Virtual Reality in the Classroom

by Megan Dreher, Editor-in-Chief

There have been great changes in how students learn inside and outside of the classroom setting over the decades, and with that, students and faculty alike have learned to adapt to new technologies and mediums that assist in learning. Manhattan College is no exception to these changes.

With the new, interdisciplinary Digital Arts and Humanities (DAsH) minor available to Manhattan College students beginning in the Fall of 2019, preliminary classes have been offered that incorporate digital elements within unexpected fields of study. This spring, there are five courses that fall under the DAsH title, one of which is English 335: Victorian Media.

This course, instructed by Dr. Maeve Adams, meets every Monday and Thursday from 3:00 P.M. to 4:15 P.M. in Hayden Hall. Many students weren’t exactly sure how Victorian literature could possibly be intertwined with digital elements such as virtual reality, but were intrigued by the idea and willing to learn.

“At first, when I enrolled in this class, I wasn’t quite sure how the virtual reality component would be incorporated into Victorian Literature. I had never taken a class that used VR, so I was really intrigued to see how modern technology was used to explore literature that is from the 1800s,” said junior Kiera Brady.

Senior Sydney Kukoda echoed Brady’s curiosity surrounding the course.

“I was very excited for this course, as Dr. Adams is one of my favorite professors on campus, and Victorian literature is one of my favorite areas of study as an English major. I don’t think I was prepared for how much we would be learning new technologies in the class; I knew it was a DAsH course, and I wasn’t yet sure what that would entail. But I’m not at all complaining, and I’m very glad I’m taking ENGL 335!”

But the students trekked on, exploring this new and exciting field of study using a technological lens. The course thus far has incorporated a variety of technologies beyond virtual reality, and students have agreed that it has been interesting to explore Victorian literature in multiple interactive ways.

“The course content, the actual literature, has been Victorian short stories, rather than the typical novel- heavy English class. So we’ve read a different story (or two) every week in our online textbook, which we’ve actually written ourselves. In small groups, we’ve researched, edited, written a forward for, and posted that week’s story to our online PressBooks textbook, and we collaborate on online annotations through the Hypothesis app for Google Chrome. This is not only cheaper for us, because we don’t have to purchase 6 additional texts for the class, but it also allows us to have experience in editing texts for a wide audience (which we can all put on our resumes!) and to more deeply engage in the materials we’re working with,” said Kukoda.

Junior Taylor Aloisio, another member of the class, added, “Students also used a site called ‘Omeka’ throughout the semester, where each student created their own exhibition page which acted as an ‘online museum’ of many different topics during the Victorian period. Also, a gaming program called ‘Unity’ was used where students were required to create a virtual scene from one of the stories that we read in our Pressbooks throughout the semester. Lastly, students were required to go on multiple different trips in NYC that have something to do with virtual reality. Some of these sites include the New York Public Library, VR World, ‘It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200’ exhibit at the Morgan Library & Museum, and the Tribeca Film Festival.”

Understanding that students learn very differently, courses within the DAsH minor such as this one offer an alternative way for students to learn, and it has proven to be favored among students within this class.

“I think VR and other modern technology should definitely be integrated within academia. As someone who has never used this kind of new technology, it has really helped me understand the material in a new and advanced way. The immersive quality of VR provides students with a different angle to examine the work they are doing, and it gives students who might struggle with the traditional way of learning an alternative way that may better suit their needs,” said Brady.

As a future educator, Aloisio sees the importance of using this technology in the classroom.

“Prior to taking this class, I never heard of Omega, Pressbooks, or Unity, and I am grateful for being given the opportunity to learn about these different programs and hopefully I will be able to implement them into my own classroom with my students one day.”

Throughout the semester, the students have agreed that while the work has been very different from other coursework they have had and the software has been challenging to learn and use at times, it is an academic experience that they have thoroughly enjoyed and have appreciated using in a classroom setting.     

“By incorporating VR into this class, I learned the importance of making learning as immersive as possible. This technology is a great way to provide support for understanding new material in the classroom. Also, learning how to work virtual reality and more modern technologies has been really fun and it is something good to have under my belt that I can use in the future,” said Brady.

“I had had zero (0) exposure to virtual reality before taking this course, so to gain exposure not only to using VR in field trips, but additionally to creating it, has opened doors for me in so many ways to a world I’d never expected to have access to. Our class began the semester by looking at artistic and storytelling technologies that came about during the Victorian era, such as modern photography technologies and stereoscopes, and we framed these historical techs as early examples of what we now consider VR. Dr. Adams has also ingeniously incorporated the idea of a virtual reality (not specifically to VR as technology, but meaning a reality which exists outside of the one we inhabit) into the majority of our class discussions.”

She continued.

“We’ve emphasized immersive language and the feeling of getting lost in the world of a story throughout the semester, and she’s helped us emphasize how and why authors create virtual realities within literature for their audiences. It’s an entirely new way of looking at literature for me, and I’ve been fascinated by it. I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to take this course before I graduate in a few weeks,” said Kukoda.