Using Virtual Reality to Fight Fake News

Academic librarian proposes new approaches to information literacy instruction

January 26, 2020

Felicia Smith
Felicia Smith, head of learning and outreach at Stanford University Libraries. Photo: Rebecca Lomax/American Libraries

A stranger offers you a drink. Is it coming from a predator in a nightclub or a uniformed nurse in a hospital? Which drink are you more likely to accept? Does the answer change if you can see the outstretched arm right in front of you?

In a January 25 session at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting, Felicia Smith, head of learning and outreach at Stanford University Libraries, described how these types of real-life scenarios can help teach critical evaluation skills. Her recent research focuses on the potential of virtual reality (VR) to help drive that message home.

Smith is not a VR expert, but she is an authority when it comes to emerging technology and its uses in the library. When the online virtual world Second Life came out in the early 2000s, she saw an opportunity for libraries to engage students in a dynamic learning process (she detailed those activities and other active-learning techniques in the 2011 book Cybrarian Extraordinaire). There’s similar potential with VR, she says.

“Learning should be fun,” Smith said. “Our world has changed so dramatically since the 19th century, from telephones to transportation. Classrooms are pretty much the same: a chalkboard and rows of chairs facing the teacher. We’ve got to try and do better.”

Smith’s presentation focused on some of the nuts and bolts of creating a virtual reality program, laying out the costs of working with a designer and a producer, developing a game design strategy, and the technology you need to pull it off. She also invited attendees to share their experiences with virtual reality in other contexts.

Andrew See, head of user services and experience at Northern Arizona University Cline Library, described an app the university created, now embedded in the curriculum, to help teach chemistry with VR, allowing students to put molecules together and watch them react in real time. Other attendees spoke of introducing seniors to VR to fight memory loss and using immersive technology in hospitals and hospices to build empathy.


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