Virtual Coffee, Ice Cream Shops Help Students Learn Business

West Virginia University students have been experimenting with virtual reality (VR) in their supply chain, logistics, and operations management courses. The technology has become more immersive and accessible for students, making the subject more engaging and immersive. Virtual reality is not new in college settings, but as more corporations use VR for training, its increased use has trickled down to business school classrooms.

Arizona State University began working in the virtual reality realm with its Dreamscape Lab in 2020, partnering with the lab and launching a pilot program last fall to test a student-run virtual coffee shop and teach students the ins and outs of supply chain management without the risk of running a real business. The virtual experience also goes deeper than the surface-level knowledge gleaned from a site visit to an actual business.

Roughly 160 ASU students have donned the VR headsets over the last two semesters and entered the virtual W.P. Coffee Shop, where they immediately encounter a long line of customers. The participating students in the supply chain management course discuss and decide what may help the shop operate more efficiently—which could be adding more staff or more coffee machines—and then implement the plan in real time to see if it brings a boost or dip in revenue.

West Virginia University implemented its own virtual reality addition to its supply chain management course in 2023. The technology allows students to go where they haven’t been able to before, whether it is a far-flung manufacturing plant or an area that is typically off-limits to visitors. “There’s an immediate reaction of, ‘This is great,’ or, ‘What happened,’” said Daniel Gruber, associate dean for teaching and learning at ASU’s Carey School of Business. “I think supply chain is a natural space and place to illuminate in virtual reality,” said Gruber.

Loyola Marymount University held a virtual reality pilot program earlier this spring across nearly two dozen modules, ranging from training for interviews to pitching. The technology company that developed the program, Bodyswaps, gave feedback to students, including on whether they used too many filler words such as “um,” or didn’t use their hands enough while speaking. Jeffrey Schwartz, senior director of digital learning and innovation at Loyola Marymount University, believes that virtual reality will extend beyond the classroom and become more pervasive in the business world, and that familiarizing students with virtual reality in their undergraduate courses will better prepare them for employment.

However, there are also drawbacks to VR. One of the most common complaints by institutions is the cost of VR headsets, which clock in between $200 and $500 per headset. Some institutions, like Loyola Marymount, are able to secure grants to cover the headset costs, while others like WVU work with technology companies to receive headsets for free.

Others pointed out that while VR boosts accessibility in some ways, for others, including those with visual impairments, it can be a hindrance. Schwartz from Loyola Marymount suggested offering desktop or mobile app platforms with the same type of content as the virtual reality headsets could address accessibility barriers. Saldanha said students can initially be distracted by the technology itself and focus on the novelty instead of the content.

As these hurdles are continually overcome, there is a strong belief among the professors that virtual reality usage could become the norm among business schools and beyond in the future.

Read More @ Inside Higher Ed

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