Students Communication Science have a virtual classroom

Communication Science Students in the Media Psychology track take online education to the next level, to be precise a virtual level. In their class Problematic and Beneficial Effects of Media Use, they collaborated with professor Tilo Hartmann and postdoc Miguel Barreda to create a Virtual Reality classroom.

12/04/2020 | 1:10 PM

In these challenging times students and teachers have to get use to the new normal of online classes. To adapt to the new situation a lot of new and inspiring teaching methods are rising. Offline lectures are replaced with online platforms, break out rooms and ZOOM meetings. VR-expert and professor Hartmann thought he would try something new and in line with the curriculum. “We shipped about fourty Oculus Quest headsets to our students at home to also have this class next to ZOOM and Canvas in Virtual Reality together. This was a cutting-edge experiment of course, but one that showed us already a lot about what works and what doesn’t in VR as an educational and communicational tool.”

Firsthand experience
The class Problematic and Beneficial Effects of Media Use deal particularly with new media technology - and therefore there was a great chance to allow students to get a firsthand experience of VR. Students also met and worked together in VR in the workshops of the class, and learned about how to run experiments in VR. It’s important that VU students, and perhaps Communication Science students in particular, use, experience and understand VR right now, says Hartmann. “If a new media enters society it always raises concerns and public debates. Some people are euphoric, but many fear the new medium will result in a cultural decline. Currently we see the same debates evolving around topics such as Social Robotics and Virtual Reality. I think students and researchers in both communication science and media psychology are in charge to provide empirically substantiated answers to concerned parents, teachers and policy makers about the actual effects of these new technologies. That’s why I think this class is so important.”

An additional bonus to the class is the experience and research students got to do on how VR might help students to connect to each other, and develop a sense of student community, if they can't come to the campus and are away from each other due to social distancing measures. “In VR people feel present - together. Non-verbal communication works, as your real hand gestures etcetera are really nicely displayed in VR. This can create a sense of intimacy that perhaps gets lost in too many ZOOM meetings. It's in anyways a refreshing alternative. There are also awkward things right now, as that you can't see people's real faces as in ZOOM. But in the nearby future this will probably change with volumetric video capturing and virtual holograms in VR becoming the new standard.” 

Could Virtual Reality be the educational standard of the future? Hartmann thinks in some cases. “It depends of course what you need. But in the hybrid leaning or VR-classroom will have it's important place, I think. And in the many fields where hands-on learning is relevant, like training for surgery or about anatomy in medical sciences, this might even become the gold standard, I think.”

The virtual classroom experiment is supported by ZonMW and the ISR. Find out more about this special experiment on the website of the Resilience Institute