Into the ViterbiVerse – USC Viterbi

Students join a VR exercise in Professor ELISABETH ARNOLD WEISS' writing class 340. (Photo/Courtesy of Elisabeth Arnold Weiss)

Students join a VR exercise in Professor ELISABETH ARNOLD WEISS’ writing class 340. (Photo/Courtesy of Elisabeth Arnold Weiss)

In the center of the clean white auditorium lies a wide parachute with ropes tying props such as brooms, tricycles, drums and a piece of chocolate cake. One hand reaches for a chocolate cake while an observer asks: What is this chocolate cake? where is this room

The answer is “Anything” and “Everywhere”.

In Elisabeth Arnold Weiss’s Improv for Engineers session as part of her Advanced Writing course. Students will use virtual reality to visualize and foster their imagination in improv exercises.

“[VR] be a facilitator It’s an accelerator,” said Weiss, an associate professor of technical communication practice at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. “It’s something that can get straight to the heart of faster learning.”

10 years ago, Weiss introduced improvisation to her advanced writing course for the Engineer Program, Writing 340, in collaboration with Hollywood comedians and an improvisation troupe from the USC School of Dramatic Arts. To provide improvised exercises where students will learn how to become more effective and confident communicators.

Now she adds flair to her improv sessions. Since the fall of 2022, Arnold Weiss has been incorporating VR. “Participation and experimentation are the best ways for engineers to learn,” even when it comes to learning soft skills.

“Traditional classroom teaching and learning can become a process and exchange,” she said. “But when we enter this virtual space, Something is different.”

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VR and improvements

During Weiss’s improvisation session, eight students put on headsets and go into VR, engaging in fast-paced activities that cultivate innovation. forward thinking and even managing communication crises. Meanwhile, the rest of the class watched their interactions live. and waiting for their turn with a headset

“Even the teacher We have no expectations. You know it’s designed to open things up. not shutting them down,” Weiss said.

students love it

Leyu Xu, computer science senior student in games Said he enjoyed presenting the product to his classmates and learning how to navigate through the bizarre physics of the VR environment.

“The introduction of VR expands the spatial boundaries of the classroom. and frees students from the confines of the classroom,” Xu said. “It helped me imagine how to communicate in a professional environment. and increased courage in communicating even though I was afraid of the audience.”

Why VR?

Weiss is a self-described “technology anchor” who believes in the power of technology to He has been “enabling human potential” as an engineering educator for nearly three decades. She had read several studies on the benefits of VR before deciding to add it to her class. during the epidemic She found a study explaining how video chat improves productivity but reduces creativity. She decided to turn to VR to take advantage of this digital power while pushing the limits of creativity.

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“VR is a technology medium. But it’s very lively and intimate. That goes against how we view technology as cold and inhumane,” Weiss said.

Weiss has been following the development of VR since 2016, however, until she spoke with Leon Huang, BS ’19, who was a consultant at the time. She realized the potential of VR to transform the educational space.

Huang is a visually impaired student studying computer science games. A Singaporean veteran brings a laptop to class with various accessibility tools. to help fill out information that he may have missed Weiss realized that it was a challenge for him to maneuver between tables, chairs, and students in the physical classroom. which made him uncomfortable participating in improvisation exercises. Weiss’ desire to help her students participate better in improvisation exercises. This, coupled with growing curiosity for VR development, led her to ask Huang one question: “What are your thoughts on bringing VR into the classroom?”

His answer: “Please!” But it’s also Weiss’ proof of concept: VR in the classroom can improve accessibility and engagement.

Professor Weiss in action

In 2021, Weiss decided to move forward with VR, even though she didn’t have the funds to purchase the device at the time.

With a grant from the Engineering Information Foundation, a New York-based engineering education development group, Weiss received $24,500 to build a custom VR space and purchase a virtual reality headset.

Next, she connects with INTERVRSE, a Silicon Beach startup building immersive Metaverse experiences. Weiss says it’s important to work with companies that aren’t just local and available. but also flexible, nimble and respectful of educational goals. INTERVRSE designs five custom virtual settings: Campus Landing, Boardroom, Future Classroom, Theater and Hotel Lobby. Each of these spaces has customizable features. This means students have access to endless environments and contexts.

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Weiss experimented with VR in three improv sessions taught by Debra De Liso and Paul Hungerford of the School of Dramatic Arts in her advanced writing class in fall 2022. The results exceeded expectations. you Weiss said students were more involved in physical activity and were assertive with creativity. She argues how VR can help reduce barriers to communication.

“It’s almost as if people leave their inhibitions at the door because it’s virtual,” Weiss says. it is free space You have more free thinking.”

Steve Bucher, Program Director, Engineering in Society, added: “Finding ways to innovate within a writing curriculum can be challenging. And using theatrical performances gives engineering students a lot of creative and exploration opportunities. Elisabeth’s use of VR to enhance this experience is a great way to amplify the impact.”

Weiss hopes USC Viterbi will continue to explore VR to provide an educational foundational experience for other institutions in the future.

“This extends our current experiential learning horizons,” she said. “It is where I feel ripe for having an intense and effective learning experience.”

Published on Nov 22, 2022

Last updated on November 22, 2022.

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