Feb 28, 2023 - News

Morehouse is teaching the first ever VR Black History class

Illustration of virtual reality (VR) headset in the spotlight

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

For the first time, you can take a Black History course inside the metaverse.

Driving the news: Morehouse College Professor Ovell Hamilton's "History of the African Diaspora Since 1800" is one of this semester's 13 virtual reality courses — part of Morehouse’s Virtual Reality Project.

  • "It's a total different experience than just sitting in a classroom lecture or on Zoom," Hamilton told Axios.

Why it matters: The Virtual Reality Project's manager and Morehouse professor, Muhsinah Morris told Axios the college was the first in the country to pursue a "metaversity" model.

Catch up quick: VR at Morehouse began in the fall of 2020, Morris says, as the school was "looking for ways to engage our remote students. The primary goal was to make sure they did not drop out of school."

  • And it worked, she says. In VR classes they saw no attendance drops and an improvement in student achievement.
  • "We made it, in their opinion, the magic school bus," she says. "A field trip."
Virtual reality slave ship
Aboard a virtual reality version of the Amistad slave ship in Professor Hamilton's class. Photo: Courtesy of Muhsinah Morris

The big picture: Hamilton told Axios that virtual reality helps deepen empathy when learning history and enables a new way of teaching. He decided to try it as a way to engage students because he saw them "getting bored and going to sleep in my classes."

  • He said as a professor it gives him "more tools to work with....You're cheating yourself right now if you don't use the metaverse [to teach]."

What they're saying: Evan Young, a sophomore in Hamilton's Black history course said experiencing things like a slave ship in virtual reality is "transformational. As an African American man it was a little hard to take, but it was necessary at the same time."

  • "I think that it's going to be the future as far as learning is concerned, not just at the college level but in K-12 too," Young said.

What's happening: Morris, a chemistry professor, hopes to expand the program to every discipline. Professors can pull existing lessons from their technology partner VictoryXR or create their own.

  • Hamilton, for example, created an "Underground Railroad" museum for students to explore.

The bottom line: "It's not that we gamify instruction," Morris said. "It's that we've learned to turn our 2-dimensional lesson plans into 3-dimensional experiences for our students."

  • "They're not just there to hear us talk, but they're there to experience something, to do something."
  • Morris herself said teaching in the metaverse has renewed her own energy and excitement about teaching. "It restored my joy….I was tired of teaching chemistry the same way."

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Atlanta.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Atlanta stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Atlanta.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more