Morehouse teaches the first-ever VR Black History course

Picture: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

For the first time, you can take a Black History course in the Metaverse.

Driving the News: “History of the African Diaspora since 1800” by Professor Ovell Hamilton of Morehouse College is one of this semester’s 13 virtual reality courses – part of Morehouse’s Virtual Reality Project.

“It’s a very different experience than just sitting in a lecture in the classroom or on Zoom,” Hamilton told Axios.

Why it matters: Virtual Reality Project manager and Morehouse professor Muhsinah Morris told Axios the college is the first in the country to adopt a “metaversity” model.

Catching up fast: VR at Morehouse started in the fall of 2020, Morris says, as the school “was looking at ways to engage our remote students. The main goal was to make sure they didn’t drop out of school.”

And it worked, she says. In VR lessons, they saw no decrease in attendance and an improvement in student performance. “We made it the magic school bus, they think,” she says. “An excursion.” Aboard a virtual reality slave ship in Professor Hamilton’s class. Photo: Courtesy of Muhsinah Morris

Big picture: Hamilton told Axios that virtual reality helps deepen empathy when learning history and enables a new way of teaching. He decided to try it to motivate the students because he saw them “getting bored and falling asleep in my classes.”

As a professor, he said it gave him “more tools to work with… You’re cheating yourself right now if you’re not using the metaverse [to teach].”

What they say: Evan Young, a sophomore in Hamilton’s Black History course, said experiencing things like a slave ship in virtual reality is “transformative. As an African American, it was a bit hard to take, but at the same time it took time.”

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“I think it’s going to be the future in terms of learning, not just at the college level, but in K-12,” Young said.

What’s happening: Morris, a chemistry professor, hopes to expand the program to all disciplines. Professors can pull existing lessons from their technology partner VictoryXR or create their own.

Hamilton, for example, has created an “Underground Railroad” museum for students to explore.

Conclusion: “It’s not like we’re gamifying the classroom,” Morris said. “We have learned to transform our two-dimensional lesson plans into three-dimensional experiences for our students.”

“They’re not just there to hear us talk, they’re there to experience something, to do something.” Morris herself said teaching in the Metaverse renewed her own energy and enthusiasm for teaching. “It restored my joy…I got tired of teaching chemistry the same way.”