Developing a Research Project about Using Virtual Reality in the Large-Lecture Humanities Classroom

This summer (2019) I am working with a wonderful undergraduate student (let’s call her L because I’ve not asked her if she wants to be named) on a collaborative research project. We applied for a summer undergraduate research project for funding, and we are working together for several months on the possible applications of virtual reality in the classroom. Neither of us knew a great deal about VR going into this project, so we were both nervous and excited to learn.

The project originated this past semester as I thought about the upcoming year, especially about the large-lecture humanities class that I teach. I’ve always found architecture a tough sell to most students in this context. And yet this is my favorite material to teach! I mean, the Hagia Sophia! The Great Mosque of Córdoba! Chartres Cathedral! What is not to love? Well, after playing around with a Google Cardboard this past year, I thought I might find a way to incorporate immersive experiences into this 200+ student class.

Our plan is to incorporate immersive experiences into the class, both during lecture time and when students are in their own individual spaces. We will be using Google Expeditions to lead students through some sites, but also taking advantage of other VR platforms, such as Rome Reborn.

We also decided to make our own expeditions for a few experiences. L and I recently went to the Getty Villa in Malibu and took a number of 360 degree photos (using a InstaNano 360 camera that attaches to the iPhone), as well as recorded some audio conversations in front of objects and about the museum while onsite. For that we used a Zoom H2 handy recorder. Our plan is to create a Google Expedition of the Getty Villa that we can provide to students as an orientation to the museum space, but also to get them thinking before visiting it about what they might observe.

We’ve also been reading (a lot!) about VR. We have been searching for apps and DH projects that use VR in some capacity, and have been developing a spreadsheet with these materials. It has been hard to find some of them because there is no central repository of such information. Our plan is to make that list available on this website, as well as on our university’s library website, so that others can benefit from out research.

Our plan is to develop a series of surveys that we can distribute to students (pending IRB approval) to gather data about the effectiveness of VR in this learning environment. We will gather data over the next year and then develop an article based on what we find.

We will also be using similar immersive experiences in my smaller art history classes in the spring, which will hopefully provide interesting data in a more focused setting.

I’ll report back as we learn more, but for now I will say that this has been a humbling experience in many ways. The VR world is massive.


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