Stanford University teaches entire course in VR

Stanford University teaches entire course in VR
Stanford University’s Virtual People course, which has been running since 2003, is now being taught entirely in VR. Course instructors and students spent more than 60,000 shared minutes together in VR environments during the summer quarter, and are projected to spend about 140,000 shared minutes together this autumn.

“In Virtual People, the students don’t just get to try VR a handful of times. VR becomes the medium they rely on,” said Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL). “To the best of my knowledge, nobody has networked hundreds of students via VR headsets for months at a time in the history of virtual reality, or even in the history of teaching. It’s VR at an incredible scale.”

The class examines VR’s expanding and evolving role in areas including popular culture, engineering, behavioral science and communication.

The university mailed VR headsets to students taking the course. Thus equipped, the students created virtual characters for themselves, called avatars, and virtually met up for class sessions.

Students learn the ropes of VR through a range of activities and explorations, including VR “field trips,” by guest lecturers. 

One of the most popular class exercises involves students mixing menu-driven commands and programming to create interactive virtual reality scenes such as Earth-like environments and whimsical tea parties with fairies in fantasy-scapes.

To further foster an engaging classroom experience, teaching assistants moderate discussions with small student groups. The student avatars stand in a circle, introducing a spatial dimension that’s lost when video conferencing as talking heads on flat computer screens.

Students noticed and appreciated this subtle but powerful change to their discussion format, which helps highlight how design choices have an impact on people using technology.


Video & image credit: Tobin Asher/VHIL

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