Brad Willcuts

Assistant Professor, Musical Theatre and Choreography

Social Dancing and Culture meets Extended Reality

Humans have been dancing since the dawn of time. This project is geared towards expanding the parameters of what a common arts and humanities classroom can be. Through innovative new technologies and experiential learning using extended reality, our goal is to give educational accessibility to students at MSU through social dances and the cultures that created them.

Project Solution:

In the Spring of 2018, Brad Willcuts created a brand new IAH 241e course focused on giving students a more kinesthetic education in social dance. The class was geared towards history, society, and culture throughout time but was split in half. One day the class would research and get lectured on a specific culture’s social dance and why that became the way it was. The next class period they would go to a dance studio and learn these historical dances and perform them together as a group. There are many different types of learning styles among students. However, giving students more access to various forms of learning only helps their holistic understanding of the subject matter. This class abolishes the idea that you must be a trained dancer to understand dance and perform a dance. Students from all walks of life gained an education in why humans dance and have danced throughout time. Our goal is to double down on even more forms of learning using modern technological advancements and allow this class to be taught completely online as well as increasing opportunities in the on-campus version. For example, using extended reality, students will be able to see a replication of what it might be like to dance the minuet with French aristocracy or improvise with lots of twisting teenagers in the 1950s.

In early Spring 2020, the equipment will be ordered and the makerspace established in Room 15A. By mid-Spring, the space will be available for graduate student use, primarily for testing existing models and ensuring the equipment is working. The space will enter full use in Fall 2020 with the first offering of PSY493W (simulation for undergraduate students, with writing-intensive component) and PSY992 (simulation for graduate students). The curriculum for these courses is already under development as part of the Hub Faculty Fellow program. At the end of Fall 2020, the space will be used for a public showcase the outcomes of PSY493W/PSY992, and will be available for re-use by students pursuing ongoing social simulation projects (e.g. in preparation for the Spring 2021 URAAF).

Although our intent is to build this project over the Spring 2020 semester and into the summer semesters, we believe it has many different iterations and could grow into something very exciting that other departments and faculty could use. We would like to step into the first iteration and use that class as a way to gain more feedback on how it increases a students’ understanding of subject material that might seem foreign to them. Since the two former iterations of this class already have very positive SIRS reactions as well as Brad Willcuts receiving the Fintz Award for excellence in teaching for the IAH class, we believe it has much more to uncover concerning student learning, accessibility, and technological advances. Programs like Perception Nueron, which has already worked with MSU, provides motion capture suits that have immediate feedback from the user’s body to a digital space. Extended reality can be accessed through google cardboard headsets or GoPro 360 cameras that can allow a student to adapt to a new learning environment. It will put the student in the driver’s seat and allow them to adapt to the extended reality in real-time. Future iterations of the class will use the feedback to grow and adapt into a more efficient model and could possibly contain myriad class subject matter previously not thought of outside of the physical classroom. Imagine stage combat classes on digital movie sets, kinesiology classes in hospital rooms, yoga classes outside on a mountain. We believe the growth and movement beyond this first project step is seemingly endless and very fruitful.

Project Update:

When the global pandemic hit it created some challenges in Brad’s project. The primary challenge was the lack of physical interaction, in dance doing is knowing. In response, he had his class virtually meet weekly to discuss how they would continue to do their work. Additionally, he found some exciting options to assess the students while distant. Brad created dancing avatars to provide another way of dynamic education. His project opened up doors for sharing his discoveries and continued questions with other people and universities.  https://youtu.be/UK2Jwf4jOi4

Learn more about Brad Willcuts

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.