Shenandoah University hosted what is believed to be the world’s first virtual reality collegiate debate tournament in mid-November, according to Assistant Professor of Media & Communication Matt Corr, Ph.D.
“It is not surprising that we are the first.”
Dr. Corr said he and Shenandoah Center for Immersive Learning (SCiL) XR Developer Wes Brown (shown above) developed the virtual debate stage. Developing the virtual stage, which is a replica of Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre, took a year.
“Wes and I have created a unique, completely synthetic (VR) debate stage with multiplayer functionality,” Corr said. “It is not surprising that we are the first. The technology is so new and most of what is being created is targeted toward the gaming community.”
The VR tournament, with its eight participants, was part of a larger, traditional debate tournament. Forty students from five schools competed at the larger tournament. All the VR debaters were from either Shenandoah or Slippery Rock universities. Shenandoah sophomore Carley Christensen took first place in the VR debate.
One VR Project Inspires Another
Corr said he and Brown developed the virtual debate stage after working with Professor of History Warren Hofstra, Ph.D., on a Constitutional Convention VR project through SCiL. And, knowing that many U.S. schools can’t afford a debate program, Corr had an idea. “A VR debate league allows these schools access to the forms and functions of debate,” he said.
“While this [November’s] debate was localized, the technology is designed to work from a distance. Applications include being able to host structured debate tournaments with participants all over the world. Formats range from competitive collegiate debate to more open discussion about policy and values. We have also begun experimenting with debating from/as different demographics,” he said. That means a participant could run an argument as any race or gender and see if variation or bias appears in scoring. “Applications are vast,” Corr said.
No plans are yet set for another tournament. However, when another tournament occurs, it will include participants from different schools at a distance, Corr said.