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Harvard University Will Teach A MOOC in Virtual Reality

Find out when Harvard’s most popular course is coming to virtual reality, and what some of the benefits might be for students.

One persistent complaint about online learning is that it lacks the feeling and advantages of being physically present among teachers and fellow students. While other fields like entertainment and communication have evolved past exclusive physical presence for content delivery, most of the education sector is just starting its transition.

One possible way to simultaneously achieve the benefits of physical presence and digitalization is by using virtual reality. During the recent Virtually There: Documentary Meets Virtual Reality conference, Harvard announced it will be streaming its most popular class, CS50, in virtual reality this fall on edX. CS50 is the most popular course on-campus at Harvard; it’s also the most popular course on edX, with over one million enrollments.

This is CS50 VR, coming in fall 2016.

Virtual reality could also improve the student experience in MOOCs related to medicine, history, game design, psychology, geography, and so on. Virtual reality is now being used to teach all sorts of topics, from football training to ecology. National Geographic has just announced a VR division.

Jeremy Bailenson, who heads the VR lab at Stanford University, gave a terrific talk last year (based on the research that’s been done) on how virtual reality will transform online learning. Professor Bailenson gave a number of examples of how virtual reality could improve learning. One example is the virtual reality gaze. Experiments show that students pay more attention to a lecturer if the lecturer looks them in the eye. In a classroom of 50 students, a lecturer can only look at each student one to two percent of the time. With virtual reality, you can increase it to any percentage you want, and for every single student, by programming the virtual imagery of the lecturer that each student sees.

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