This summer, high school students in Billie Napoleon’s U.S. History class and Lori Nishiguchi’s Technology Explorations class participated in a Virtual Reality (VR) empathy study as part of Mid-Pacific’s partnership with Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

“The goals of the Immersive Technology Program at Mid-Pacific and Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) are one in the same,” says Mid-Pacific President Paul Turnbull. “With a common focus on using digital storytelling in virtual environments to study and celebrate the human experience, the Virtual Human Interaction Lab brings an invaluable research focus to our work as educators.”

“I believe non-gaming VR has the potential to offer unlimited educational applications for millions of students in the future,” continues Turnbull. “At Mid-Pacific, students are already using and creating VR experiences, putting them in a position of leadership for this exciting industry.”

“We are delighted to work with an institution as forward-thinking as Mid-Pacific,” says Elise Ogle, project manager at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab. “Our collaboration is invaluable in helping us share new virtual reality (VR) technology with people of all ages and of different backgrounds. Through this collaboration we are able to advance our scientific knowledge about the psychological and behavioral effects of VR and its use as a learning tool.”

Mid-Pacific students participated in Stanford’s Virtual Reality homeless simulation where they experienced the stages of becoming homeless starting with receiving an eviction notice. The purpose of the study is to determine the effects of the VR simulation and the development of empathy.

As part of the VR experience, students were asked to determine what possessions to sell in order to pay bills. They were then taken through a series of events that lead to living in a car and eventually riding a city bus all night and hearing the stories of other homeless passengers, including one woman’s experience of becoming homeless after escaping domestic abuse.

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Mid-Pacific Director of Education Technology Brian Grantham shows student Maya Wise how to use the hand-held paddles to navigate through the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab VR homeless experience.

“Had it not been for this experience, I would have spent a lot of time being ignorant about these problems because often times it’s easier to cough and look away, but these are real people with real problems who are suffering right before you,” says Mid-Pacific student Haley Choy. “I think this experience with the VR is good because it puts you in the perspective of a homeless person and people you might normally turn away from, and I think it shows you that it would be just as difficult for you if no one showed you the same kind of sympathy.”

“Every time they take their VR headset off, the look on their face is shock after they realize that anyone can become homeless,” says Mid-Pacific Director of Education Technology Brian Grantham. “Our kids walk away and understand that homeless people are real people who have had bad things happen to them and that’s the reason they’re in that situation.”

On July 5, Hawaii News Now Reporter Shawn Ching visited Mid-Pacific students in Lori Nishiguchi’s Technology Explorations summer course who participated in the VR homeless experience, and donned the headset himself to experience the homeless simulation. Watch the full Hawaii News Now story.

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Lori Nishiguchi’s Technology Explorations students smile with Hawaii News Now Reporter Shawn Ching and crew following the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab VR homeless simulation.