Stanford University delivers full course entirely in VR - Inaugural Virtual People VR class 1

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This application of VR for education is a glowing endorsement from Stanford University

Quick read

➨ Stanford University has taught several hundred students entirely in VR using Oculus Quest 2 headsets and the Engage events and communications platform
➨ The course was fully remote and accessed via Oculus Quest 2 headsets, the first time this has ever been achieved, according to Stanford University
➨ Initially brought in after the onset of the pandemic, the university intends to continue teaching the course in VR

The story

Stanford University has taught several hundred students entirely in virtual reality (VR) using Oculus Quest 2 headsets and the Engage events and communications platform.

As part of a large-scale, longitudinal VR study, Stanford University networked 263 students and instructors for months as avatars for more than 240,000 shared minutes via Engage, where they studied learning, team building, non-verbal and verbal behaviour, and how persistent worlds are built on the summer and autumn Virtual People course.

The courses were fully remote and accessed via Oculus Quest 2 headsets, the first time this has ever been achieved, according to Stanford University.

Stanford University delivers full course entirely in VR - Inaugural Virtual People VR class 2
Class photo of Virtual People instructor Jeremy Bailenson and students as they are immersed entirely in VR while taking the inaugural summer quarter class

Jeremy Bailenson, the Thomas More Storke Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, professor of communication, and the founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, who has taught the Virtual People course since 2003, says: “In Virtual People, the students don’t just get to try VR a handful of times. VR becomes the medium they rely on.”

“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 Virtual People course, which examines VR’s expanding and evolving role in areas including popular culture, engineering, behavioural science and communication, usually features immersive technology hardware as in-class demonstrations by graduate student assistants and student volunteers.

With the onset of the pandemic last year, the university sent headsets to students so they could take the course remotely in VR on Engage.

By incorporating VR hardware, students have been able to get regular hands-on experience of the technology. They took field trips to learn the basics, then embarked on more complicated exercises to fully explore its potential, such as mixing menu-driven commands and programming to create interactive scenes, while benefiting from its spatial elements to break off into smaller groups for discussions.

Stanford University delivers full course entirely in VR - Screengrab of Virtual People VR class
Students in the Virtual People course meet in a virtual environment and learn how to navigate the VR space

Bailenson intends to continue teaching the course in VR, calling it “the perfect example of how to build the infrastructure—hardware, software, content and people—and to build a persistent virtual world of avatars and scenes that people actually use”.

“It is gratifying to see how far virtual reality has come in the early 21st century,” Bailenson adds. “I’m sure it will go even farther in the capable hands and minds of Stanford students.”

This application of VR for education is a glowing endorsement for both Meta’s (formerly Facebook) Oculus Quest 2 all-in-one headset and Engage XR’s (formerly Immersive VR Education) events and communications platform.

Both companies are leading the way in marketing the ‘metaverse’, a base of virtual spaces accessible via VR headsets and 2D-focused devices that they define as the next generation of the internet, having undertaken major rebrands to outline their strategic focuses.

Expect more case studies from them on how VR hardware and software are being utilised right now for learning and other important use cases.

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Images: Tobin Asher/VHIL, Stanford University

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