Photo by ULA LUCAS/The Stanford Daily

Learn | 12.28.2021

Stanford Holds First-Ever Fully Virtual Reality Class

A milestone moment for Standford University.

School just got a lot more interesting, thanks to the world of VR. For the first time in Standford’s history, a communication professor named Jeremy Bailenson set his class entirely in VR.

Students taking COMM 166/266 “Virtual People” will be able to explore new places and learn through virtual experiences. Bailenson felt inspired to make this innovative move after 20 years of teaching at Stanford and watching the technology develop.

During this month’s Art and Tech Salon, Jeremy Bailenson introduced first-year communication Ph.D. student Cyan DeVeaux and professor Ge Wang, as presenters at the speaker series committed to bringing students and staff together. Wang expanded how we live in a time where “virtual reality is expanding its roles in how we work, play, and communicate.”

Bailenson’s class uses the ENGAGE VR software, which just became available in May. He thought ENGAGE would be a perfect option seeing as it’s a virtual meeting platform that offers tools for students and professors who want to build and interact in virtual settings.

First-year Ph.D. student Deveaux is also the teacher’s assistant for the class, and he explained that VR lets people imagine the impossible, which is exactly what the teaching staff wanted to bring to the curriculum.

Photo by Case Western

Some VR activities the class has participated in include guided meditation in outer space, creating a performance with different avatars, and building an authentic scene. DeVeaux touched on the scene-building assignment and told Stanford Daily that the only

“limitation to this assignment was a student’s own imagination.”

Additionally, students in the VR class can only participate in sessions for up to 30 minutes to avoid simulator sickness, which is motion sickness caused by VR headsets. The students also wanted to keep their privacy a priority.

To do so, Bailenson made a deal with Facebook to let the students create fake accounts to better protect their privacy. They also use their headsets from Oculus, a subsidiary of Facebook’s parent company Meta. Bailenson is also the founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, in which we created the model “Dangerous, Impossible, Counterproductive, and Expensive (D.I.C.E.).

This means that VR can help educators begin teaching things they wouldn’t normally do because they’re considered “dangerous,” like traveling to the middle of the ocean. Another example is things that are too expensive, like touring cities worldwide.

It turns out that the entire class is part of a study by the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, which wanted to evaluate how people adapt their behavior to virtual environments over time.

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