College of Lake County is pursuing what's considered cutting-edge technology that would allow instructors to offer virtual reality experiences and customized learning materials to students.
Trustees at Grayslake-based CLC recently approved a $1.23 million contract with SRI International to install, maintain and configure the new learning platform that would, among other things, allow students to work with 3-D simulations and virtual reality scenarios.
Headquartered in California's Silicon Valley, SRI is a research-and-development business originally part of Stanford University.
CLC is paying SRI from a $19.4 million U.S. Department of Labor grant it received in September for workforce development and job training. CLC accepted the funding on behalf of 17 community colleges that are part of a consortium attempting to further Illinois' "green" economy.
Content stored on the system will be available to all Illinois community colleges for free because open-source software will be used. However, CLC President Jerry Weber said, there may be moneymaking opportunities down the line.
"Once we get everything working right and we develop the models and train folks, we then could develop a proprietary version of this on the side, as it were, so faculty could, in essence, monetize it and so could the college," Weber told CLC trustees.
SRI representatives played a video demonstrating to CLC officials the platform called the National Training and Education Resource. They said it can offer students a different learning experience.
For example, the technology would allow a student to participate in a home weatherization course online without performing the work in a physical structure. Students could learn to locate air leaks as part of weatherproofing a home with 3-D simulation, which is part of what Weber said would be cutting-edge online hybrid delivery of education.
"A totally online course would be one in which you sat at home or didn't come to campus at all," Weber said. "A hybrid model is one where you come to campus and receive some hands-on, classroom interactive work."
CLC's trustees were enthusiastic about the initiative, with board Chairman William Griffin crediting Weber for seeking innovation. Trustee Lynda Paul called it "very exciting."
Peter Marcotullio, an executive director for strategic development at SRI, said while the business may not be a household name, many come into contact with its developments without knowing it.
"How many of you ever used a (computer) mouse?" Marcotullio said in noting SRI's technology achievements. "How many of you have ever written a check? How many of you have ever had an ultrasound? How many of you have an iPhone 4 with an app called Siri?"
Marcotullio said SRI's goal is to bring technology from the laboratory into the real world. He said the company's project with CLC eventually could benefit community college systems at all levels.