An augmented reality graduation brings President Crow to your home

A new app allows Fall 2020 graduates to watch pre-recorded commencement speeches as if they are happening right in front of them, sort of

Through a specialized app and augmented reality technology, President Michael Crow could be seen in graduates' living rooms during commencement.

While ASU's Fall 2020 graduates did not get the option to attend any in-person commencement due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a free app allowed them to tune into messages from Crow and have it appear as if it were happening in their homes, sort of. 

The app, available on Apple and Android devices, allowed anyone — graduates or not — to watch the pre-recorded ceremony when it first aired at 9 a.m. Monday or the recorded version later. Upon opening the app, users are prompted to scan their environment using their device’s camera and select a point within that environment where they want the augmented reality visuals to appear. 

From there, users can start watching the commencement, which places the stage, screen and podiums one would see at an in-person commencement right in front of them, wherever they are. 

Created by ASU's Meteor Studio with collaborations from the Enterprise Marketing Hub and Learning Futures Collaboratory over the last two months, the app was a way to make graduation more accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Robert LiKamWa, director of Meteor Studio and a lead for the ASU Commencement app.

“Because people couldn't go to commencement, we wanted to bring commencement to them in a more immersive format than what you would typically just see in a YouTube video,” LiKamWa said. “Instead, we wanted to actually give them some spatial presence around it to make it feel like the events were unfolding inside of their living environments.”

To do this, LiKamWa and his team worked together to create video content using mixed reality cameras and green screens so that viewers could watch commencement happening in any environment at any time through the app.

For Jared Byrd, who graduated Monday with a degree in business communication, the graphics looked more like he was in "a Minecraft game" than at his college graduation.

"It was a cool idea that you could look around through your phone, like you were actually there, but it was pixelated like it was a video game," Byrd said. “It was a flop, but they tried.”

Since much of the semester was online, he said he knew an online graduation "was coming, and this is what I expected. It's just not what I wanted."

Lauren Gold, a first-year graduate student studying media arts and sciences who worked on software development for the app, said having a live event for commencement rather than just posting the augmented reality and videos online was to emulate an in-person experience as much as possible.

“We just wanted to create an experience that made it seem inclusive, so that's where we got the idea to have this feel alive, have a countdown, and start it at the same time that commencement usually would start,” Gold said.

Gold said the app’s developers hope to see it improved upon in coming years and to use it for every commencement, with a pandemic or not. Linda Nguyen, a second-year master’s student studying user experience who worked on the user interface of the app, said she would like to see it have more live features in the future, like a chat.

“It'll be really useful for people who aren't able to travel to Arizona for any reason, like maybe they have other obligations that time,” Nguyen said. 

In addition to the University's general commencement speeches are 22 college and special interest ceremonies, available on YouTube and on ASU's website. Graduating students were also encouraged to make slides that were presented during the ceremony in a slideshow format. Graduates also could submit a 10-second video that would be emailed to them after the ceremony.

This fall, ASU graduated 9,377 students, over 800 more than the number of graduates in Fall 2019. 


Reach the reporters at gforslun@asu.edu and eborst@asu.edu and follow @GretaForslund and  @ellieeborstt on Twitter. 

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