115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Using Virtual Reality to Illustrate Sense of Place for Student Personal Narratives

John Misak, New York Institute of Technology

An interactive presentation that illustrates how virtual reality can convey awareness and the importance of sense of place in personal narratives. Through audience participation and video presentation, attendees can visualize pedagogical strategies for using VR in classrooms to improve student understanding of narrative space.


Student personal narratives often suffer from a lack of sense of place. This comes from familiarity with the places of their story, as they clearly see the setting of their narrative in their memory. Often, they overlook the importance of transferring this to their reader. Digital media can help illustrate the importance of this narrative element, but falls short because of detachment.  This presentation will outline pedagogical methods of implementing virtual reality in the classroom to improve student awareness of narrative place. Rather than a straight reading of my paper on this topic, this presentation will be interactive, where participants can see firsthand how VR can illustrate sense of place, and the importance of having readers feel as though they are within the story. Using videos and a VR demonstration, attendees will get a chance to see the practice at work.

Though movies and videos can depict a writer’s vision, audiences remain detached from the experience and only see in an unnatural 2D presentation on a flat screen. Readers envision a writer’s words in full 3D, and, thus, traditional visual media fails to replicate this effectively. As Marie-Laure Ryan states, “In VR we act within a [narrative] world and experience it from the inside…” (2015) VR allows the viewer to fully experience an environment, and consequently, become aware of the importance of sense of place. What is seen through the VR headset more directly mimics the imagination of both the writer and reader. This practice can allow a dynamic transfer in the writing process like what Hogan Hayes, Donna Ferris, and Carl Whithaus outline (2016) and addresses the concerns that “learning acquired in one context seemingly evaporates when the learner is asked to apply it in another…” (Brent 2012) Whereas several roadblocks exist to the transfer of knowledge from the composition classroom (Nelms and Dively 2007) VR exercises can circumvent them. Through VR, students engage in the familiar exercises of playing games and imagining, enabling a better transfer of this understanding of narrative place because of this familiarity.

Volunteer participants will use the VR setup as the audience watches on the projection screen. This will have two purposes; first, the volunteer will experience VR and how it places the viewer/player in an environment, noting the importance of their surroundings as they pertain to the game. Second, the remainder of the audience will see a 2D version, which will illustrate the difference between a traditional movie/game experience and the VR version. This compares to a narrative that has a fleshed-out setting versus one that lacks a physical and emotional sense of place.

The five-minute demonstration will lead to an explanation of how this VR experience can help students become more aware of the importance of giving their readers a sense of place in their personal narratives. The demonstration illustrates how VR games give a more immersive experience than a traditional game, offering more details in setting, and this can transfer to writing. By allowing readers to ‘be there’ in a personal narrative, student writers can more effectively convey their story. Attendees will learn specific pedagogical strategies that have worked to help students utilize what they learned in using VR to help their readers visualize their writing. This practice can help students improve their work across disciplines, as the importance of readers seeing and experiencing what the author intends translates to nearly all forms of writing.

This work intends to expand on the emerging research on VR and augmented reality in the classroom, where new technologies combine with traditional teaching methods to create interactive spaces where students can obtain a better understanding of the elements of writing.