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The VictoryXR Show Podcast – Morehouse in the Metaverse: The Inside Story

Steve Grubbs: Welcome to the VictoryXR show on Metaversities. Today, we have with us, Dr. Muhsinah Morris and Dr. Tanya Clark. And I’m going to tell you a little bit more about them in just a moment. I’m Steve Grubbs, the CEO of VictoryXR. And the reason we have these 2 professors with us, professors at Morehouse College, is because they are the pioneers of Metaversities, not just in the United States, but globally. And Dr. Morris was the chair of the Chemistry Department at Morehouse College and has been promoted to be director of Morehouse in the Metaverse Dr. Clark is an English Professor and Associate English professor of English and Africana Studies, and you can correct me if I didn’t get that right, Dr. Clark, but I think I’m close. And these 2 professors pioneered the effort at Morehouse College for their Metaversity campus. 

And so, we’re going to talk about a handful of things. We’re going to talk about first, what was the process to go through from having never taught in virtual reality on a Metaversity campus, to actually pulling it off and in a relatively short period of time? And then second, we’re going to talk about what that experience is like, and what tools are available to professors or teachers or educators as they move through this process? And then I’d sort of like to just get some ideas from our professors here today on what it looks like, what they think the future looks like as this roadmap, this paradigm shift unfolds in front of us. 

So, Dr. Morris, let’s start with you. You and Dr. Clark were in the early meetings where we introduced the concept of teaching a class in VR, where VR is not simply a tool in the classroom, but where VR becomes the classroom. Talk to me about your first impressions when you first put on a virtual reality headset and stepped into the room.

Dr. Tanya Clark: It was the first time that I realized that we had something that could really increase student engagement. It was the first time that I realized that our students could learn in a way that was free from distractions, that allowed them to engage in material that was interesting to them, that unleashed all of the barriers and obstacles to obtaining a cutting edge, very fast paced, high…

Steve Grubbs: High impact?

Dr. Tanya Clark: Yeah, high impact education. So, for me, I saw the promise, the promise that our students could have what we’re supposed to have, and what we as educators always hoped when we add innovation to the classroom.

Steve Grubbs: And I remember we started out in the auditorium and then we went to the science room, and we, for the very first time, experienced the human cadaver together. What were your thoughts as you learn to sort of move around and pick up human hearts and that type of thing?

Dr. Tanya Clark: This is something that cannot be done in the real world, in the real analog world. So, even though we can have cadavers, which are very expensive, mind you, or do dissections, they’re disposable. You have to… they’re consumable, so you have to keep replenishing it. But in this particular environment, you can blow up the human heart to as large as the room. Students can step inside and see the ventricles and the valves. And they can see a diseased heart and compare that. They can pass organs around. But they can do things that they haven’t been able to do before. And they can look at it from a different lens and a different viewpoint than they would if it was just right before them in the real world, or if it was on a flat static image, like it has been in a lot of human anatomy courses.

Steve Grubbs: And Dr. Clark, we did this during the middle of the pandemic, I think, in the fall, maybe early fall of 2020. And some schools were doing sort of hybrid part online, part remote, and part in class. But Morehouse was 100% remote. And so, you were, first of all, having to figure out how to teach through Zoom or some other tool like that. And then at the same time, you had this new concept that to teach in a virtual reality Metaversity campus. So, talk to me about your thoughts of, first of all, transitioning from the classroom to Zoom, and then from Zoom to a Metaversity.

Dr. Tanya Clark: So, the transition, it was a challenge. Before, it was handwritten or printed out documents and physical books, and then all of a sudden, those things kind of went away. And we had all these required trainings that we had to do. So, the transition from what we were used to into a completely digital environment was a hard one. So, normally, when we would have our summers to do our own research, that summer was full of all these trainings where we were learning different techniques, and as far as our LMS. 

And so, to bring in the virtual reality element, the way that I understood it, as a person in Humanities, I had to admit, I was a little skeptical. Because Humanities is low tech. It doesn’t require all the bells and whistles in some of the science areas. So, trying to kind of see how this would fit into the humanities was another element for me that made the transition one that I had to adjust to, because I had to see how I was going to make this work in a Humanities classroom in a viable way.

