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On “Real” Virtual Reality
I had the pleasure recently of attending a NERCOMP workshop on humanities-focused applications of virtual, blended, and augmented reality and 3-D printing. The workshop was conducted by faculty and technology staff from Yale University. It was terrific to listen to humanities faculty share their insights on the significant potential new technologies have for changing the face of teaching and learning in higher education. (For more information about some of the exciting work being done, check out http://blendedreality.yale.edu/ )
There’s a lot to think about there. In the best of all possible worlds, we at public regional universities would have access to the same resources, and the time to engage in this sort of project and program building. But the experience also got me thinking: many of us already employ our own version of “virtual reality” in our teaching. Any time we ask students to participate in a simulation, to work through a detailed case study, or to engage in role playing in the classroom, for all intents and purposes, we immerse our students in another place and sometimes ask them to travel to another time.
I have built several history courses, including a First Year Experience, around the face-to-face role playing games, Reacting to the Past (RTTP). (You can find information about the program, developed by Mark Carnes at Barnard, as well as descriptions of the published and in-development games, at https://reacting.barnard.edu/). The games are designed to be taught by faculty across disciplines, and are the centerpiece of First Year programs across the country. Though students balk initially at the idea of role playing, by the end of the game – each of which lasts four-five weeks – the vast majority of students admit that the experience was transformational. Role playing builds oral communication and writing skills. It encourages empathic thinking and critical analysis. And it’s fun! Students have inhabited the roles of loyalists and rebels in revolutionary New York, suffragists and labor activists in Greenwich Village in 1913, and scientists and Vatican clergy in Galileo’s world. Published games include one that takes place in Athens in 403 BCE, India on the eve of independence in 1945, and France in the midst of revolution in 1791. Games in development explore the discourse on creationism and evolution in Kansas in 1999, and Yalta in 1945, among two dozen more.
It would be great to get a feel for how many faculty at WCSU are employing simulations, case studies, and/or role playing in classes. Ancell faculty, how many of your management/marketing or JLA courses rely on case studies and simulations? Do these pedagogies appear in courses in SPS? What are your experiences with these pedagogies? What are the strengths and weaknesses? I’d love to hear from you.