Today@Sam Article

Students ‘Learn By Doing’ Through Virtual Reality Classroom

April 18, 2022
SHSU Media Contact: Wes Hamilton

OculusCoverSam Houston State University professors are constantly working to stay ahead of market trends in order to better prepare students for the future. Wojciech Lorenc, professor and chair of the Department of Mass Communication, leads a course called “New Media Platforms” where students immerse themselves in current and future technology.

One of the first courses Lorenc taught in this fashion was in 2008, which featured YouTube as the main study subject. Today, his courses are focused on TikTok, Reels, and new YouTube content. Perhaps the most innovative thing about the course is the way they are meeting, in the metaverse exclusively, which is another subject for the course entirely.

“We do not meet on zoom, or in person. The unique thing about this class is that students have only met in virtual reality,” Lorenc said. “The entire platform is opening up a whole new world of opportunities for our students.”

For the 18 students enrolled this semester, every lecture, every meeting, as much of the class as possible, has been in the metaverse while also studying the platform. To perform their assignments and meet for class, each student received an Oculus Quest 2 headset for the duration of the semester. Students were encouraged to immerse themselves in the new technology and can use the headsets for things outside the classroom as well.

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“As we are working on our curriculum, we are paying attention to what is happening around us. We want to be sensitive to the fact that the world is changing around us. What is the next new thing? What is the next new platform? There is a lot of buzz about the metaverse and all the things that come with it. So that is why we have chosen this path to meet entirely online. Ultimately our goal is to assure our students have thriving careers after they graduate. So, everything we do is to prepare them for that,” Lorenc said.

Sam Houston State’s campus already has a presence in virtual reality. Lorenc’s course included meetings in a virtual Bearkat Plaza, complete with the Blatchley Bell Tower and Sammy the Bearkat. The plaza was built in Horizon Worlds, which opened to the public in December 2021. Just two months later, Lorenc held the first virtual meeting in February 2022 for the course.

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“I cannot imagine teaching a virtual reality class by doing book readings and then doing quizzes,” Lorenc said. “We all learn by doing. There are many platforms out there where you don’t really understand unless you become a user of them. This has always been our philosophy in these types of courses. We jump in and we learn by participating.”

Students in the course responded with enthusiasm to the innovative learning techniques. Genevieve Wilson, a senior in the Film & TV Production program, explained that meeting in virtual reality was a nice adjustment to class discussions for typical online courses.

Virtual Clock Tower selfie“I have never taken a course like this, nor have I met anyone else that has. I like this better than your typical online course because you can be social. During the height of the pandemic school was really hard for me, because I’m used to socializing with my classmates. I felt really isolated since I couldn’t communicate with anyone except through discussion boards,” Wilson said. “Meeting in VR let me see people ‘face-to-face’ from the comfort of my own home and allowed me to learn in almost any kind of setting. Professor Wojciech put a lot of time into building a virtual campus for us, and there’s lots of interactive props on the campus. It’s a really interesting way to socialize and learn with my classmates and the kinds of environments that we can meet with are endless.”

As for the plan for future semesters studying the metaverse and new technology, Lorenc believes there is still plenty of growth coming.

“I have no doubt that our virtual reality class is the first of many for this university,” Lorenc said. “The metaverse is clearly coming. Virtual reality will play a role in what jobs will look like in the future and we simply want to make sure our students are ready for it. Most of our students have not put on a VR headset before. Courses like this will get them one step closer to being prepared.”

Click the video below to enjoy a condensed video of the first meeting in the the virtual reality campus space. 

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