Teaching a Psychology Course at Mount Royal University using AltspaceVR

Dr. Tony Chaston in the virtual world he created for his psychology course in AltspaceVR

Psychology Professor Tony Chaston of Mount Royal University (in Calgary, Alberta, Canada) has developed a new psychology course that will teach students using the social VR platform AltspaceVR. The undergraduate-level course, which is called The Digital Frontier: Perception, AI and Virtual Reality in Psychology, is described as follows in the course calendar:

This course focuses on psychological theory and application relevant to interacting with current and emerging digital technologies. Topics will typically include interfacing and communicating with artificial intelligence, perception and cognition in digital spaces such as virtual and augmented reality and how we can feel “present” in our digital experiences. This course will be taught in a Virtual Reality Classroom. 

Note: This course requires students to have a Virtual Reality Head Mounted Display (HMD). 

According to a news article from Mount Royal:

The first of its kind in Canada, the class, which started Sept. 14, filled its 20 spots (standard for a fourth-year psych course) in a matter of days…

“Immersion in media is a topic that’s been around for a long time, but it takes on a whole different level when you talk about it in VR,” Chaston says, noting it will play a role in everything from work and play to shopping as retailers set up VR stores.

After diving deep into what VR is and how it works, the course will focus on Chaston’s research into using VR nature scenes to lower stress levels. The class is set up as a three-hour block and already students have been invited to a couple of VR “events” to ensure they are comfortable in the space.The first day was an introduction, including basic etiquette for behaviour in VR. While most class time will be in VR, there will be time for group work that uses other more traditional online formats like Google Meet so that students aren’t wearing headsets for three hours straight. As note-taking is tough in VR, those will be provided separately.

Chaston credits Anna Nuhn (who has since left MRU) and Erik Christiansen at the Riddell Library and Learning Centre and MRU psychology professor Dr. Evelyn Field, PhD, for their help over the past year in developing the course.

“This course is possible thanks to Tony’s willingness to immerse himself in the pedagogy of VR and best practices for designing virtual learning environments,” said Christiansen, an assistant professor and subject librarian at the MRU Library who has a background in information technology.

It’s wonderful to see more use cases of social VR in university teaching! For 15 more examples of the use of social VR in higher education, I can refer you to my recent half-hour presentation on the topic to the University of Manitoba Senate Committee on Academic Computing, as well as all my blogposts tagged Higher Education.


Thank you to Kari Kumar of the University of Manitoba for the heads up!

Liked it? Then please consider supporting Ryan Schultz on Patreon! Even as little as US$1 a month unlocks exclusive patron benefits. Thank you!