Teaching a Digital Anthropology

While conducting my research, I also found that virtual reality environments could be powerful teaching tools. After creating an interactive application containing a virtual reality reconstruction of the Maya site of Cerro Maya (formerly known as Cerros), I began using it in an introductory anthropology class that I taught at the University of Florida (UF). I required students to explore the virtual reality reconstruction of Cerro Maya while characterizing the social capacities of the ancient architecture in terms of the ritual practices that were important to the rise of social hierarchy at Cerro Maya. In surveys of the class responses, I found that this virtual reality application increased student interest, engagement, comprehension, and retention of core concepts.

By providing an interactive and immersive learning space, students were able to generate their own ideas and theories regarding the use of social space while actively retaining the complex anthropological concepts that they were required to learn.

After gaining recognition from several local press enterprises for using virtual reality with my students in 2014 (click here for more info), I was chosen to develop and teach a new online and in-class multidisciplinary course called Digital Anthropology. The first of their kind at UF, these cross-cutting four-field anthropology courses explore new digital methodologies for anthropology and humanities research while investigating new digital forms of culture.

Click above for video trailer of Digital Anthropology Class

The class incorporates my fast-paced video productions and Microsoft hyper-media format “Sway” into lessons. This course taught students to critically explore and understand digital culture and digital tools for humanities research. Among a variety of assignments, students learned how to model and analyze archaeological and ethnographic sites using video game engine technology and virtual reality hardware. Class activities required the students to learn how to become anthropologists by using ethnographic and social network analysis techniques to explore and analyze virtual online spaces.

Video module 5

Furthermore, students were asked to critically analyze their roles in massively multiplayer online role playing games and social networks using social network analysis tools. I would enjoy teaching a similar class at Illinois Wesleyan University while supporting faculty that desire to incorporate similar interactive digital teaching strategies into their classroom.