Exec. Dir. Center for Advanced Entertainment & Learning Technologies/Assoc. Prof. of Multimedia
Charles Palmer isn’t shy when it comes to touting the benefits of a technology-education marriage.
The two elements, after all, comprise his passion and drive, the engine that propels him to continually spearhead new developments that entice and challenge his Harrisburg University students.
Just ask anyone who’s chatted with Albert Einstein. Or enhanced their 3D modeling skills. Or walked through the human heart.
Activities such as these aren’t make-believe. They form the core of Palmer’s approach to education, which is hell-bent on bridging the divide between academia and technological breakthroughs by testing the parameters of the unknown.
As the director of the Center for Advanced Entertainment & Learning Technologies (CAELT) at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Palmer applies his creativity, leadership, and technological expertise to promote the application of technology to contribute to the economic well-being of the region.
As home to one of only a handful of Virtuspheres (http://www.harrisburgu.edu/virtusphere) in the nation, Harrisburg University is helping Palmer connect the academia-technology divide. A versatile simulation platform comprising a 10-foot hollow ball of ABS plastic, hardware consisting of wireless head-mounted display goggles, and software, the Virtusphere transcends the physical and financial limitations of time, space, and materials—the meeting place for virtual reality and real life, where users can wander around exploring just about anything.
Such as the heart.
Palmer demonstrated an immersive, 3-D virtual walk-through of the human heart using the Virtusphere at the interactive technology expo Otronicon in January. “The Virtusphere has opened up a number of opportunities to examine various modes of entertainment,” Palmer says. “We’ve researched a number of applications and technologies that allow full immersion of the user into a dynamic 3-D environment. The heart model is the forerunner for our virtual body project, which uses kinesthetic learning to teach the user about the systems within the human body.”
The Virtusphere was also in the spotlight at the school’s Learning and Entertainment Evolution Forum (LEEF), an event that attracts a national audience of e-learning designers and developers, educators and instructors, and game designers and developers, and examines the impact of games, simulations, and virtual worlds.
Capabilities such as this elevate the Virtusphere from an intriguing gadget to a targeted, versatile, and cost-effective training tool for a range of industries, including corporate training, education, history, emergency services, military, and gaming.
Gaming is the theme of Harrisburg University’s High School Gaming Academy. A three-week intensive session, led by Palmer, teaches students entering the 10th, 11th, or 12th grades game programming, 3-D modeling, and professional techniques for designing and producing video games. The Gaming Academy, which debuted at the university in summer 2011, offers an immersive educational journey into the dynamic world of video game development. It introduces passionate young game designers and developers to the methods and technologies used by professional game makers throughout the world. The program focuses on all aspects of the creative process from ideation to problem-solving to delivery. Students develop skills and strategies to prepare them for a future in the digital media industry.
While those students look to the future, the past takes center stage at the Moore Cultural Complex, where Palmer leads other Harrisburg University faculty and staff in bringing history to life through the use of high-tech interactive displays. Palmer, Jayme Keller, Glenn Williams, Anthony Ortega, and Justin Detig created an interactive video kiosk for slain civil rights leaders Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore.
Visitors to the kiosk will see life-sized, realistic-looking mannequins of the Moores at their kitchen table, and be placed at a dinner table in a replica of the Moores’ home, where they can ask questions using Harrisburg University’s interactive video technology.
The Moores, who were killed in a Christmas Day bombing in 1951, were the first true civil rights activists of the modern civil rights era in Florida. The kiosk serves as a connection to their lives, as they describe various events in their lives during the early part of the century.
The Moore Cultural Complex was created to develop a national civil rights resource incorporating the latest technology and information management systems. The goal is to form cooperative working relationships with academic, corporate, and cultural institutions throughout the nation and the world to link the historical trail of the early civil rights pioneers and their effect on communities.
The impact of Harrisburg University in helping to achieve this goal has been strong. The board of the Moore Complex has asked the university to create a second kiosk that takes a broader look at Harry T. Moore’s influence on the civil rights movement.
Palmer himself has been involved in similar installations around the country featuring historic figures such as Benjamin Franklin and George Westinghouse.
Palmer’s efforts to create a gaming cluster of new businesses in the Harrisburg region through initiatives such as the Virtusphere and the Gaming Academy align well with Harrisburg University’s mission to meet Central Pennsylvania’s need for increased opportunities for study leading to careers in STEM fields.
As Palmer explores and opens more innovative doors, technology and education are destined to become lifelong partners.