Associate Faculty Maxwell McGee, who works in the Communication and Media Studies Department, teaches COM 415 SOCIAL INTERACTION IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT, a course focusing on the use of virtual and augmented reality in personal, professional, and social spheres. He not only updated and modernized it but also made it an engaging and exciting experience for students.
“The course was originally designed in 2016, so it was in need of major updating,” says Communications and Media Studies Program Chair Margaret DeMauro. “As you can imagine, the world of communication and media moves quickly, as new platforms and technologies are introduced almost daily. While this is extremely exciting for students studying communication and media, it presents a challenge to keep the programs up to date. I knew Maxwell was just the subject matter expert perfect to modernize the course.”
When presented with the task of recreating the program, McGee knew exactly how he envisioned the course. He shares,
“A few months ago, I walked into a world created from scratch and was close up and personal with a 3D model of COVID-19. The experience was more than just mind-blowing, it was also humbling. Specialists in this field, including myself, have barely scratched the surface of this technology, and I already believe it is our future. The potential of using it in the classroom is exciting! Imagine getting to walk through the Sistine Chapel and see a virtual Michelangelo painting, glide through a human cell, or travel through the stars as if you were one of them.”
Therefore, when redesigning this course, McGee approached it with that enthusiasm to portray the capabilities of a virtual environment using virtual or augmented reality (VR/AR) technology. McGee decided to incorporate a hands-on virtual reality project into his course syllabus, where students use one of two 3D virtual reality applications – Altspace VR or Rumii. The application is dependent on the brand of computer that the student has available.
To keep it personal and engaging, McGee virtually met with each of his students through a virtual reality platform, using their avatar creations. Within this meeting, they discussed their final project requirements. McGee showed them how to create a virtual reality lecture hall, including how to navigate through the various tools such as muting the audience or how to show videos within the presentation.
Since the purpose of the project is to get students familiar with these platforms and learn how to present within a 3D model, McGee allowed his students to choose any topic of interest for the assignment.
“What a great class!” expresses Dimitri Fenrick, a student who completed McGee’s class last term. Interacting with Professor McGee in the virtual environment was a great experience, and the assignments were fun as well as informative. As a National Guard recruiter, I’ll be able to use this knowledge as a new tool for communication in the digital world.”
“By implementing projects that require students to explore and present in a 3-dimensional world, they are taking the first steps in understanding where this technology can take us,” said McGee.