Professors working to make virtual reality a reality on campus
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to learn through immersion? Of course, you could study abroad, but what if you could get that immersive experience right here on the IU Northwest campus?
That’s the goal for the Center for Innovation and Scholarship in Teaching and Learning’s five research fellow positions. This group of educators is working to implement virtual reality (VR) experiences into the university’s curriculum.
One of those fellows is Professor of English William Allegrezza. He’s already begun to implement virtual reality elements into his classes. "I’m just getting started with VR in the classroom," he said. "I have used it primarily as a space for students to meet up and showcase their creative work."
For example, students in his classes had the opportunity to post their poetry and "walk through" the virtual gathering space once all their classmates had contributed.
But that isn’t all that VR is capable of. In future world literature classes, Allegrezza wants to use this technology to transport students to places across the world. "We would read about the spaces and then put on a VR headset and visit them. Literally, we could use street view in Google Maps and walk through the space," he said.
Kevin McElmurry, another fellow and associate professor of sociology, has similar plans for VR in the future. He foresees creating VR lessons that put students in the middle of a social demonstration, religious location, or another public space. "VR is really good for creating a sense of empathetic connection with people you might, otherwise, not have the opportunity to interact with," he said.
Clearly, virtual reality can go a long way to enhancing students’ education. In Allegrezza’s experience, VR mimics the feeling of a traditional classroom, even when outside circumstances make meeting in person impractical. Hopefully, with an increase in VR technology, distance education students will feel a greater sense of connection and community.
McElmurry mentions ongoing efforts to learn more about student engagement and how VR might maximize it. "Our hope is to run a couple of small research projects and try to measure how virtual reality enhances engagement and contributes to learning outcomes," he said.
The current data is encouraging. McElmurry notes that much of the existing literature strongly suggests that technology does, in fact, boost student engagement.
In addition to positives for students, VR also offers professors the opportunity to flex those creative muscles. Allegrezza indicates that these new innovations make his job very exciting. "We are just getting started in English," he said. "We often talk about creating alternate worlds for the reader to inhabit. VR does that more so than a film adaptation."
IU Northwest: An Early Adopter
While VR has a long way to go before it’s fully implemented throughout all of IU Northwest, the possibilities are endless and fascinating. There are countless ways that all disciplines can benefit from VR, and according to McElmurry, he and the rest of the fellows are regularly meeting and sharing ideas.
"Our students will benefit the most from this technology," Allegrezza said. "The Northwest campus is among the trailblazers in this educational technology."
The implementation of VR is just another way that the campus is a leader in top-quality education in the region, and throughout the state.