XR for XRistos - Taming Extended Reality for the Lord

Tom Kuster (New Ulm, Minnesota USA)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Dr. Tom Kuster, after pastoral positions in Madison, Wisconsin and Muskegon, Michigan, spent his career teaching Communication courses in college, for 20 years at Dr. Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota, and 20 more at Bethany Lutheran Seminary and College, Mankato, Minnesota, where he helped develop a strong Communication major, helped design Bethany's first media production studio, and in 2009 founded the Christ in Media Institute. He and wife Judy have nine children.

How can XR technology be used to serve the Lord? We don't know the answer but we know how to find it: ask the kids!

"XR" (extended reality) includes VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality). [google "XR VR AR MR what's the difference?"]

During the current school year, the Christ in Media Institute at Bethany Lutheran College has invited high schools, both Lutheran and public, as well as our fellowship colleges, to explore the potential in XR technology for education and outreach. For Christian schools, "outreach" means creating and delivering effective Gospel messages using XR. Participating involves two stages: the Project and the Festival.

The Project:

In this fall semester of 2019, schools are forming teams of interested students. Together, they are working to learn all they can about XR technology in general. Then they will select one narrower aspect of XR (VR, AR, MR) to explore in depth, and finally, they will create either a description or a demonstration of a way to use their chosen aspect of XR for either education or outreach.

While this at first seems like a Project for "geeks" or "techies," we are emphasizing that it is not. Students interested in any subjects should be interested in XR. Designing a virtual tour of the Tabernacle, or creating an immersive children's story, or conducting a virtual hymn-sing (to imagine a few ideas) requires imagination, research, and creativity. It's the ideas of those students we are looking forward to seeing at the Festival.

The Festival:

Oculus GO

  • Schools are invited to bring their teams to Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota, on Friday evening and Saturday, April 3-4, 2020.

  • Each will have an assigned time slot to present the results of their Project work to other Festival attendees, industry reps, and the general public.

    As an incentive to encourage participation, each school that registers is receiving a free Oculus-GO standalone Virtual Reality headset. Generous donors have also made funding available to assist school teams, especially those at a distance from Mankato, to travel to the Festival.

    In addition to the school showcases, the Festival will feature other events, including XR demonstrations by ByteSpeed (our corporate partner), workshops, fellowship, worship, a demo by Bethany's varsity E-Sports Team, and two outstanding keynote speakers.

    Christine Lion-Bailey

    Expert in emergent XR technology and its impact on learners, Christine Lion-Bailey has promoted AR and VR in her own "Certified Future-Ready" New Jersey school district and in local, national, and international conferences. A Google-for-Education certified innovator, a BrainPop certified educator, and adjunct professor of educational technology at Ramapo College of New Jersey, she is Chief Strategy Officer for Ready Learner One LLC, providing educational solutions with emergent technology for educators in K-12 and higher ed. Her new book, Ready Learner One: Harnessing the Power of AR & VR in the Classroom, is due out in January 2020. Prof. Lion-Bailey says, "By leveraging VR, educators can expose students to the world far beyond the walls of their communities, make international connections that build empathy and awareness, and foster informed and motivated global citizens who will someday become global decision makers."

    At various times during the Festival, individual consultations can be scheduled with Christine Lion-Bailey.

    Brian Klebig

    Bethany's own Brian Klebig brings to the Festival his experience as a designer and manager of the CARISMA state-of-the-art VR Laboratory at Michigan State University. A professor of Communication at Bethany Lutheran College and Seminary, and an ordained Lutheran minister, Dr. Klebig has devoted many years to discovering ways of using technology of all kinds to reach new audiences with Gospel messages. His expertise and energy will help XR Project school teams explore XR potentials during the 2019-20 school year.

    The cost of attending the Festival is low; a Festival registration fee of $30/person covers four meals and all materials. Festival registration will open early in 2020.

    For more information, contact Dr. Tom Kuster.

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  • Discussion

    Caleb Hengst (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-24 5:22:59pm
    Mr. Kuster,

    This seems like a brilliant idea for Bethany to look into how modern technology can be used to further God’s work. I think there is a potential for many bright minds to come up with useful ways that we can utilize this newer technology.

    With all the support from the professionals helping out and the young minds that will be brainstorming, some good ideas are bound to come out of this festival. How much do you think these ideas could be used in education and outreach. Do you think it will only be used in school classrooms? Could it possibly go further to bible studies or even church services?