Steve Grubbs: And I don’t want to interrupt you there, but we’re going to come back to your request shortly, because your request really delighted our developers. Boy, that was a little bit unexpected for me. So, I’m going to come back to that in a few minutes. But Dr. Morris, this all occurred pretty quickly. I mean, when I think about higher education, I do not think of agility and speed. And I was talking with a client recently, and they said, “We’re going to move fast. Let me warn you,” and I said, “Great,” and they said, “May,” and I said, “Okay,” and they said, “May of 2023,” and I said, “That’s not quite as fast as I was thinking.” 

So, we had 4 professors jump in, Dr. Hamilton, Dr. Vereen, and you 2. Dr. Hamilton was teaching World History. Dr. Vereen was teaching Biology 105 for freshmen. And you 2 were teaching Inorganic Chemistry and Literature. So, we’ve had to move pretty quickly. Talk to us about how quickly it moved. And what that process looked like for you to be able to pull it off in that period of time.

Dr. Muhsinah Morris: 60 days, 60 days from the time of ideation to implementation. And I kept telling my team that, “We have to move as fast as tech.” So, in academia, everything is on a 2-to-5-year implementation plan. Our strategic plan even is like a 5 or 6-year plan or something like that. So, everything takes time, and everyone wants to deliberate. But for me, I realized that the moment was now. It was needed now. It was urgent. And so, our team did everything we could to make sure that we were moving as fast as tech. And that means that we had to be on it every single day, every single night, Saturdays work with VR, and help one another by collaborating. 

And it didn’t matter that Dr. Clark was English or that Dr. Hamilton was History, or I was Chemistry or Dr. Vereen with Biology, we all got in there together. All of a sudden, I became an Africana Studies professor. I became a World History expert because we had to help one another in these spaces develop what we could do.

Steve Grubbs: And what’s interesting is, a lot of people asked me, “Well, do you provide the curriculum?” and I said, “No, we don’t need to provide the curriculum. For hundreds of years, people have been writing curriculum and courses and classes. Really, what we provide is the platform and the 3D objects, etc.” Would you talk a little bit about how you took your class and used the assets that we provide you to teach it in a virtual reality class? And then I’m going to go to Dr. Clark and talk to about her special request.

Dr. Muhsinah Morris: So, we always start with the student learning outcomes. So, yes, we have autonomy. We get to develop our courses the way that we want to. And working with VictoryXR allowed us to remain in the same space with the same academic freedoms that we have as professors and that we love. So, we were able to use what we’ve already developed and then transform that by meeting with the team and trying to envision and tethering that to actual engagement. Like, what types of artifacts and assets were needed to create molecular models in space? 

Space was a wonderful place to begin because that’s where the elements were originally formed. We think about Big Bang. We think about all of the chain reactions that happened that led to the development of the elements. So, to build molecules in space was just a real novel location. But our students needed to be able to do that. That’s something they wouldn’t be able to do in the real world. They can make molecules with 3-dimensional molecular models, but they can’t make them as large as possible. They can’t reconfigure and transfigure them, and look at them visually in different ways. 

And then we were all over the country. We were geographically… it’s geographically agnostic. So, we were able to be in the same space, even though they were sitting on their couches in their rooms. And so, developing the assets was easy once we knew, “What were our outcomes? What were the modules what we tried to get out of the lessons?” And then working with VictoryXR and your team to get it done, it was seamless.

Steve Grubbs: And we undertook the process of building a Digital Twin of Morehouse College. And then we took some special requests for classes in that special class. I’m not quite there yet. But we built this digital twin campus. And Dr. Clark, talk to me about… and just if anybody doesn’t know, like Digital Twin is a replication of the actual campus, so the buildings. And initially, we didn’t have the interiors of the rooms done, but we do now. And you can see some of that footage on the screen as I’m speaking. But Dr. Clark, what were your impressions the first time you set foot on the Digital Twin campus?

Dr. Tanya Clark: I was impressed. I was very impressed. And I was nostalgic, because at that point, we hadn’t been on campus for a while. And to then be transported onto the main quad, and also where our beloved statue is, it was amazing. It was amazing. And right then, I said I had to kind of figure things out at first, but right then I knew that that space alone was enough to let the students be able to appreciate what we could do in VR. Like, I knew that that was our first steps towards how we could use this as a teaching tool. Because a major component of my courses is to have them feel like a community. And it’s hard to do that when we’re boxes on a computer screen. And some of us don’t even have our cameras on all the time. So, being able to be on campus in that way it was a game changer for me in terms of understanding the possibilities of what can happen in the Metaverse.

