Virtual Reality at Porterville College

Woman with VR headset on
Rachel Tatro-Duarte at a library standing in front of books

This piece was written by Rachel Tatro-Duarte. Rachel Tatro-Duarte is a Professor of English and VR Coordinator at Porterville College.

She has a BA and MA in English Literature and is currently a doctoral candidate. Her dissertation research focuses on using learning technologies, specifically Virtual Reality, on enhancing deep learning in the higher ed classroom. Rachel has also developed the VR Learning Model, which articulates concatenated stages by which participants experience Adaptability, Transitionality, Fusion, Enhancement, and Knowledge Transference. As a student, Rachel has had the opportunity to study Sappho in Greece; as an NEH scholar, she traveled to southern Switzerland and Italy to learn about the Etruscans and early Italy. These immersive experiences allowed her to learn at a deeper level. Rachel hopes to recreate this kind of immersive experiential learning in her classroom using VR.

Rachel’s recent article publications include the following:

  • “Language, Culture, and Heritage: The VR Experience The Book of Distance and Teaching the Family Folklore Project.”
  • “A Qualitative Study of Virtual Reality as a Means of Providing Cultural Context in Literature Classrooms at Minority Serving Institutions.”

During the Spring Semester of 2022, we began a Virtual Reality (VR) faculty training community at Porterville College. Ten PC faculty trained to use VR to enhance teaching and learning in their classrooms. The sessions were lively and informative, and contributed to the development of a database of relevant VR experiences in the various disciplines. 

Brief History of VR

Although many people assume that Virtual Reality is a recent technology, the term dates back to the early 20th century, and VR has been on the cusp of becoming part of mainstream culture for many years. According to Peter Rubin (2018), Virtual Reality was first used by a French playwright named Antonin Artaud. Artaud first described theater as Virtual Reality in his 1938 book “The Theater and Its Double” — he speaks of the theater as “la réalite virtuelle:” a reality that is both illusory and purely fictitious. Significant subsequent developments include a 1960 experiment by Ivan Sutherland, an MIT student. He developed the “Sword of Damocles,” which became what we now think of as the very first VR headset. The “Sword of Damocles” was the name for the mechanical tracking system and not the actual head-mounted display system or HMD (Sutherland, 1968). The headset itself is generally considered to be the first augmented reality HMD. 

As of December 2020, Oculus began marketing and focusing on developing their revised All-in-One Oculus Quest 2, which does not require a high-powered gaming computer or a cumbersome electric cable tether. While Oculus is currently leading VR technology with their all-in-one goggles and a Beta hand-detection system, many other tech companies are also developing VR systems, such as HTC, Play Station, and Apple. The price for VR goggles has recently dropped significantly, from over $1,000 to under $300. 

VR in Education

VR can provide a way for students to make those necessary textual connections beyond the classroom, help make obscure concepts clear and relevant, and help them reinforce their understanding. Much of learning today is task-driven, and most of the time, it is the idea that if a student can perform a task, they have learned in the classroom and, therefore, will retain the information taught. However, according to Sousa (2017), for learning to occur and be retained, it needs to make sense and have meaning. Past experience influences new learning, and what we know acts as a filter. Sousa (2017) also argues that for students to have a meaningful connection to what they are learning, lessons need to connect to their past experiences. With VR, educators can provide both, build on past experiences, and provide a new experience. 

If you have any questions about the VR program, please feel free to contact me at rachel.tatroduarte@portervillecollege.edu

Resources

Rubin, P. (2018). Future presence: How virtual reality is changing human connection, intimacy, and the limits of ordinary life. HarperOne.

Sousa, D. (2017). How the Brain Learns (5th Edition). Crown. 

Sutherland, Ivan. (1968). A head-mounted three dimensional display. Fall Joint Computer Conference. Salt Lake City, Utah. https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/1476589.1476686

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