Lecture: “Teaching Empathy through Virtual Reality”

March 18, 2019 - 11:00am

Location and Address

Humanities Center, 602 Cathedral of Learning

This presentation will describe a scalable approach to integrating VR into the undergraduate curriculum. As a part of a grant-funded initiative at a regional university, the speaker teaches English courses engaged in project-based, collaborative learning by creating educational VR applications. Throughout the semester students read fictional and theoretical texts focused on the impact of technology on education, and the development of virtual identities more broadly. Texts include Ready Player One, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, R.U.R, and The Nether, which correspond to the theoretical works of Katherine Hayles, Donna Haraway, Lennard Davis, and Cathy Davidson. Using their personal interests and expertise, students pitch their ideas for socially relevant VR experience intended to both teach their audience a specific set of learning objectives as well as evoke empathy in the viewer. The class selects the top pitches to develop into full proposals, including a storyboard and short prototype. Students consult with experts in the field at all stages of the process, including VR developers, faculty across disciplines, and librarians. Final projects are presented to the class as well as representatives from a local VR production company who choose a winning project to make into a full-scale VR application. Students are rewarded with a monetary prize and attribution. As part of this initiative, students in each course were given pre and post-surveys in order to gauge the impact of the VR content on their learning. Preliminary survey results will be shared, in addition to a discussion of how and why surveys were written and distributed. This presentation demonstrates the impact of real-world, client-based pedagogy, as well as the future of VR technology in higher education.


Amanda Licastro, PhD is the Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Faculty Director of Service-Learning at Stevenson University in Maryland, as well serving on the editorial collective of the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy and the Executive Council of the MLA. Her research explores the intersection of technology and writing, including book history, dystopian literature, and digital humanities. Publications include articles in Kairos, Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities, Hybrid Pedagogy, and Communication Design Quarterly, as well as a forthcoming chapter on social annotation in Blurred Lines: Digital Reading and Writing in Composition Studies published by Routledge. Her current grant-funded project on Virtual Reality was awarded the Paul Fortier Prize at the 2017 Digital Humanities conference, and has been featured in the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Magazine.

Poster available here

with Amanda Licastro (Stevenson University, English)