This special issue focused on XR—most often referring to virtual and augmented reality (AR)—emerged from our shared excitement about the potential of immersive media to support innovative pedagogy at all levels of education, but also from our healthy skepticism about the limited circles of people actually empowered to shape this process. The full reality–virtuality continuum, a concept first introduced by Paul Milgram and his colleagues in 1994, encompasses everything from virtual reality theaters and mixed reality headsets to augmented reality experiences on mobile devices. Until very recently, the higher end of XR was limited to specialized labs and researchers. As both the technology itself and the means of creating content have become more accessible, the field has expanded and diversified.
Working in the field at this critical moment, we noticed the lack of scholarship engaged with humanistic concerns regarding XR technologies in pedagogical applications. The literature is dominated by rigorous publications on the technical side describing developments in the field of computer science, and by informative case-study examples from museums, journalistic applications, and popular entertainment. Pedagogical experiments in K–12 education, industry, building technologies, city planning, and medicine, meanwhile, have clearly demonstrated the potential of XR applications for teaching and training. Yet the critical conversations around the medium itself, its affordances, challenges, and opportunities for educational use, still take place within small, often isolated pockets of discipline-specific practitioners. We meet up in local working groups, at conferences and workshops, on Twitter—and now in the pages of JITP. One of our objectives in putting together this issue is to bring these different groups into deeper conversation with one another, promoting critical knowledge construction in the field while building out a body of citable literature in humanistic XR studies. We hope this issue helps expand the field to include a greater diversity of voices and experiences.
In the future, the pressing questions of our current circumstances may find answers in XR. Take for instance the growing number of virtual conferences, virtual tours, and virtual open houses already happening in response to the shift to remote learning and working conditions. Although made more urgent by COVID-19, the creation of virtual labs, virtual workspaces, virtual archives, and virtual art studios has long been the dream of XR researchers. Now is the time for scholars to envision and build this future with or without the collaboration of the big tech companies (most recently Apple and Verizon) that have been quietly buying up XR platforms and start-ups in anticipation of a pivotal moment like this. How will we ensure our values are embedded in the XR systems that emerge, or that the resulting models of pedagogy are immersive, interactive, accessible, and collaborative? Even as we go online with our teaching, we realize how much we’re missing from lived experience in physical proximity. How can we leverage the affordances of the real in pursuit of the digital? How does the digital expand access, opportunity, vision, and community? How might XR facilitate lifelong learning applications and the global communities these interventions make possible? The articles in this issue begin to explore these questions in greater depth, and offer potential avenues for further development, especially in terms of community engagement and social justice. This special issue also makes clear that diversity, in all its many forms, is an essential component for XR-based teaching and research, especially as we consider ways of applying intersectional analysis to applied learning.
Several of the articles in this issue focus on using XR for social justice. In “Immersive Pedagogy: Developing a Decolonial and Collaborative Framework for Teaching and Learning in 3D/VR/AR,” Lorena Gauthereau, Jessica Linker, Emma Slayton, and Alex Wermer-Colan draw from a symposium held at Carnegie Mellon University and conversations held with librarians, technologists, developers, and faculty in attendance there. The authors advocate for continued conversations regarding integration, use, and review of 3D/VR/AR teaching and learning technologies. In “Developing Virtual Reality Modules Aimed to Enhance Social Work Students’ Skills and Reinforce Knowledge,” Nicholas Lanzieri, Henry S. Samelson, and Jonathan Bowen describe how multiple approaches to the use of VR in therapist training—360º video and avatar-based game environments—can be embedded into a social work curriculum. Their work demonstrates how prior exposure to environments and potential conversations can enhance live engagement with a diverse set of clients. One of the more revelatory examples of XR technology applications is evidenced in the essay, “‘Relational Presence’: Designing VR-Based Virtual Learning Environments for Oral History–Based Restorative Pedagogy,” by Jennifer Roberts-Smith, et al. This article describes an approach to designing VR that intentionally makes users aware of their virtual environments in order to situate themselves apart from the oral histories they experience in simulations. In this piece, Roberts-Smith et al. introduce the Digital Oral Histories for Reconciliation (DOHR) project (dohr.ca), which worked in partnership with the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children Restorative Inquiry (restorativeinquiry.ca) to create a VR experience intended to expose the truth of institutionalized racism and to empower the survivors to “build more just relationships for the future.”
