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Blog 149

Blog 149

Experiences Are What Define us as Humans

Lora Appel

By Eva Peisachovich and Lora Appel

Imagine putting on a virtual reality (VR) headset and being immersed in the daily life at a refugee camp located across the ocean or experiencing a moment in a life of patient diagnosed with stroke.  This is one way the “CVRriculum Program,” a pilot project recently funded by an Academic Innovation Fund, focuses at embedding virtual reality as an experiential education medium to teach empathy and building essential human skills by raising awareness about important diversity issues, like accessibility.

While the wide scale adoption of information technologies have catapulted production and progress in all areas of society, including innovation in education, it has left in its wake some deficiencies, like gaps in communication, empathy, and the development of emotional intelligence.  Not only are these necessary for a healthy society, but these skills are a key component of success for our graduates, even more so for those in interpersonal career paths including Nursing and Social Work.

Because of its ability to stimulate our senses synchronously and create the illusion of reality, VR has been termed the “empathy machine”.  VR provides a visceral experience, which can deepen understanding of course material and introduce novel perspectives for students. Being able to embody the perspective of other groups such as colorblind, schizophrenic, or elderly individuals has shown to increase empathy and helping behaviours and decreased prejudice against outgroup members.

We are currently developing the CVRriculum elibrary which will house the films and scenarios aligned with the experiences that expose the need for empathy and help deepen emotional intelligence. The films and scenarios can be accessed remotely on the web, or for full immersiveness using VR head-mounted-displays; can be stand-alone or incorporated into existing courses and adapted to suit the context of various programs from Nursing to Architecture.

An elibrary that crowdsources the VR films will be accessible June 2021.

Moreover, the eLibrary will house a toolkit outlining how to introduce the CVRriculum program into courses and various teaching contexts to be accessed via a publicly available website.The pilot project enabled five faculty members to embed VR into their course as a replacement to a traditional assignment.  25 students used VR to create videos for use in virtual reality headsets.

Students have commented on their experiences:

“These videos offer viewers experiences that teach us to be more empathetic.”

“Using VR to create our project allowed us to work with my group in a more dynamic way.”

“VR is unique in that it allows students to experience education from a technological lens and learn the course material by an hands on approach.”

The applications of VR are endless and can include any interaction between people in which knowledge and skills are applied.

This is one example of a VR film which was created by students in Professor Celina Da Silva’s Nursing Leadership course.  The students mounted the film as a Youtube video that allows the viewer to “feel” the full experience of being a patient with a communicative disorder.

This experiential education innovation moves us closer to the goal of fostering pedagogical environments that facilitate students’ critical thinking and self-reflection and prepares graduates at York University to practice in complex and dynamic workplace environments.  For more information on CVRriculum or to implement it into your curricula visit: SimXSpace at

About the Authors

Dr. Peisachovich is an Associate Professor at the School of Nursing at York University. Her program of research involves exploring, developing and implementing pedagogies associated with simulation-based environments including simulated persons (SPs), Virtual Reality (VR), serious games, and eLearning to promote professional competence among students with in higher education milieus and their transition to the workplace

Dr. Lora Appel is an Assistant Professor of Health Informatics at the Faculty of Health at York University, and a Collaborative Scientist at OpenLab, and innovation centre housed at University Health Network, the largest medical research organization in Canada. She leads “Prescribing Virtual Reality (VRx)” a collection of studies that introduce and evaluate AR/VR/MR interventions for patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers. She received several grants from the Centre for Aging in Brain Health innovation to pursue this work in aging and dementia care. Her expertise is in applying design thinking and science methodologies to healthcare innovation; she is passionate about designing new technological interventions that provide care in the pursuit of a cure.