    Thank you for your information about this potentially new evangelism method.
    Tom Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2019-10-24 10:03:04pm
    You ask excellent questions, Caleb, and they need answers. That's why we are launching this project: because we think that people like YOU are the best ones to find answers to them. I know that Michigan State University has invested a lot into its CARISMA VR installation and is actively using it to explore educational applications. Not to lag behind its rival, the University of Michigan a couple months ago announced a major high priced initiative to develop educational applications for VR (Google it!). I've been talking to some staff members at your school inviting them to form a student team to take part in the XR Project and Festival described above. Want to join it? We'd love to see you over at Bethany next April as part of the Festival!
    Judy Kuster (conference moderator) 2019-10-24 5:34:32pm
    I confess - I've only explored VR once - it was fascinating to enter Ann Frank's house in Germany under a headset. I am really looking forward to the VR/AR conference next spring! This morning I was curious about ways Christians are already using VR in some interesting/creative ways and am excited to see how our schools and churches may be using this in the future. I found VR churches, but also I found a United Methodist Church site, which has a free ebook (http://www.biblevr-app.com/index.html) to learn about VR and advertises Bible VR which they offer as a "rich environment" to help "educate people about Jesus, . . .With Virtual Reality, you're looking at worlds created in full 360 degrees. You can look everywhere... Up, down, left, right... Each experience is unique to each individual and different every time." They also offer a Free lifetime subscription to UMC pastors http://www.umc.org/resources/company-offers-free-virtual-reality-lifetime-subscriptions-to-pastors

    A first step into a VR-like experience can be very inexpensive. These are the "360 degree videos." A 360 degree video is essentially a movie made by somebody that you can watch looking around front-side-back of you while it's playing. These require that you find the site on your cell phone and then slip the cell phone into the headset. Headsets to watch these are not expensive. I've found one at a thrift store for $2.50. There are cheap headsets like this advertised online at WalMart for under $5 and even a sample "silicone VR headset that you clip to your Smartphone and launch a virtual reality app to dive into a virtual world in just a few seconds" for $1.80. 

    These 360 degree video experiences are fun and valuable but not quite full true VR, which enables you to move around in the virtual space and interact with things there. Prices for those headsets are higher but coming down. The Oculus GO is a full stand-alone (no computer connection needed) immersive VR headset for only $200. This is the one offered free as an incentive for schools to get involved in the XT project and festival.

    Here is the NYTimes "VR" site which shows 360 movies.


    Here is the YouTube site that you get when you search on YouTube for "christian vr":


    The next is closer to true immersive VR because it lets you move around in the virtual world:


    That's a start.
    Tom Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2019-10-24 10:22:44pm
    Judy, you've always been better at finding online resources than I am. Just the beginning of a search such as you provide here impresses with the huge potential of XR. Now let's harness that for the Lord's work! (HOW?)
    Amanda Backhaus ((Martin Luther College)) 2019-10-24 7:08:49pm
    Mr. Kuster

    Thank you for sharing your ideas and plans for reaching more people with a popular trend of videos. I am excited to hear about the outcomes of your festival and see how it can be implemented in our parochial schools!

    With you plans, what age groups are you hoping to reach? Will it be applicable to Elementary, Middle, and High school age students or just some of these?

    God’s richest blessing as you continue to work on a new method of evangelism!
    Tom Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2019-10-24 10:25:50pm
    Amanda, the answer to your question is "yes!" All of the above. Are you interested enough to help create an MLC team to take part in the XR Project and Festival, and answer some of these questions yourself? We'd love to see you at the Festival in April!
    JuanDa Escobar (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-25 3:52:21pm

    Dr Kuster,

    I would've never thought that these new VR technologies would be available for a christian use. The project and festival you are offering sounds fascinating to me, and I would love to assist if possible. Nowadays where technology is taking over and these VR devices are being frequently used, it is important for christians to adapt and create new ways to share the message of the Gospel with the masses.

    After reading your article, I had a couple questions. Is this the first time you have provided this festival at your current college? Do you agree that although anyone can participate, it would be better if the people that do have a profound background knowledge in order to provide a better product? And, do you plan to merchandise these concepts in the near future?

    Thank you for your contribution to the conference.
    Tom Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2019-10-26 4:11:49am
    This is our first - and probably only - XR Project and Festival. Its purpose is to get people thinking about how this technology can be used for the Lord. Back in 2012 we hosted a similar project. That was when it was becoming clear that soon, in fact already, everybody in the world would have a cell phone so we asked: how can this technology be used to reach out with the Gospel? We enlisted students from our high schools and colleges to answer that question. Now, as you know, there is extensive outreach using mobile devices in many world mission fields. We are trying the same approach now with XR, extended reality. As for merchandizing: we certainly don't anticipate making any money on this. The conference is being funded primarily by donors who believe in the project. We do have a corporate partner, ByteSpeed, and we'll be happy to help them promote their products and services.
    JuanDa Escobar (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-04 7:14:30pm
    Awesome! I do hope you could make this happen again in the future. It is awesome to see how much technology has improved and all the gaps it has closed. Thank you so much for your response and for sharing your insights.
    Evan Korthals (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-25 5:32:01pm
    Dr. Kuster,

    Your presentation on the use of XR was informative and opened the door to a whole new area of evangelism. The event you have planned at Bethany was also very intriguing.

    One question I had was if you see this technology catching on in congregations. I know that many churches, including my own, are very traditional and opposed to technology. Would XR be a way to open up their minds to the endless possibilities that technology provides for our ministry?

    Thank you for writing this article for the conference. It sure is an enlightening discussion!
    Tom Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2019-10-26 4:15:37am
    Yes, Evan, I am well aware that many congregations (and faculties) are usually not the first adopters of new technology. That may not be bad. The task is to demonstrate to them that the new technology is useful and can enhance their mission. That is what the XR Project and Festival is intended to do.