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SFU students use virtual reality to address real-world problems

June 26, 2019

By Tessa Perkins Deneault

SFU’s ground-breaking, interdisciplinary Semester in Alternate Realities brought together 18 students from across the university to create virtual reality experiences that address real-world problems such as climate change, mental health, data privacy, and the global refugee crisis.

Their third and final virtual reality student showcase, held on April 4 at the Surrey campus, was the culmination of an intense, 13-week, full-time course in which  they were immersed in an iterative, agile and reflective teaching and learning environment.

In teams organized around common interests, the students created distinct yet interconnected virtual reality experiences related to improving the social and environmental condition by not only drawing awareness to important issues, but also providing unique, immersive, first-person experiences.

In Fit4U, participants are surprised to discover their workout session has been used as a way to farm their personal data; Aquatica shows users a potential future of plastic-filled oceans; Seige explores mental health, loneliness and the importance of strong relationships; and in Narrow Walls, users finds themselves in the back of a cargo truck with fellow refugees trying to escape reality.

Hosted by the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology, the Semester in Alternate Realities is a first-of-its-kind course taught by Bernhard Riecke and Patrick Pennefather. More details about the unique teaching environment can be found here.