Carnegie Mellon University

A screen capture from a VR course

October 27, 2020

VR Course Brings Remote Learners Closer Together

By Michael Henninger

Jason Maderer
  • Marketing & Communications
  • 412-268-1151

This summer, Stephan Caspar's students gathered safely, sans masks yet without fear of contracting COVID-19. They played basketball and launched fireworks into the sky before proceeding to a boardroom overlooking a city skyline. The digital avatars each student inhabited stood around a conference table as Caspar presented.

This session of Caspar's "Multicultural Pittsburgh: Exploring Language and Culture Through Digital Storytelling" class occurred entirely in virtual reality (VR) and is indicative of the kind of immersive experience typically found in the Askwith Kenner Global Languages and Cultures Room at Carnegie Mellon University.

When COVID-19 emerged and forced in-person classes to transition to remote learning, Caspar, an assistant teaching professor in media creation and multicultural studies, literally went the extra mile — driving to drop off VR headsets to students who didn't have access to the technology. He now teaches his classes remotely, emphasizing the impact VR can have as a storytelling tool.

"We're used to learning languages in an immersive way. So, you might go to a country and absorb the language, just by living and studying there," Caspar said. "We're wondering whether those affordances, that quality of immersion, can actually happen here at CMU."

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