When virtual reality headsets hit the market in 2016 I was eager to explore their potential role in design education. But to be honest, I also worried that VR could become a blindfold if left to its own devices—a whiz bang environment that could easily distract my students from the very real consequences of their design decisions. I wanted VR headsets to become more than just the next cool way for my students to present a project. I needed to go deeper. . . I needed to develop tools and strategies that connect the novelty of VR to the virtues of our discipline. . . to Human Centered Design. . . to Experiential Learning. . . to Evidence-Based Solutions. In this presentation I will share three values-driven approaches I developed to meaningfully employ VR in interior design education:
Approach 1: Virtually put students into the “Shoes of Others” to assess their design solutions. My first strategy for VR virtually placed students into the “shoes of others” to better evaluate their evolving design solutions. How would students change their studio projects after visiting their space in a wheelchair, with low vision, or even as a child? I worked some amazing student volunteers from UF’s computer science program to develop and code virtual characters to inhabit the 3D files my students were already producing in studio. We designed a virtual wheelchair using Oculus Rift Touch Controllers which allowed students to grip the virtual wheels to propel and steer the chair. We also created a series of low vision characters that simulate everything from cataracts and macular degeneration to glaucoma and color blindness.
Approach 2: Create immersive VR case studies of cutting-edge spaces for use in class.
My second strategy employed VR to immerse students into experiential case studies of cutting edge interior spaces. For example, I was invited by ASID to create a virtual tour of their D.C. headquarters. I wanted students to drill down deeper into the design principles operating under the hood of the space; therefore, I ensured learning content was integrated in every room of the tour. I have made seven immersive case studies to date which are great for “virtual field trips” during lecture and as an online resource for students.
Approach 3: Map out the limitations of VR to increase its validity for evidence-based design.
Using virtual reality to conduct evidence-based research in environments that have yet to be built is compelling. While some things translate well between virtual and real worlds, some things never will. For my third strategy I am conducting experimental research to map out the limitations of VR for simulating reality. Where can we safely employ VR for research and where is it best avoided? By comparing differences in human perception between real and virtual worlds we can maximize the validity of using VR to research the built environment.