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COMM 166/266: Virtual People (2021)

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About the Class

In 2021, 263 students, all with their own VR headsets, across 20 weeks and two courses, spent over 200,000 shared minutes together in the Metaverse. They engaged in large group field trips, small group discussions, performed live music and skits, and worked both alone and together to build their own virtual worlds.

Below you will find the course syllabus used for Virtual People, with all relevant materials provided via hyperlinks displayed in red text.


Communication 166/266:Virtual People


Autumn 2021


Jeremy Bailenson

Course Overview

Virtual Reality is becoming mainstream, with more than ten million systems being used in the United States alone. This class examines VR from the viewpoint of various disciplines, including popular culture, engineering, behavioral science, and communication. Each student will receive an Oculus Quest 2 headset, and the bulk of our learning will occur while immersed in VR.

Course Structure

Each week will follow roughly the same structure:

  • Readings must be finished by Tuesday, 5pm PST. Students will turn in a one-page response paper related to the readings each week. This response paper will include at least one question about the content of the reading for that week in bold
  • We will typically use Wednesday’s lecture time (9:45am–11:15am) in different ways. Sometimes we will have individual VR experiences (e.g., watch 360-degree videos) and then invite the creator of the content for an interview. Other times we will synchronously enter VR together (e.g., sit in on a meditation class in AltspaceVR).
  • During Friday’s lecture time (9:45am–11:15am), typically a synchronous student panel will discuss the readings with Professor Bailenson while the rest of the class observes.
  • Discussion sections will occur in VR each week using the ENGAGE platform, on Mondays and Tuesdays before 1pm. Students will receive a short quiz covering all of the prior activities from the week (e.g., readings, VR activities, student panels, and discussion section) which will be released at 1pm and is due at 9:45am on Wednesdays (at the start of class).

Required Readings

Each week’s reading assignment will consist of selected chapters from two books which were written specifically as textbooks for this course—Experience on Demand, and Infinite Reality. Some weeks will also include additional readings and videos.


Canvas is the platform we will be using for coursework submissions. All course information (i.e. course readings, quizzes) can be found on Canvas. 

Course Structure and Student Evaluation

Evaluation in this course is a combination of the following:

15%         Participation in Student Panels [Zoom]

24%         Quizzes (x8 @ 3% each) [Canvas]

20%         Discussion Section participation [VR]

15%         VR Journeys (Documented by Screenshots)  [VR/Canvas]

20%         Response Papers [Canvas]

06%         Built VR Scene in ENGAGE [VR / Canvas]

Student Panels ​

All students will be required to join one of the student panels via Zoom during the quarter. Each panel will consist of approximately 10 pairs of students who will discuss the reading with Professor Bailenson. Students will choose one date for which they will be a panelist and prepare questions, ideas, and topics for the panel. These sessions will be observed by the rest of the class, and will also be recorded. Content from the panels, including new content, will be testable and on quizzes. Pairs should expect to work together on Zoom prior to the panel.


Each week there will be a quiz covering the material. The quizzes will be short, and can be taken between Tuesday 1pm and Wednesday at 9:45am. Once a student begins the quiz, they will have 20 minutes to complete it. Quizzes will be made up of approximately 10 multiple choice items and one short answer question. If a student encounters technical difficulties while taking the quiz, they can request a second attempt. The quiz window is a hard deadline: unless there is an OAE exception, students will not receive extensions on quizzes. At the quarter’s end, the student’s lowest quiz grade will be dropped, and their quiz grade will be calculated using the average from the remaining seven quizzes.

Discussion Section Participation

Students must attend sections using their headsets via the ENGAGE platform, and be prepared to participate actively. This means having read and thought about course content prior to section, and being prepared to describe key points, arguments, and questions. You will be called on to do so, and evaluated on the quality of your contributions. Discussions will start promptly on time. Please show up on time and in your appropriate section. If you cannot make it to your discussion section for any reason, please notify both your section TA and the TA of the section you plan on attending instead. At the end of each section, students will be asked to fill out a brief survey – in order to receive credit for attending and actively participating, students must complete these surveys. We will be checking attendance rolls and survey completion.

