Virtual reality event celebrates arts and humanities day of LAS Week


Students view southern France through virtual reality headsets in a demonstration hosted by the Department of World Languages and Cultures.

Quinn Vandenberg

The Department of World Languages and Cultures hosted a “Virtual Reality and Real Snacks” reception as part of LAS Week in Pearson Hall on Thursday.

Ambassadors and faculty from the Department of World Languages and Cultures wore Liberal Arts and Sciences Week t-shirts while they greeted students to the event with branded pins.

Students in the college served eclairs to attendees and explained how the department uses virtual and augmented reality as learning tools for students.

Susan McNicholl is an outreach and events specialist and program assistant for the Department of World Languages and Culture.

“In world languages we’re kind of unique because we have a lot of different facets to our department,” McNicholl said. “We’ve got the languages, obviously. We’ve got anthropology. We’ve got a lot of interdisciplinary studies.”

Attendees were then seated in swivel chairs and given headsets to view a virtual reality tour of southwestern France.

Jacob Larsen, program coordinator for World Languages and Cultures, is the director of the Language Studies Research Center. He guided students through the tour and explained significant cultural sites as students viewed them.

Larsen has worked to integrate virtual reality into the department. With enough headsets to support 35 students, World Languages and Cultures can provide students with pre-made virtual tours abroad and teach them to make their own.

The virtual reality system has already been used by lecturer of World Languages and Cultures, James Nemiroff in the Spanish for global professionals course. For the class, students gave presentations about different countries in Latin America and, as part of their presentations, students created tours about their countries in Google Expedition.

At the virtual reality event Larsen described how students in the course could choose points of interest of a foreign country through the system’s street view images and designate them for discussion during their presentations.

“One of the advantages of this is also that not everyone has the chance to travel abroad, so it puts students in a more immersive environment right in the classroom,” Larsen said.

Larsen said the department has a 360-degree view camera that teachers and students can use abroad to create footage for students on campus. This footage can be used for new virtual reality students and prepare future students for what they might see when traveling to different countries.

Following the virtual reality tour, attendees were taken to view the department’s augmented reality tools.

While virtual reality uses a headset to completely immerse a participant’s vision in a digital landscape, augmented reality uses a device camera to add digital additions to the participants present view.

For Thursday’s demonstration, participants pointed a phone camera at a poster of the Smolny Convent in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The camera recognized the poster and provided digital files explaining the cultural context of the cathedral.

These files included a video of a student speaking on the Smolny Convent, a photograph of the site and an audio recording of a Russian choir.

Jonathan Landeros, senior in anthropology, helped create Thursday’s augmented reality presentation of the Smolny Convent. He said he helped integrate the audio and video files into the presentation and that process took him no more than 30 minutes.

Landeros said the augmented reality system can be used to help give presentations. Augmented reality posters can be put up around a classroom and students can use their phones to interact with the posters, watch a creator’s lecture and view supplementary resources.

The event occurred as part of Iowa State’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Week. Thursday was designated to events celebrating the schools of arts and humanities.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will end LAS Week with “Social Sciences Day” on Friday.