Anthropology Students Use Virtual Reality to Challenge Stereotypes and Enhance Learning
Monday, March 15th, 2021 – Ten days after the grand opening of UNF’s brand new Virtual Learning Center (VLC), library staff hosted its first class. Dr. Jelena Brezjanović, a cultural anthropologist and adjunct professor, saw an opportunity to incorporate the new Virtual Reality (VR) technology as a tool to allow students to step into a different environment and experience a story of what it means to be homeless. The content, “Becoming Homeless: A Human Experience,” provides a different side of a story that is normally neglected and addresses the common misconception that losing one’s home is due personal characteristics and the choices one makes. The VR content complemented class discussion of poverty, inequality, social stratification and power. The class incorporated a brief pre-session survey where students were asked by the instructor to define and describe what it means to be homeless. This introduction was followed by an in-depth equipment and program tutorial by Adam Chalmers and the VLC staff. Once the students were done with the program, they were asked to complete a follow-up survey and reflect on their experiences though a group discussion. According to the post-session feedback, students described their VR experience as “transformational,” “engaging” and “beneficial,” allowing them to “better understand and actually relate to the stress, anxiety, anticipation and adversity a homeless person experiences” on a daily basis. Based on the students’ reactions, it was evident that their perceptions changed and that they developed a new level of empathy and interest toward marginalized voices and human stories that are just as important and complex as any other stories we are able to relate to. Additionally, as Dr. Brezjanović noted, the VRC provided a space where distance learning students can come together and interact with each other while still closely following all CDC recommended health protocols.
virtual reality; virtual learning; library; education