Stanford University Launches First Class Taught Entirely in Virtual Reality

Science

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated technology adoption in a stunning way. Almost every field of work and life is now connected online to their target audience or consumers. Education, too, is a booming sector with more and more students studying online and institutions trying out new ways to teach in hybrid classes. Technology adoption has now become an inevitable reality. Moving in this direction, Stanford University has launched a class that will be conducted entirely in virtual reality (VR). It is the first VR class in the university’s history.

Communication professor Jeremy Bailenson took a gamble when he formatted the class. He did not know whether the required software and technology would be ready for him to teach it as a summer course. Bailenson, who has taught the subject for 20 years, was however lucky. The software he finally chose to teach his class was readied just in time, in late May. With the software — dubbed Engage  — students and teachers can interact in virtual environments.

Cyan DeVeaux, a teaching assistant for the class, said VR allows people to imagine the impossible. “The only limitation to this assignment is a student’s own imagination,” the teaching assistant said, referring to the scene-building assignment.

The class was designed in a way that each session was limited to 30 minutes to avoid simulator sickness. Another concern was privacy. Bailenson asked Facebook to allow students to use fake accounts in a bid to protect their privacy and in return, he offered to use the headset from Oculus, a subsidiary of Facebook’s parent company Meta.

Bailenson and DeVeaux have taught two classes so far and collected more than 3,000 hours of data. They now hope that the data collected from the course will spur discoveries in behavioural adaptation to VR and its educational adoption.


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