A Morehouse College class will teach black history in the Metaverse

A Morehouse College class will teach black history in the Metaverse

This spring, Ovell Hamilton, a professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, will guide students through a one-of-a-kind course in which black history is taught entirely through the Metaverse, a 3D virtual space where people can interact. with each other using avatars.

During the lesson, students will don virtual reality headsets to see firsthand the brutal reality of enslaved Africans lying on top of each other in a slave ship and see a slave standing on the edge of the ship, facing the harrowing choice between life in bondage or freedom in death.

“It definitely brings up feelings of grief,” said Morehouse sophomore Jerad Evan Young, 41, who is black and majors in film, television and emerging media studies. He virtually visited the Underground Railroad and a slave ship in Hamilton’s world history classroom. “Plus, there’s a sense of pride because not everyone survived the slave trade. You know, you really had to be a strong person. So that let me know that my ancestors were strong enough to last that grueling journey across the sea.”

A virtual slave ship used in a class at Morehouse College.
The depiction of a slave ship in the Metaverse used in a class at Morehouse College.Morehouse College

When Morehouse College made history by launching its first class into the Metaverse last spring, Hamilton was one of 11 professors teaching students how to use virtual reality technology. In partnership with VR tech company VictoryXR, Hamilton is creating its first full course in the Black History metaverse. Through the Metaverse, students can experience what it was like to attend Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 in Washington, or see the Little Rock Nine as they entered high school entirely white from Arkansas. in 1957. They can also visit a slave ship.

The new course, titled “History of the African Diaspora since 1800,” falls under the Virtual Reality Project, which uses virtual reality to teach black history while fostering a sense of community. Inspired by “Journey for Civil Rights,” a black history course Hamilton taught in the spring through VictoryXR separately from college, his new course will begin from the Haitian Revolution leading into the civil rights movement.

It will use much of the same content to recreate important moments and artifacts from black history, including the slave ship La Amistad, the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (where King preached), and battlefields where the students can see black soldiers during the civil and world war. War I. Teaching students in the Metaverse, he adds, gives his students a better understanding of the material he teaches while making them more engaged and excited to learn.

Martin Luther King Jr. greets supporters at the mall during the
In a new class taught in the Metaverse, students will be able to virtually experience Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. AFP via Getty Images

“It’s an experience they wouldn’t have if they were sitting in a classroom, if they were sitting in a conference,” Hamilton said. “When you go out there and see the bottom of a slave ship, see the slaves piled up together…you’ll have a new appreciation and you’ll have a better knowledge of how events unfolded.”

Using 3D authoring tools, Hamilton has created worlds to teach his curriculum in the Metaverse, such as Dinosaur Island, a virtual world he designed where students can see dinosaurs and a primitive landscape “to see the real experience “, did he declare. Hamilton says he also took students to the Roman Colosseum and other landscapes in times like the Middle Ages.

Ovell Hamilton, professor of history at Morehouse College.
Ovell Hamilton, professor of history at Morehouse College.Courtesy of Ovell Hamilton

Kade Davis, 18, a first-year sociology student who is also taking Hamilton’s world history class, said the metaverse allows him to engage with others and “join different rooms to see what other people are talking about. Classes”. He also said that one of the experiences the metaverse has given him is the ability to travel, such as in the Mayan pyramids of Mexico.

The students saw “every part of the pyramid,” Davis said, and were able to ask questions about what they saw. “It was awesome to see that…like, outside of a textbook and being able to articulate and immerse yourself in the environment and learn more about it,” he added.

Muhsinah Morris, assistant professor of chemistry at Morehouse and director of the virtual reality project, said the initiative was introduced in autumn 2020 to counter the growing number of students dropping out after classes fully transitioned to the distance learning. Determined to find an innovative way to engage students, Morehouse partnered with VictoryXR to help teach classes on a virtual “metaversity” campus.

“In the traditional classroom setting…we can’t all just be transported to the Great Wall of China or back in time or into some futuristic event,” Morris said. “You can do it in virtual reality.”

Muhsinah Morris, Ph.D, Virtual Reality Project Director at Morehouse College.
Muhsinah Morris is the Virtual Reality Project Manager at Morehouse College.Muhsinah Morris

Morehouse College offers 10 courses in the Metaverse on topics in the departments of Journalism, English, Biology, Sociology and more. Since its launch, nearly 500 students have taken classes under the program, with more than 170 students enrolled in the current fall semester. In addition to taking courses on the Metaverse, students also participate in hands-on training to develop real-time 3D worlds through authoring tools called Unity and Unreal Engine.

Morris said the goal of the program was to “overcome 20 generations of what could not be”.

“Young black men and black people in America for 20 generations have been prevented from getting an education,” said Morris, whose husband and two sons work in technology. “And the only thing that I think can overcome those 20 generations is to have ownership and autonomy in a space that pushes things forward technologically.”

While the metaverse serves as a unique learning environment, it also thrives as a regular communal space. In February, the college launched “Meditation Mondays,” so students could meet in the metaverse and talk about the “issues that were tormenting them,” she said. The university also hosted a series of other events in the metaverse, including an annual gala and launch event.

Morehouse College students attending a
Morehouse College students attending a “Meditation Mondays” event in Metaverse space.Morehouse College

Young said the Metaverse offers a sense of community.

“I had the chance to interact with everyone in class and get to know people,” Young said. “My other brothers, I used to see them on the quad, and they were like, ‘Hey Evan,’ and I’m like, ‘What?'” Once he learned their names, Young realized that they were already encountered – in the metaverse.

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