Several of our articles also engage with the potential for partnership building and community engagement through historic sites, landscapes, and the university/college campus. In their article “Representing Indigenous Histories Using XR Technologies in the Classroom,” Amy J. Lueck and Lee M. Panich argue for the wider adoption of XR technologies such as annotated 360º video tours at key locations on campus to help undergraduate students understand and intervene in the continued erasure of Indigenous histories from existing commemorative landscapes there. This emphasis on community partnerships is echoed in the issue’s fifth article. In “Blending Disciplines for a Blended Reality: Virtual Guides for a Living History Museum,” Juilee Decker, Amanda Doherty, Joel Geigel, and Gary D. Jacobs demonstrate how an interdisciplinary partnership between a university and a local museum offered the opportunity for students to develop digital storytelling skills and multimodal literacy. In “Barriers to Supporting Accessible VR in Academic Libraries,” Jasmine Clark and Zach Lischer-Katz address both accessibility and the important role of libraries in VR creation, implementation, and support as we scale up from experimentation to broad-based implementation strategies.
Especially exciting and filled with generative possibilities are the kinds of lessons learned from case studies arising out of various pedagogical contexts and disciplines. A diverse team of David Neville, Vanessa Preast, Sarah Purcell, Damian Kelty-Stephen, Timothy D. Arner, Justin Thomas, and Christopher French, describes a whole-college approach in “Using Virtual Reality to Expand Teaching and Research in the Liberal Arts.” Their approach to infrastructure development highlights how a smaller institution can make XR happen at a thoughtful, systemic scale—in harmony with existing pedagogical values and practices—in a highly selective teaching-focused undergraduate setting. “Truly Immersive Worlds? The Pedagogical Implications of Extended Reality” by Tamara O’Callaghan and Andrea Harbin provides specific examples of the kind of VR and AR applications an instructor might use in a liberal arts context. Specifically, they investigate how 3D models of historic sites and AR overlays on historic documents can serve as virtual tools to enhance the physical space. Another example, from Alison Burke, Elana Blinder, Leah Potter, and David Langendoen in their article, “Mission US TimeSnap: Developing Historical Thinking Skills through Virtual Reality,” shows that VR is a promising and useful tool for K–12 history education. Their TimeSnap game has helped to increase students’ engagement with historical documents, narratives, and terminology. Thinking critically about such XR engagement is not limited to the humanities classroom. In the sciences, there have been several applications supporting laboratory work and surgery, but in “Virtual Chirality: A Constructivist Approach to a Chemical Education Concept in Virtual Reality,” authors Samuel R. Putnam, Michelle M. Nolan, and Ernie Williams-Roby demonstrate how it is important not only to use XR in teaching, but also to bring students into the process of building applications. Together, these articles provide an interdisciplinary view of how XR technologies are shaping education at all levels through a critical engagement with interdisciplinary applications.
This issue celebrates pedagogical innovation and forward thinking, but we would be remiss not to acknowledge that it will be released at a time of profound loss, reflection, and fear. The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy was founded and remains housed at the Graduate Center, CUNY, in New York City, a city losing multitudes of souls, including brilliant academics, each day. All of us have felt this loss, and it is only because of the incredible dedication and hard work of everyone involved that this issue was published at this time. The greatest thanks go to our managing editor, Patrick DeDauw, who not only ensured that the process of publishing this issue was streamlined and efficient; he also made it enjoyable despite the most incredible of obstacles. Patrick, you are our hero. We would also like to acknowledge the willingness of our authors to work through revisions and copyedits with grace and professionalism amidst a global crisis. And to our reviewers, please know your service is very deeply appreciated.
One final personal note: this issue is dedicated in memory of Dr. David Greetham, a founding member of the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy program at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Without his foresight and inspiration, many digital innovations cited in this issue would not have been possible.