Brendan and Magdalena Balcerak Jackson

Virtual Reality Assignments in Philiosophy Courses

Philosophy professors, Brendan and Magdalena Balcerak Jackson introduced virtual reality assignments, by inviting students to experience immersive virtual reality experiences and question the perception of interacting with ‘virtual’ objects and scenarios. Within two courses accross the Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 semester, over 35 students participated in a 30 minute virtual reality session, using the HTC Vive Virtual Reality headset, now available in the Faculty Exploratory. These virtual reality sessions supplemented existing readings, written reflections, discussions, essays and peer editing activities. Through the virtual reality explorations within their courses, Professors Brendan and Magdalena Balcerak Jackson created a new first year seminar on ‘Immersive Experience and Virtual Reality,’ launched Fall 2018.

Case Study in Brief

  • PHI 345, Metaphysics, Fall 2017

    Instructor: Brendan Balcerak Jackson

    Purpose: To provide students a novel way to connect to the concept of ‘virtual realism,’ Professor Brendan Balcerak Jackson wanted students to experience immersive ‘virtual reality,’ and question the perception of interacting with ‘virtual’ objects and scenarios. Through formative assignments (readings, media, virtual reality session and written reflection), students wrote a summative essay (based on ‘virtual realism’ formative assignments, peer discussions and instructor feedback).

    Technology: Guidance on the following implementation of these technologies was provided by Academic Technologies and the Creative Studio. The sessions took place in the Faculty Exploratory. The following technologies were used: VR Set-Up I: HTC Vive and Headphones, Alienware Laptop and SteamVR. VR Set-Up II: Oculus Rift & Alienware Laptop using SteamVR or Oculus. VR Experiences: The Lab, Google Blocks, Google Tilt Brush, Superhot VR, Job Simulator, Oculus Medium, Robo Recall, The Ranger: Lost Tribe. Background Music: YouTube or Spotify.

  • PHI 583/683, The Phenomenological Tradition, Spring 2018.

    Instructor: Magdelana Balcerak Jackson

    Purpose: TBD

    Technology: Guidance on the following implementation of these technologies was provided by Academic Technologies and the Creative Studio. The sessions took place in the Faculty Exploratory and the following technologies were used.


PHI 345, Metaphysics, Fall 2017


Instructor’s Perspective

Early on in the Faculty Learning Community sessions, Dr. Elton Skendaj was eager to employ digital portfolios as a method for sharing and community building within his course. He already had a framework for an essay assignment from the previous semester. Turning this assignment from an essay into a visual and mixed media project was a logical next step. Before choosing which platform or digital tools to use, he explored various options of e-portfolios, finally deciding on Weebly. He also wanted to incorporate a timeline or infographic to visually summarize the data on these social movements.

Planning was essential. Using the help of an Instructional Designer, he began planning what the logistics of this project would entail. His students would need to propose their topics early on, the website needed to have a template for students to easily work on, and access to the course website needed to be granted early enough as to give students enough time to post their assets to the website. He also wanted to make time for students to work on their projects in class, using up one full class day for workshops and hands-on work.

In addition to preparing for the technical requirements of this project, the academic areas of the project also needed to be scaffolded. This ensured the project would be completed on time and will gave him plenty of time to provide feedback to students as they worked. 

Student Perspective

Students enjoyed working on their projects, feeling more acquainted with the subject matter than in past terms when employing solely essay assignments. One of key benefits was students learning from each other's work. Many said they enjoyed learning a new skill and the tools had relatively low learning curves. During live workshop days, he witnessed students providing feedback on design elements, such as font use or colors on their pages. From this course assignment, one student decided to apply for a PhD in political science in order to researh nonviolent movements. 

Student Artifacts


The following steps detail how to turn an essay based assignment into a mixed media course website assignment. 

  1. Contact Academic Technologies to discuss your idea for the course and examine your existing syllabus and resources.
  2. Provide students instructions and rubric guidelines for their projects. Make sure project milestones are scaffolded throughout the term.
  3. Students submit a one-page proposal on their research question early on in the semester.
  4. Next, students complete their research and summarize key elements through a timeline or infographic. Soon after, a reflection is due. These items should be due more than halfway through the term. 
  5. Students start compiling their assets into the course website, choosing the right design to present their information. At this point, you may host an in-class workshop to allow students time to work together and ask for feedback to their peers.
  6. Set a due date for website revisions, then revoke access after the deadline.
  7. Finally, have students present their webpages in class (optional). 
Consider that some students will not want to display their name publicly on a website due to privacy concerns. The proposal at the beginning of the term can help determine student submissions when it is time to grade.