersive Technologies at EUR: Shaping Education, Research, and Society

Woman wearing VR gear at Immersive Tech soft opening

At Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), immersive technologies are redefining the boundaries of research, learning, and societal impact. Vanessa Abel, Programme Director of ErasmusX, Yvonne van Everdingen, Professor of Marketing and Innovation at Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Astrid Manden-Benneker, Innovation Manager/Business Developer Cultural and Creative Industries at Erasmus Research Services, and Marta Stachowiak-de Wit, Head of Marketing & Communications at Erasmus Centre for Data Analytics (ECDA) dive into the exciting possibilities of these technologies.

What is immersive technology?

Immersive technology, encompassing cutting-edge technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR), collectively referred to as “XR,” is revolutionizing the way we approach research, education, and societal impact at EUR. Vanessa says, "virtual reality is when you are really immersed into the digital space. Augmented reality is where you add digital content on top of the real world." One example of AR is the wildly popular Pokémon GO game. During the pandemic, players engaged in catching and training virtual Pokémon characters while exploring the real world.

Applications in education, research, and society

The potential applications of immersive tech are vast, influencing various aspects of academia, research and beyond. From Vanessa’s perspective, "it's changing the way we look at education and how we could potentially engage students in learning," she notes. Through immersive technologies, students can gain access to dynamic and engaging learning experiences. For instance, virtual excursions and historical reconstructions allow students to visit places that would be otherwise inaccessible, such as witnessing historical events at the Roman Colosseum. Having an educational experience like this significantly enhances learning retention rates, by up to 80%.

Prof. van Everdingen describes immersive tech as a "game-changer" for research methodologies, offering realistic scenarios that traditional methods cannot mimic. "There are already many very nice applications,” she says, pointing towards breakthroughs in healthcare, mental health treatments, and safety training. “It's really a game-changer because it allows you to create very realistic scenarios, realistic environments, and immersive experiences that you can never mimic in traditional research." This highlights the profound impact immersive tech has on enriching the research landscape, providing researchers with unparalleled opportunities for experimentation and exploration.

Astrid highlights how immersive tech can foster empathy and understanding in society. She shares examples where immersive experiences enable individuals to step into the shoes of others, experiencing the world from different perspectives. “It's often the unknown that scares us,” she says, “and if we can let people see what others experience, perhaps then understanding can grow and the world will be a better place in the end." By immersing people in scenarios that challenge their perspectives, Astrid believes immersive tech has the power to create awareness, promote empathy, and contribute to a more considerate, safe and understanding society. Sharing the ECDA perspective, Marta adds, “we believe that immersive technologies like VR, AR, XR, and holography - as part of a broader digital transformation - can be vehicles to increase understanding, embrace other perspectives, and come to new collaborations that boost innovation, and therefore create societal impact.”

Overcoming challenges

While the benefits of using immersive tech in research and education are evident, there are challenges too. Vanessa states, "cost, accessibility, technical expertise, ethical considerations. How are we going to standardize this?" Astrid notes, "one of the challenges is that the hardware is very expensive." She underscores the importance of establishing a sustainable business model to support immersive tech integration, highlighting opportunities for collaborations with partners to optimize technology usage for both educational and business purposes.

Viewscreen (left) showing what the man with the VR gear (right) sees

Initiatives fostering a thriving immersive tech environment at EUR

In response to these challenges, Vanessa reveals EUR's forward-thinking approach, stating, "we are actually creating a space, an immersive tech space for educational programs." The Immersive Tech Space, co-created by ErasmusX and ECDA will open at the Erasmus Data Collaboratory on January 16, 2024. But the Immersive Tech Space is not only a place for students, it’s specifically designed to bring together students, researchers, and companies and will provide an opportunity for the EUR community to experience the technology rather than just discuss it. Marta adds, “it is there for our academics, industry practitioners, students, and immersive tech & AI artists, supported by immersive tech engineers and gamification experts to experiment, visualize, find new insights, and collaborate across domains and silos, to make a difference.” This proactive step signifies more than just acknowledging the potential of immersive tech; it's a strategic investment in physical spaces that will enable the blending of technology and traditional teaching or research methodologies.

This approach sets the stage for immersive tech to be an integral part of the learning environment. According to Prof. van Everdingen, "the relevance is really for our students to get exposed to this technology. It's important for our students to get to know the technologies, see what they can do with it, and think about business opportunities."

In 2024, ECDA at RSM is undertaking another initiative, which involves developing a new executive course designed for business professionals. Astrid describes the potential course as an opportunity for these professionals “to see what immersive tech could mean for their business and company education programmes.”

Man wearing VR glasses at the Immersive Tech soft opening

However, successfully integrating immersive tech requires a holistic approach that involves various stakeholders—educational institutions, industry partners, and technology experts. Astrid is currently involved with the creation of the Rotterdam Immersive Tech Hub, a collaborative initiative involving several educational institutes, including EUR, Hogeschool Rotterdam, Zadkine College, Grafisch Lyceum Rotterdam, VR Days, the city of Rotterdam, the province of South Holland, and various companies in the immersive tech field. Astrid explains that the hub aims to create a network that encourages knowledge exchange between educational institutions and industry. There are plans to establish a physical space in Rotterdam, serving as a co-working environment, educational facility, and cultural venue. This will become a place where people from diverse backgrounds can work together, inspiring each other and driving advancements in immersive technology.

These initiatives not only align with EUR's commitment to academic excellence but also play a pivotal role in our engagement activities by fostering economic and cultural development, benefiting not only the university but also contributing significantly to the advancement of the city of Rotterdam.

Advice for integrating immersive tech into research

In her research, Prof. van Everdingen uses VR to design scenarios that simulate real-world situations, like a shop, to study consumer behaviour and decision-making. This is an example of a shift in research methodologies whereby in the past, researchers would use  a scenario description and ask people to answer questions about  how they would respond in such a scenario. However, with the advent of immersive tech such as VR, researchers can now place people directly into those scenarios and observe their natural behaviour. This change allows for a more experiential and objective understanding of participant reactions and behaviours within the simulated environments. This could be particularly valuable in fields where creating physical replicas or conducting real-world experiments is challenging. Marta adds, “researchers have shown that immersive tech fosters participation in collaborative activity and increases creativity and engagement, help visualize complex concepts, and create interactive simulations.”

For researchers considering the integration of immersive tech, Prof. van Everdingen offers valuable advice. "The first question that you should always ask yourself is what is the added value? So do not use it for the sake of using it because it's new." She emphasizes the importance of weighing the relevance and usefulness of immersive tech in each research context. This approach ensures that the technology is harnessed purposefully, maximizing its benefits for researchers and their projects.

More information

For more information on the Immersive Tech Space contact Jos van Dongen at

For more information on the Rotterdam Immersive Tech Hub contact Astrid Manden-Benneker at

For more information about ErasmusX contact Vanessa Abel at

For more information about Erasmus Centre for Data Analytics (ECDA) contact Marta Stachowiak-de Wit at

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