Dr Eugene Ohu, a faculty at Lagos Business School (LBS), has won a grant of $234,000 from Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc (TWCF) to conduct two-year virtual reality research.
The research project titled “Teaching Children Empathy and Compassion through Virtual Reality Games” will explore the potentials of virtual reality (VR) for character development. The grant was awarded under TWCF’s Global Innovations for Character Development (GICD) initiative.
Dr Ohu runs a Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Lab at Lagos Business School, where he explores the implications of the immersive, interactive and perspective-taking characteristics of technologies like computers, mobile devices and virtual reality (VR) for character development, learning, behaviour modification, wellbeing and productivity.
The TWCF funded two-year intervention and research project seek ways to grow the character traits of empathy and compassion in a diverse society like Nigeria, where there are multiple expressions of religious, cultural, social and economic identities.
Targeting an initial group of teenagers, who make up more than 60 percent of Nigeria’s population, the study hopes to explore the perspective-taking capabilities of VR to increase understanding for the identities of others different from ourselves.
Speaking on the research project, Dr Ohu said “It will be an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience where teenagers take the perspectives of ethnic groups different from theirs, to appreciate their identity and share in their sufferings. We also hope to train teachers at the study schools on the new VR teaching models, so as to incorporate them into the Civics and Social Studies curriculum of secondary schools”
Immersive VR is computer-generated environments where users experience a digital version of the real world where they can interact with objects and other people. It offers an opportunity to create a more personalised and engaging experience for learners.
Dr Ohu added, “Although VR is fun, my research collaborators and I have broader and more ambitious goals which should see the greater deployment of VR in teaching, learning and development at all stages of a person’s life. I particularly want to see it deployed as a complementary learning resource in training at the Lagos Business School”.
Virtual Reality is considered by many to be the biggest thing after the internet, and its use is predicted to increase in the coming years. It is therefore imperative that stakeholders in character development and education take steps to understand the benefits of VR, and beyond academics, to teaching cultural competencies in today’s interconnected, global society.
Other collaborators in the project include Judith Okonkwo, founder of Imisi3D, an Extended Reality creation lab in Yaba, Lagos, and Prof. Karen Schrier, a digital games expert at Marist College, USA.