Steve Grubbs: And am I right that one of the classes you teach is a Fantasy Literature class. Is that right?

Dr. Tanya Clark: Yes, it’s called Blacks in Wonderland. It’s science fiction, fantasy, horror, all that good stuff.

Steve Grubbs: There were no interesting classes like that when I [inaudible]. And so, you asked our team to build you a special classroom? You want to describe that? Because let me just say this, our team came to me and said, “Oh, this is going to be so much fun.” And you know what? Whenever I’m in it, I say, “Wow, this is a lot of fun.”

Dr. Tanya Clark: Yeah, yeah. So, being in literature, I wanted it to feel like one of those old-fashioned literary salons from the 1920s Harlem Renaissance-esque era. And I gave Danny and Renee my ideas and some pictures, and they just ran with it. And I had this beautiful space, because I would do different things. So, we would come in and we would just have our conversations, and for our lectures and our discussions, and then we would bounce them to the other rooms for different assignments. But the base was my literary salon. I’m very territorial. It is my literary salon. And it had books all over, and I was able to put my own special touches on it with logos from Morehouse as, well as paraphernalia from my beloved sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. 

And it was just… and the lighting was right. They gave me this huge window where light would come in, and it was kind of set in this semicircle. So, it really did kind of encourage, just the environment in and of itself encouraged the kind of lectures and discussion that I was able to achieve when we are face to face but didn’t necessarily take place as rigorously on Zoom.

Steve Grubbs: That’s awesome.

Dr. Tanya Clark: So, I was very appreciative of that. Yeah.

Steve Grubbs: And are our designers or modelers are masters at that.

Dr. Tanya Clark: Amazing, yeah.

Steve Grubbs: And Dr. Morris, I think you got your own chemistry lab as well.

Dr. Muhsinah Morris: Yes. I’ve got several chemistry labs.

Steve Grubbs: Talk to us about the one that they developed for you. And I’d like you to talk especially about some of the little special tools and things that can be turned on and off in your model chemistry lab.

Dr. Muhsinah Morris: So, we now have a digital twin of our chemistry lab, which is the lab that all people who have to take General Chemistry have to endure being in for 5 hours. So, it is in Merrill Hall, and everything works in there. Like, so this is the kicker. Not only do the sinks work so the water runs, you can turn them on and off, the cabinets opening closed, so you can put beakers and other glassware and equipment on the shelves. But laminar hoods actually turn on and work. And you can place items in them, so that if it’s a dangerous experiment that they may have to go and take their things over to the hood and use them. 

My favorite part of it… okay 2 favorite parts. One is that you can look out the window and see the campus it’s like how you can. But the second best thing, I’ve never had an accident in the labs, so I’ve never had to use the shower. But the showers in the eye washed work. Like, and even though we hope that that’s not something that students have to use, it makes for a great safety lesson, that all of the things work. And when students want to know how things are, how to set up apparatus, then they have the ability to do it in this space that is the exact same as the space that they’ve been in. And then they can go in in real life and implement that though.

Steve Grubbs: And this is a very important point. So, Dr. Clark’s literary salon is available to everybody. It’s in the general classroom segment. So, every Metaversity within the VictoryXR family can use that particular literary salon. But the chemistry lab and Merrill Hall is unique to students at Morehouse College. So, when a campus builds their campus, only the students that are licensed are given access to that campus can have access to that, and the rooms that are that University’s special IP. 

And there’s 1 more place that I want to talk about on the Morehouse College campus that really just takes my breath away. And Dr. Morris, I think you were the one who chose to have this built. You want to talk to us a little bit about the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center? And also, how you get from the main campus to…? I mean, I guess in the real world, you might drive. But that’s not how it works on the Metaversity campus. I’ll let you talk a little bit about that.

Dr. Muhsinah Morris: Yes. So, our students love that. So, they gravitate there first. I have to say, “Hold on. Wait, wait, wait,” and then they disappear because they are teleported to the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center. So, instead of having to take the long walk across campus, they just go through the teleport portal. And they can go right outside of the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center, which is one of the central areas on campus where our theatre arts, our cinema journalism courses, but so many courses in the arts are used. 

