The Oculus Lab, currently under development in Burke-Hawthorne Hall, will provide students with an opportunity to experience virtual reality immersion and motivate them to participate in R1-related studies. 

“The Oculus Lab is an exciting addition to the Department of Communications with a repertoire of incredible programs,” Dr. Thomas Madison, T. Michael Maher/BORSF Endowed associate professor of public relations, said. 

During the spike of COVID-19, Madison used his professorship endowment to purchase an Oculus Quest headset and envisioned a space where students could use the set for classroom and research purposes. He also intended to use the technology to show prospective students what would be in store for them if they were to come to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Madison will be setting up a green screen along with cameras and lights in the lab to film students’ virtual reality experiences. With the help of a video mixing tool, he plans on combining the Oculus Quest feed along with the green screen technology to create videos showcasing what students are seeing through their immersive journey with the headset, which he will then upload to streaming networks like YouTube and Twitch. 

Students would be participating in a pretest and posttest after the simulation to see how the experience impacted their thoughts on subjects. 

“The person comes in, and they’re participating in a study. They’re doing some kind of Oculus thing, and we’re filming them. And then we’re giving them some kind of posttest survey, where we see how the Oculus affected their ideas about something,” Madison said. 

The Oculus Lab will be used for certain courses offered at the university such as a summer course known as The Metaverse. 

Madison described the course as a group teaching environment where students can have open discussions about various topics and discover new forms of advancement in this digital age.

Some topics that were discussed in the class in previous semesters included defining The Metaverse, the potential dangers surrounding it, the possible improvements it could have on mankind, its connections to physical fitness and its connections to commerce. 

According to the course description, “We will be exploring The Metaverse and many of its components including (but certainly not limited to) virtual reality, extended reality, augmented reality, benefits and hazards of the aforementioned, access, gaming, cryptocurrencies, online real estate and so much more.”

Students will have the chance to explore the Oculus Lab and use it during their academic journey at the university.

Madison shared a virtual reality study using the Oculus Lab that is currently in the approval process. 

Madison plans to work with students on a proposal titled “Personality, virtual reality, and perceptions of COVID-19”, where people will get the opportunity to see a film called “Inside COVID-19” through two different viewing forms: the Oculus Quest 2 headset and the 12-inch desktop monitor. Participants will take a pretest before viewing the film and a posttest after to see the different effects of the viewing platforms as it pertains to people’s understanding of COVID-19 and vaccinations. 

Ashlyne Crane, a graduate research assistant who’s helping Madison with the study, mentioned how the study could possibly show changes in attitudes when it comes to the pandemic for those who get to use the Oculus Quest 2 headset and could answer the question: “Does the immersion into the Oculus headset affect your opinion?”

The Institutional Review Board (IRB) must approve the study because of the inclusion of human subjects. The approval process has taken over seven weeks. 

“With Oculus, there’s a little bit more risk. People can get nausea or headaches or something more than they can with a regular computer screen,” Madison said. “We got to get oversight to make sure we’re not going to hurt anybody or do anything dangerous.”

Some of the issues they’re having with the lab’s development relates to staff funding needs and information technology. 

Crane plans on gaining more experience with virtual reality through this COVID-19 study and using the lab for further research with her thesis. She intends to work in the airline industry and will be using the Oculus Lab to see if people can get flight experience from the immersive experience. 

“I’m gonna do my master’s thesis relating to a video on YouTube or maybe even have to take my own video of my own plane or like a takeoff and then do like a pretest and posttest where I ask ‘how do you feel about flying’,” Crane said. “So this is kind of a trial run for what I want to do for my master’s thesis in order to graduate.”