VR Journeys

We will be doing many different activities in VR, and it is critical that everyone participate in these journeys. These journeys will typically take about one hour. Students will turn in a screenshot documenting their participation in the journeys by 9:45am PST on Friday for asynchronous VR journeys, and by 5pm PST on Friday for synchronous journeys taking place during lecture time.


Response Papers

Each student will turn in a one-page (300 – 500-word) response to the readings each week. Response papers should be submitted by 5pm PST on Tuesday and will cover the readings for the rest of the week. Response papers are intended to build on the reading, not summarize them. For example, one might suggest a new VR application based on the week’s topic, discuss the ethics of VR, or apply the readings to current events in the world. In addition, students should ask one response question about the reading at the bottom of the paper in bold typeface. This question needs also to be submitted separately on Canvas to be shared with other students. Submitting this question to its separate thread is necessary to receive full credit for weekly responses papers.

Built VR Scene in ENGAGE

In the sixth week of the course, there will be no readings, student panels, or quizzes. Instead, each student will focus on building their own VR scene using the .IFXSNAP “Snapshot” capture tool in ENGAGE. Those who are familiar with programming can build interactive demos using the scripting language in ENGAGE. Those not familiar with programming can use the menu-driven IFX commands to create a scene and save it as an .IFXSNAP file. We will talk about the goals of the VR demos for each student in office hours during the sixth week. The final scenes will be presented to the class during the last Friday lecture time (Week 10).

Weekly Schedule

Week 1) How does VR work?

  • Reading: Experience on Demand, Chapter 10; Infinite Reality, Chapter 3
  • Wednesday Lecture: Course Introduction (Zoom) & How to Use the Quest 2
  • Friday VR Journey: Full Class Meeting in ENGAGE (VR) & VR ‘Scavenger Hunt’

Week 2) Presence.

Week 3) Education.

Week 4) Avatars.

  • Discussion Sections: ENGAGE Art Critique from Museum trip (VR)
  • Reading: EoD, Chapter 7; IR, Chapter 4; Herrera, Oh, & Bailenson, 2020
  • Wednesday VR Journey: Build an avatar different from you, Full class Meeting in ENGAGE
  • Friday Panel: Student Panel on Avatars (Zoom)
  • Assignment: Group Performances in VR

Week 5) Empathy.

Week 6) Build Something!

  • Discussion Sections: Empathy & VR, What to Build This Week (VR)
  • No Readings, Student Panels, or Quizzes. All efforts will go towards building a room in ENGAGE, including during course time where the Prof and TAs can assist

Week 7) Medical.

Week 8) Climate Change.

Week 9) Sports Training.

  • Discussion Sections: Climate Change and VR (VR)
  • Reading: EoD, Chapter 1
  • Wednesday VR Journey: Asynchronous VR: Football, Soccer, Golf, Skiing, and Basketball; Continue work on Built VR Projects in ENGAGE (VR)
  • Friday Panel: Student Panel with Trent Edwards (Zoom)

Week 10) Future of VR / Accessibility.

  • Discussion Sections: ENGAGE discussion on Other Training use Cases (VR)
  • Reading: IR, Chapter 9, 11, and 14, Mott et al. 2019Mott et al. 2020
  • Wednesday Panel: Student Panel with Dr. Martez Mott (Zoom)
  • Friday VR Journey: Full Class Presentations of Built Worlds in ENGAGE (VR)

Special Thanks

Special Thanks to the members of our teaching team: Brian Beams, Cyan Deveaux, Daniel Akselrad, Eugy Han, Hanseul Jun, Mark Roman Miller, Mark York, and Tobin Asher.

Never in the history of VR have so few worked so hard to bring you so much in so little time.