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'An immersive experience': Professor uses virtual reality to replicate the classroom

Steven King from the Hussman School of Journalism and Media prepares for his virtual reality class. King, who now teaches his class remotely due to COVID-19, is using a unique method to keep students learning. Photo courtesy of Steven King.

If you ask a UNC student what their remote classroom experience has consisted of, they will likely tell you about video lectures through Zoom.

But for students in Steven King’s class, they are experiencing remote learning differently — through virtual reality.

“I’m always trying to figure out a better way to teach and communicate,” King, a professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said. “I know virtual reality is an immersive experience.”

King built a virtual 3D version of his classroom, which allows his students to walk around in the classroom and break out into groups. 

He said he has tested out a lot of different platforms for hosting 3D classrooms. 

The first experience, he said, was through Mozilla Hubs. But King said his class will likely stick to AltspaceVR because of how pleased the students have been with it.

“We’ve been building and working as we go,” he said. “Ultimately, this is the next natural step to their progression in the VR experience.”

Trinity Turlington, a junior media and journalism major, said the class started learning about virtual reality and lots of extended technology back in January. 

“One of the coolest things about Steven and this class is the emerging technology,” she said. “This class inspires me, because Steven has this passion and it translates perfectly for a classroom like this. He has the tendency to address the faults, and even offer improvements and suggestions. Steven tries more than his best. It is phenomenal.”

Markie McRae, a sophomore media and journalism major, said the virtual reality class  is much more social than a Zoom lecture. 

“I feel like I’m engaging in class — a community aspect I would have not gotten from Zoom,” he said. 

McRae said he loves how the class gets to talk about story-telling. 

“That’s been a really cool thing, and understanding it through emerging technology is really interesting and something I’ve never done before,” McRae said. 

He also emphasized how creative the classroom setting and King have been

“When he told us about the VR classroom, that was crazy and cool,” McRae said referring to the virtual reality class. “I was really excited to brag and share that experience with my family.”

Turlington agreed that virtual reality has created a new and comforting, especially in a situation like COVID-19.

“This experience has a different value due to COVID-19,” Turlington said. “Things like virtual reality, artificial intelligence and robots scare a lot of people. While it is scary, it is cool to be knowledgeable and have a sense of new technologies emerging.”

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