The responsible development of XR technology requires a diverse community of voices to help build it. To celebrate the limitless number of perspectives in the XR industry, the XR Association sat down with Dr. Muhsinah Morris, the Director of Morehouse in the Metaverse and an Assistant Professor at Morehouse College. Dr. Morris is also a member of XRA’s Future of XR Advisory Council (XRAC).
Below is an excerpt of the interview with Dr. Morris, which has been edited slightly for brevity and clarity.
1. We’re interested in your XR story. How did you come to have this fantastic position that you have right now?
I had wonderful parents, [who were] blue collar workers. My mom was a stay at home mom / entrepreneur / just a really creative person. I had parents who really stressed education.
My dad is an army vet and he worked in telecoms. He worked for Southern Belle, which became BellSouth and is now AT&T. He worked there for 30 years and retired. He was always on the cutting edge of technology.
Our first [computer] was the Commodore 64 so I was a little ‘gamer girl’.
My older brother had meningitis at the age of four and that left him brain damaged, which started this intuitive part of me, this compassionate part of me, this very empathetic part of me, this part of me that wants to solve problems to save the world. And so, being a chemist, really fed that part of my soul.
So for me, it was a combination of things. I had this technological side and then I had this very curious, scientific discovery type of side and then there was a part of me that was creative.
2. Tell us about using XR in the classroom.
I’m an analytical chemist by training. The instrumentation that we use typically came with some software, where we had to do some low coding, or reworking of the system using computers and fancy portals. I was the person that always liked to work with the instruments.
I made sure in my classroom we always had good technology — I wrote grants so we could have lab simulations or do 3D printing.
My fourth son has autism. I’m a big advocate in the community and neurodiversity is the lens through which I look at everything. A lot of my college students come and they have diagnoses as well and need support and differentiation of instruction. And so using technology to do that has always been powerful. That led me to using virtual reality.
Using virtual reality [in the classroom] happened in the summer of 2020 in my upward-bound math science courses. Students were sick of being on Zoom. I knew virtual reality was the next wave where education could possibly go.
For this program, we brainstormed. We found a company called VictoryXR. He had everything already put to the standards for high school students, which is really important. The students enjoyed it because they weren’t sitting in front of the computer.
3. What is your teaching philosophy?
The way learning happens for people is so different. I want to make sure that I am fully present to capture that for my students. I believe that all learning is possible, no matter what the subject is. It takes a savvy educator to impart information to students in a way that they can fully understand. I don’t believe people are limited by [the thought] that a subject matter is too hard. You have to meet students where they are.
One of my teaching philosophies is building a rapport with my students before I ask them to perform. That’s really important to me because I want them to know that I see them. I want them to know that I hear them, that I see the struggle, that I’ve been a part of that struggle, and that I’ve overcome some parts of it.
[In my role as the Director of Morehouse in the Metaverse], I have full freedom to incorporate everything I learned across all disciplines and look at the metaverse as a whole and figure out how we can develop creators in this space. I’m super, super excited for this new challenge.
4. Do you have a story about a student that you can highlight?
I use the name John for this student, for his anonymity. He was not performing well in his dual degree engineering and physics. He was the kind of kid that it always came naturally for him to learn, but he did have some learning disabilities. He had a stammer.
A lot of times, people end up writing him off. One day he basically asked me if he could change his major. He said ‘I heard that you are a wonderful mentor, and that you believe in students when people don’t believe in them.’ And in that moment, I took him under my wing.
He just so happened to take my class, which was in virtual reality, an Advanced and Inorganic Chemistry class. More recently, he said to me that he never saw himself crossing the stage to graduate.
And he said, when we put him in a headset, he was his avatar. It totally changed the way he interacted. He became less anxious. I saw improvement in his grades. I just saw him blossom. He graduated on time.
He said to me ‘I really didn’t understand it and then you took us to space, and we were making molecules in space.’ He said ‘It makes so much more sense as to why we do chemistry, the way that we do.’
That’s my heartfelt story of how technologies helped one student — and it’s helped so many more.