The role of virtual reality in preparing graduate students for community engagement

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Alshathri I, Ulla D P,Komlodi A, Wolff M, Schmitz H. The role of virtual reality in preparing graduate students for community engagement. Proc Assoc Inf Sci Technol. 2020;57:e328.


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Community engagement (CE) experiences in higher education have been shown to lead to greater student engagement and graduation rates. Students also develop learning, personal, and social competencies in the affective domain through CE activities (Simonet, Minnesota Campus Compact, 2008, 1, 1–13). Some of the CE programs are focused on addressing the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness. Typically, STEM students’ rates of CE participation lag behind those of students in other disciplines. The goal of this pilot study is to determine the effectiveness of virtual reality (VR) to change the attitudes of STEM graduate students towards homelessness and CE. Additionally, it aims to increase students’ awareness of the life experiences of people who are homeless and encourage them to participate in community‐based engagement. In this qualitative pilot study, we sought to explore the impact of both interactive VR applications and 360° documentaries on four STEM graduate students. The results suggest that the use of VR technology with STEM students not only changed their perception but is also feasible as a preparation tool for CE activities. The potential of this technology to change attitudes makes them useful tools to incorporate in CE preparation.