Alice McMichael

College of Social Science; Curriculum Specialist

Experiential Environments: Modeling the Past for Embodied Learning

Experiential Environments is a class module that will empower students to observe, visualize, and analyze historical data using immersive technology in a collaborative context. Students will reflect on historical perceptions of the natural world and built environment by asking how they were different from (or similar to) our own.

Project Solution:

Byzantium, the name given to the vast and diverse Eastern Roman empire between the fourth and fifteenth centuries of the Common Era in the Mediterranean and Anatolia, is often thought to be far removed from common knowledge today. However, because this empire was long-lasting and geographically and ethnically diverse, Byzantium maintains a vibrant presence in legal history, visual culture, and popular media. In Byzantine history, embodied knowledge is the result of experiencing the past through multiple senses for experiential learning, rather than simply relying on historical texts. Bringing multisensory learning about Byzantine history into the twenty-first-century classroom requires technology and innovation.

This course module will bring Byzantine environment and landscapes to life by using Virtual Reality technologies for immersive, experiential learning in the collaborative creation and presentation of research materials. It will empower students to create their own 3D visualizations of Byzantine spaces and project them at scale and in VR in order to reflect on and interpret premodern communities and urban planning. The primary learning goal is for students to gain embodied knowledge of how people of the past utilized natural landscapes and their own technology to create a built environment that reflected their unique cultural contexts. This expands accessibility, as students learn through multimodal contexts: visual, textual, and kinesthetic.

Students learn through a variety of multimodal contexts: visual, textual, and kinesthetic. Although the project is geared toward VR presentations, accommodations will be readily available. Students with VR sensitivities, mobility issues, or vision impairment, for instance, may opt to present on a classroom screen or they may choose material fabrication and create models with LEADR’s 3D printers.

Evaluation of the project’s learning goals will incorporate student feedback—qualitative data based on students’ own reflective writings and discussions. At the beginning of the semester, I will administer a self-assessment survey to students asking about their impressions of Byzantium, its environment, and its people. At the end of the semester, I will administer a second self-assessment survey about impressions of Byzantium, its environment, and people. Students will also write a reflective essay; the prompt will ask them to consider how their understanding of peoples and places in the medieval past has been affected by studying these people and places by using immersive technology.

A primary learning objective for this class is project management for designing a creative, multimodal presentation. Students’ grades will incorporate a variety of contributions: class discussions and online conversations, being respectful (of classmates, professors, community members and guests), effective collaboration (i.e. being reliable and asking for help with challenges), homework, and in-class writing assignments.

Assessment is based on exercises I have piloted in previous classes. completed in HST 251 (Spring 2017) course wherein taught SketchUp as a means to visualize information. In HA 210, students responded to experiments with AR and VR technology via blogs and guided conversations. I have incorporated their feedback into this implementation approach. At the end of Spring 2020 I will have student data on both visualizing historical data in 3D and evaluating digital presentation tools for VR presentation.

Project Update:

With some changes along the way, Alice Lynn was able to finish her project and make the website for the Experiential Environments class project public. One change she had to make quickly was to work remotely by holding a synchronous class on Tuesdays and asynchronous class discussions on Thursdays, followed by virtual office hours. A big success that came from this grant was the students succeeded in creating a public-facing digital presence for the Experiential Environments project using their new 3D modeling skillset. The website showcases their 3D models alongside methodology essays reflecting on their research and design process. Through this project, students overcame their initial fears about doing a non-textual, hands-on project in a history class. They succeeded in engaging with both visual and textual primary sources to make historical arguments about Byzantine environments and communities using 3D media, which you can view on the class website. 

Learn more about Alice McMichael

March 2020 campus was closed down due to the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic. Courses were moved to remote teaching for the spring 2020 semester and fully online courses for the Summer and Fall of 2020. This impacted many students and educators in the way that they both taught and learned.