Teaching Virtual Reality in the Humanities: Hands-on Pedagogies for Embodied Learning (Richard Graham)
Richard Graham is a Lecturer in Contemporary Literature and the Digital at the University of Birmingham. He has recently finished writing a monograph, titled Unimaginable Communities, which investigates how to analyse dynamic digital technologies, such as Google’s search engine, from a humanities perspective. Richard’s most recent publication explores Google’s role in the dissemination of fake news and the changing nature of work and digital labour: “Google and Advertising: Digital Capitalism in the Context of Post-Fordism, the Reification of Language, and the Rise of Fake News”.
Richard currently convenes and teaches modules on digital culture and contemporary issues, the history and philosophy of technology, videogames, and speculative literature and film. At the University of Birmingham, Richard leads the practical teaching of VR and videogames to English students in workshops and tutorials at all levels of undergraduate study. He is currently working on a collaborative project that investigates international examples of best practice of teaching of digital culture in higher education. The project includes an edited collection and series of interviews with international scholars focusing on the challenges and opportunities that teaching digital culture generates for traditional humanities pedagogies.
This paper explores recent changes in humanities pedagogy within an increasingly digital environment. I use a case study of how to incorporate practical hands-on sessions of Virtual Reality (VR) within existing undergraduate teaching. This paper examines how we can teach VR within English degree programmes and highlights the wider opportunities and challenges that such pedagogical activities raise. I reflect on the following questions:
- When teaching practical sessions of VR, alongside theoretical approaches, creative responses, and contemporary issues, how can we establish a learning environment that facilitates nuanced and critical student engagement?
- How can VR sessions productively build upon existing disciplinary approaches to interactive fiction, videogames and other dynamic texts?
- How might we introduce VR and other hands-on technology experiences into syllabi in a way that constructively aligns with learning outcomes, assessment and good pedagogical practice?
In response to these questions, I argue that every student has a different experience with VR, one that is affective, embodied and highly personal. Debates within literary studies regarding how students should negotiate between affective and critical modes within the classroom are not new. However, due to the media specific characteristics of VR, such experiences particularly implicate the ways in which students identify, in terms of gender, race, class, and disability. This paper explores how, rather than de-personalising and de-politicising these educational experiences, VR might provide us with an opportunity to empower the diversity within the classroom and challenge the separation between the educational development of students and the duty of care we have for their wellbeing.
This case study relates to VR sessions taught within English Literature modules focused on contemporary digital culture at the University of Birmingham. My central focus, therefore, is not only about establishing a robust pedagogical framework for VR, but also using the practical experiences of students to push back against current technological norms that often silence marginalised voices. In implicating students at a personal and affective level, practical VR sessions can address problematic topics such as virtual tourism, ableist design philosophies and heteronormative narratives, that often implicitly inform current technology design.
‘Everything that is said is said underneath’: gender, class and lyric subjectivity in the footnote poem (Kate Potts)
Through analysis of Jenny Boully’s 2007 work The Body: An Essay (Boulder: Essay Press) and through consideration of the creative utilisation of footnotes in my own poetry, this paper will explore the ways in which the footnote poem might facilitate a radical reconsideration and reworking of the gendered, classed body’s mediation and communication through the lyric ‘I’.
Boully’s The Body: An Essay consists entirely of footnotes to a non-existent text, engaging the reader in a confrontation with, and an imagining of, the ‘body’ implied by the blank space of the page. Subverting the conventional relationship of text and footnote in which the (central) text is augmented and given additional authority by the footnotes’ scaffolding, and challenging distinctions between poetic and academic discourse, Boully undertakes a Derridean deconstruction of the idea/ideal of a central, linear text. Boully’s footnotes navigate and explicitly comment on traditions and associations of the lyric ‘I’, and of the singular speaking subject; the work’s marginality is integral to its form, and the ‘I’ is nonunitary, hypertextual and – in terms of the ‘body’ of the text – radically absent.
Drawing on Beverly Skeggs’ analyses of class, value, and the singular subject and Gillian White’s Lyric Shame (Cambridge MA: Harvard, 2014) as well as Judith Butler, Rosi Braidotti, Boully’s The Body and my own sequence of footnote poems, Undersong, this paper works towards new considerations and constructions of lyric ‘authenticity’. It engages in nomadic thinking, inviting us, as Rosi Braidotti does, to ‘rethink the structures of the self by tackling the deeper conceptual roots of issues of identity.’
Framing Catastrophe: Turner’s Seascapes and the Ekphrastic Prose Poem (Patrick Wright)
This paper will investigate how ekphrasis (loosely defined as writing in response to images) might engage with prose poetry. I am interested in discussing, with reference to my own poems and my PhD research, how the shape and formal properties of a poem might relate to those of an image. More specifically, I am interested in how ekphrasis practice might be developed when working with artworks that are abstract or monochromatic, and how making use of this kind of image might lend itself to the prose poem. The latter is understood by Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton, among others, as a form that is recursive, circular, and lends itself to subjects such as trauma or disaster. Here I wish to make a case for the appropriateness of this form in my ekphrasis of seascapes – especially those by J.M.W. Turner from the 1840s – which likewise seem to picture catastrophe and contain it. In some of my recent poems, for instance, my ekphrasis stretches from one side of the page to the other, or the orientation of the page is landscape – mimicking or finding correspondence with the visual prompt. In addition to a dialogue between form and content, I will look at framing devices and the boundaries that govern both the poem and the image, and how these might correspond with or jar against each other. Finally, I will discuss Oulipo techniques and procedural verse, with the proposal that such approaches can provide an organising principle for the ekphrastic prose poem.