Oxford students explore Ancient Rome in Virtual Reality

Dr Christina Kuhn recently introduced Virtual Reality (VR) teaching to Ancient History students in the Humanities Division at Oxford. Student feedback was positive throughout: they agreed that unlike most visual media, VR really brought the past to life.

Last week six pioneering LMH students of Ancient History set out to explore the ground-breaking new technology of virtual reality (VR) in the classroom. The teaching session was led by Dr Christina Kuhn, Tutorial Fellow and Associate Professor in Ancient History at Lady Margaret Hall and the Oxford Classics Faculty. She was supported by the University’s Learning Technologists from Academic IT who helped with the planning of the session and the smooth running of the technology. It was the first time that virtual reality was brought into the classroom of a Humanities subject at Oxford.

Students at Lady Margaret Hall wearing VR headsets to explore Ancient Rome in their History class

Students handling objects with the help of VR headsets and QR cubes.

Dr Kuhn’s lecture dealt with Ancient Rome and, in particular, the history of one of its most spectacular monuments, the Colosseum. Embedded in the lecture were several fully immersive virtual reality experiences, which the students explored with the help of the University’s brand-new virtual reality headset kit, ClassVR. The group was treated to different historical VR contents, ranging from 360° pictures, a 360° educational video to 3D objects and reconstructions of ancient buildings. Virtual reality allowed the students to be part of a gladiatorial combat while standing in the arena of the Colosseum, to study the topography of ancient Rome from a unique 3D bird’s eye view and to handle 3D objects otherwise locked behind the displays of museums.

The aim of this first trial session was to test out virtual reality in a university teaching context and to assess to what extent the students’ learning experience and understanding of a historical topic can be enhanced by providing them with fully immersive experiences. After the lecture, the students commented on the educational benefit of virtual reality: “it really brought the past to life in a way that usually static reconstructions in other visual media do not, and I don’t think, even could”; “an engaging and exciting opportunity, which provided a memorable and enhanced understanding of the atmosphere, political culture and ordinary life experience of Ancient Rome.” The session was rounded off by a short presentation by Mr Richard Smith from the Radcliffe Science Library and VR and AR Oxford Hub, who outlined the existing facilities and resources of virtual reality at Oxford.

“Now that we know that the new technology is working smoothly in a traditional teaching context, we look forward to exploring its potential as an extra tool in teaching, outreach and research more widely”, Dr Kuhn commented on this first trial session.


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