Dr. Valerie Taylor, Assistant Professor in Psychology and Africana Studies, has been named the 2020/2021 Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL) Digital Scholarship Faculty Fellow. As a Fellow, she will further develop her research interests in how virtual reality (VR) can be leveraged to encourage empathic engagement in challenging interracial interactions and with historical content that engenders discomfort and defensiveness (e.g., experiences of racial bias, US slavery). A particular focus of Professor Taylor’s research and course integration will examine how VR can be used to teach about and encourage open dialogue about the enslavement of Blacks in the United States.
In her newly-developed course, “The Science of Virtual Reality: Ethics, Empathy, and Social Justice,” Professor Taylor and her students will examine the history, evolution, and ethical challenges of VR from a social psychological lens (Spring 2021). The course will include critical experiential learning and research components. Specifically, students will engage in multiple perspective-taking VR simulations and begin the design of an interactive VR experience of the McCleod Slave Plantation in James Island, South Carolina. This summer, as part of the Digital Scholarship Faculty Fellowship, Professor Taylor will work on the technological components of the course. She will review and select VR simulations to demonstrate the ethical challenges as well as social justice possibilities of VR, cull 360-degree video of the McCleod Slave Plantation from Africana Studies' digital collection for VR integration, and design technologically-relevant aspects of the student-driven VR research project. Taken together, this technologically-enhanced course and integrated research experience will help students critically evaluate the social relevance and ethics of VR, as well as the potential impartiality and bias involved in producing and engaging in VR content for research and leisure.