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From Knowing to Embodying: Immersive Technologies, Empathy and Intercultural Understanding

Last week, I presented a webinar on Immersive Technologies and Intercultural Understanding for SIETAR Europa. It explored various projects that are leveraging virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to deepen our human capacities of empathy and perspective taking of people whose experiences differ greatly from our own.

The session explored the following questions:

1. How can immersive technologies augment the objectives of intercultural competence training?

2. How can immersive technologies facilitate experiences that deepen empathy and perspective taking?

3. How can we explore immersive technologies to deepen our appreciation of the experience of an Other?

To do this, I explored the following projects:

BeAnotherLab’s Embodied Narratives, part of a Barcelona-based experimental laboratory that leverages virtual reality that invites to participants to ‘perform’ site-specific encounters to experience another’s body. BeAnotherLab leverages cognitive science, collects qualitative and quantitative data during these encounters and encourages intense emotional engagements with people of different genders, abilities, ethnicities, nationalities, social circumstances. BeAnotherLab has tackled issues of racism and anti-refugee sentiments as well.

I also explored Axon’s leverage of VR to help train officers to embody the experiences of people in mental distress, such as those living with schizophrenia, and provide simulated scenarios to test out different decision-making journeys, with the goal to utilize de-escalation and communication. This becomes invaluable in a larger policing context in which police are handling greater volumes of mental health calls and where people with mental illness are at greater risk for such calls ending in violence and or death for the person experiencing distress.

Lastly, I discussed the assemblage of 1000 Cut Journey, an immersive VR experience fromStanford University’s Virtual Interaction Research Lab. Here, participants embody a Black male named Michael Sterling and journey through his experiences of everyday and institutional racism as a child facing disciplinary action in school, a teenager encountering police and as a young adult experiencing workplace discrimination.

You can see a 2-D exploration of this project here:

As an educator, speaker and learning advisor and facilitator, I frequently witness challenges of trying to ‘teach’ others to reflect upon, critically think and engage with developing their intercultural understanding. Moreover, I’ve been experiencing immersive experiences that leverage VR and AR and am curious to experiment further. there is the power of sensory, experiential learning that can facilitate the illusion to ‘embody’ the perspective of others that might heighten our efforts to promote intercultural awareness as well as strategic plans around equity and inclusion.

If you would like a link to my webinar, please put your name and email in the comments and I will be happy to send it to you!

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