Like Tupac at Coachella, one professor at the McCombs School of Business is beamed as a hologram before his audience.
This semester, Steve Limberg is teaching his executive MBA class in a studio while his hologram is projected before students in the classroom. The setup allows both him and his audience to interact in real time, while minimizing their exposure to the coronavirus.
Hologram Technology Launches Classroom of the Future | McCombs School of Business (youtube)
"This is an authentic experience because I can see all the gestures and the nuances that the students are expressing, whether it be raising a hand or nodding, and as a result, it really is very much like being right here in the classroom," Limberg said in a press release.
The accounting professor is the first adopter of the new product, called Recourse, from local company Contextual Content Group.
Formed late last year, CCG is focused on creating content using 5G technology. However, when the pandemic began, the company quickly shifted its focus to solving a new problem that had emerged: how to make distance learning engaging and effective.
"We really wanted to give professors and students a choice," CEO and Chairman Jim Spencer told Austonia. "That's what we've done."
Spencer is also a lecturer at UT's Moody College of Communication. After speaking to some fellow faculty members on campus, he realized CCG could help address the issues facing his colleagues.
A hologram—enabled by 5G's high bandwidth capacity and near real-time processing speed—achieved the university's goals of keeping professors safe while enhancing the online classroom experience and allowing for the possibility of expanded use across campus.
When Spencer told Joe Stephens, senior assistant dean at McCombs, his idea, Stephens had some questions but quickly got on board.
"We know hybrid delivery is something we're going to have to work through for a while because there's no flip of the switch back to normal," Stephens said.
Armed with a contract from the McCombs School of Business, CCG began prototyping the Recourse product and developing it based on feedback from professors.
"The team works around the clock, and there's just a tremendous amount of passion and enthusiasm to try to help solve a real problem at UT," Spencer said.
In mid-August, when the fall semester began, Limberg's hologram began teaching in the classroom while the real Limberg simultaneously lectured before cameras in a safe studio. Students asked him questions and received answers in real time.
Overall, the feedback has been positive, Stephens said. In addition to helping give students a positive in-person experience, the Recourse program has helped incoming McCombs students get to know their classmates—an experience that may otherwise have been lost given the pandemic.
"It kind of has this other benefit of creating community," Stephens said.
Both he and Spencer are hopeful that more professors—at UT as well as other universities—will join Limberg in adopting the Recourse product.
"We are set up and ready to go and can accommodate more schools and classes at UT," Spencer said.
McCombs Assistant Dean Joe Stephens said he is hopeful the Recourse program can be expanded to other classes next semester as well as other campuses. (Contextual Content Group)
CCG also envisions myriad post-pandemic applications for this product, including a second version that will use natural language processing technology and artificial intelligence to allow for a hologram on-demand.
As with many pandemic-era developments, the presence of a holographic professor at McCombs transitioned quickly from a novelty to an accepted norm.
"That's good," Stephens said. "There's not a distraction about it."
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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."