But it gives students a sense of belonging, because it is so integral to everything that happens around homecoming, concerts, crown forum, all different types of activities that involve the entire campus happened at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center.

Steve Grubbs: That’s awesome. And so, when you chose to have that, did you have a particular vision for how it might be used on the diversity campus? Or do you want professors to sort of just figure out how they want to use it? Because I know you can show films there, you can have performances there, even though it’s a Metaversity.

Dr. Muhsinah Morris: So, we’ve done different things there already. So, we’ve got our meditation Wednesdays there and had students come and create art on stage and talk about what they were created with the 3D pen. But I want professors to take and use that space in the way that they want to. So, if they want to have their students present there, but it feels like they’re part of campus because it is our own unique space, then I want them to do that. 

But the other day, I had an opportunity to present this to one of our provost, and he is a voice instructor. So, Dr. Foster saw Ray Charles Performing Arts Center in that stage, and he just bubbled up with all these ideas of how he could teach voice lessons, how to do a stage play, the glee club can come on and present and perform. And we could do our crown forums or our complications in the metaverse. So, he got super excited. And that is the type of joy that I want to see for other professors around the country when they look at their Metaversity campus.

Steve Grubbs: Dr. Clark, let me ask what I think is a question that we sort of have an answer to, but a lot of people that are listening or watching this might not. If you have a physical campus, like Morehouse College, what is the point of building a digital twin campus?

Dr. Tanya Clark: Oh, that’s a good question. So, like you mentioned earlier, when this all started for us, we were virtual. So, we had, I teach mostly freshmen, for example, the Blacks in Wonderland class is for freshmen. So, we had freshmen coming to campus, well, coming to Morehouse who had never been on campus before. And as you can imagine, that is a big disappointment for them. And so, to be able to offer a segment or of the population, the opportunity to interact with the campus environment was priceless. Those students were able to connect to the environment that they’re going to be in for the next 3 to 4 years. So, and even now, as we’re transitioning back face to face, some of us are doing a kind of hybrid thing, just like Dr. Morris said, large spaces, large gatherings are still something that not everyone is comfortable with. So, the Metaverse is very helpful for those environments. 

As well as this idea that these performances and these big lectures can take place. We have very sacred ceremonies for incoming and outgoing students, and the metaverse is another place where that can happen. Dr. Morris hosted our Candlelight in the Dark, which is our major fundraising event for donors and alum. And she had a version of it on the Metaverse. So, I think it is a complement to the physical campus that’s important for those universities who are thinking about this process, is that you should look at it as a way to enhance the physical campus resources that you already have, and opening up other avenues and just kind of new ways to experience and view and connect with the campus.

Steve Grubbs: So, Dr. Morris, I’m going to go to you next. I want you to answer that question. But also talk about you started with 4 professors in the spring of 2021. And this fall, you expect to have grown. This is not something that there was a proof of concept. And thanks to Qualcomm for being willing to underwrite the proof of concept. But then after the proof of concept was completed, didn’t go away. And can you talk about the growth that you see in the use of your Med diversity campus?

Dr. Muhsinah Morris: Right now, I have 24 interested faculty who have not taught in the metaverse before. But they have been the headsets, they have been attended meetings where we have just been showing them locations and showing them how to be professional while they’re teaching or learning on this particular Metaversity campus. The interest is larger than the amount of headsets we have. So, we are really having to give professors the experience but also then like decipher which courses actually worked with, and who’s going to actually be able to build out something that is engaging and embedded in the curriculum where it makes the most impact for students.

Steve Grubbs: Can you talk a little bit about I know that I think was Dr. Hamilton who… and maybe yourself that you studied the results in satisfaction, engagement, and performance are great. Can you talk a little bit about those results?

Dr. Muhsinah Morris: So, Dr. Hamilton and his co I saw that there were 0 dropouts or withdrawals in a virtual reality candidates, as compared to when we were on a Zoom course or when we were face to face. So, usually, we have a good number of students who don’t want to engage in the virtual space. But when we taught first in virtual reality, literally 0 withdrawals. More than that, we saw a 10% increase in student grades, and attendance rates, in their final grade averages, and their presentation grades. So, the percent went from 84%, whether it was face to face or online, to 94%. And that’s huge, especially to say that people attended class more when they were in virtual reality versus even online or face to face. That was a big, big difference. So, we noticed that our students were more engaged, they’re more satisfied with the education that they were getting. And the grades increase, because their level of engagement had increased. So, that was really, really important to see.

