DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > Students connect in virtual reality
By Kristin Claes Mathews /
February 9, 2021 /
Posted in: CAMPUS AND COMMUNITY /
“It really blocks out everything that's around you, and it does feel like you're with other people in there,” says DePaul student Ethan Ament.
During a time when many people are craving connection and a change of scenery, Bree McEwan, an associate professor in the College of Communication, is helping her students, including Ament, connect using virtual reality or VR.
Pivot and deliver
Before the pandemic, McEwan and her colleague, Paul Booth, received an innovation grant from DePaul to launch the Virtual and Augmented Reality in Communication Lab. When the pandemic led to new restrictions, they pivoted to offer the VR experience to freshmen. McEwan dropped off headsets to many of her 23 first-year students in Chicagoland, and they shipped the rest to those living out of state.
“We are at a point where students want to start thinking about communication processes and virtual reality. They want to start thinking about how it applies to their careers,” McEwan says. The class wore the headsets to gather in a virtual reality classroom where they created their own avatars, viewed PowerPoints and other media, and interacted with each other.
For first-year student Tessyi Dewhurst, virtual reality intersects with her career plans. “We covered a lot of topics involving how VR is changing our society, and how inventors are pushing the bounds and limitations, which I thought was very interesting,” Dewhurst says. A screenwriting major from Colorado, Dewhurst dreams about writing scripts for movies and games in VR. “I had a blast playing around with the headset,” she says.
“We were able to go to those places through VR. People took pictures and turned them into 3D spaces. It let you go to those places and experience it more than looking at a 2D picture and reading a caption,” Ament says.
The Discover Chicago class made Ament even more eager to get to campus. He has family in Chicago and is a huge White Sox fan.
“I’m ready to go out there and go to those games,” he says.
Communication research potential
Plans for the VARC lab live on. McEwan and Booth envision a space for College of Communication students and faculty to experience VR/AR technology firsthand and to explore how these tools affect society, culture, media and interpersonal relationships.
“What’s really versatile about VR is you can study it from all sorts of different perspectives,” Booth says.
For more information the VARC lab, visit