Steve Grubbs: Awesome, thank you. Dr. Clark, why don’t you wrap up and tell us where you think all of this goes in the next 5 years?

Dr. Tanya Clark: Well, hearing Dr. Morris say we have so many… and I knew that we had an interested faculty, but I didn’t know we had that many. So, I’m really happy to hear that. But I would like to see more collaboration. One of the most successful units that I had was collaborating with Dr. Morris and Dr. Ethal around the common text. And so, I liked bringing together the different disciplines, right? So, we had biology, chemistry, and literature. Who knew, right? Who knew that there would be a text out there and a space where these 3 disciplines would interact and collide? 

So, I would like to see ways in which we could build more interdisciplinary collaborations, assignments, virtual field trips. I would like to… so, I see myself, like, especially knowing some of the faculty who are interested in journalism and Africana Studies, already thinking about ways in which we can build out modules that cross over those disciplines. I would also like to see more of the virtual field trip possibilities. In the Blacks in Wonderland, I teach a class that’s about slavery, and want the students to be able to experience as much of that history as possible. And so, I would like to see some of those things. 

And I really love what VictoryXR did with the civil rights, and that work around that part of history. So, just continuing to build, like you said, interactions with cross disciplinary interactions, and more virtual field trips, which were the things that my students in particular enjoyed the most. And then just innovative assignments. I’m going to be planning all summer about my next iterations and figuring out what artifacts I’m going to need. And if I’m going to get a new exclusive room like Dr. Morris.

Steve Grubbs: That’s awesome. And Dr. Morris, why don’t you wrap us up with your best hope for the future? And I would just say this, Morehouse College is not a big college or university, I think. Roughly 2000 students. And despite that, it’s the global leader against big public universities with tens of thousands of students, or elite schools with billion dollar endowments. They’re not the ones that are paving the way that with this paradigm shift in education. And so, talk to me about where you see it going as the original pioneers who got this thing off the ground.

Dr. Muhsinah Morris: So, there’s so much more to campus life than just the academics. So, once we really get a handle on the way that we want to deliver academics across all disciplines, we want to make sure to give students the social spaces where they can engage. So, where they can do things like study together, where they can have peer-to-peer teaching and learning, where they can then do athletics, where they can do intramural sports, but where they can have the spaces that they identify with. 

So, a lot of what we’re trying to do now is also get our students into the development side of things where they can understand that, as long as they’re creating, they can also created spaces that they want to inhabit. So, then help us to enhance campus life in the way that they want to envision it, in the way they want to experience it. So, that is a part of what we are doing and what we’re trying to do. 

But my number 1 goal is to get headset into the hands of every freshman that enter school, or Morehouse’s campus, but really, globally. I think that it’s important to learn and be exposed to this emerging technology. I think that this is the way that we can gain the attention of our students back in a way that allows them to want to participate in the learning process and create lifelong learners. So, it’s really, really important that we start now to facilitate innovation in the way that we instruct our students in already using something that they love. They love gaming, and they love these 3-dimensional worlds and simulation. So, why not give them that. 

And then it lowers the cost of you having to try to come up with a full-fledged study abroad trip. You could just transport to where they need to go. And it doesn’t even matter if they can’t make it to class. They can get their avatars to class because they can just lock into that headset and be right where you are. So, it’s really, really important as a director of this Metaversity project to see that, not only students get to participate in this, but they get a chance to innovate in their discipline. And that they can continue on and build their own scholarship within their discipline and just be revolutionary in the way that they’re disseminating information. Everything is going to be digitized, and why not do it in a fun way like this?

Steve Grubbs: Love it. Thank you, Dr. Morris. Thank you, Dr. Clark. And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Meta for providing headsets, as well as paying for the cost to build out the beautiful digital twin campus. So, thank you all for joining us today. This will also be a podcast. You can watch it, you can listen to it, or you can read it on the VictoryXR blog. Check back next time, and we’ll have another great show for you about Metaversities and the advanced virtual reality in education.

 

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