News: VR Researchers Team Leader Anthony Chaston, PdD

The Educators in VR VR Researchers Team Project began in early 2019 and has soared to represent hundreds of researchers in immersive studies and technology. We’re proud to share news that one of the Team Leaders, Anthony Chaston, PhD, was highlighted in “Bell Rings for First Virtual Reality Class at Mount Royal University,” on his university’s site.

The first of its kind in Canada, the class, which started Sept. 14, filled its 20 spots (standard for a fourth-year psych course) in a matter of days. It started with a discussion of artificial intelligence (AI) and parallels to human perception. Much of the architecture used to make artificial neural networks was originally designed on the structure of neurons, or parallel distribution processes.

“I want to get into that, but not just about what AI is, because I don’t want to talk about it from a computer science point of view,” Chaston says. “This is a psychology course, so a lot of it is going to be about our interface with AI. Most people don’t even know that they use AI all day every day. Google, Facebook or any social media, it all involves AI.”

Chaston’s background is in human visual perception: how the eyes take in light and how we perceive scenes and make sense out of them; then how we use that knowledge to get somewhere. He’s combined this with an interest in the outdoors, wilderness and navigation during hiking.

“It progressed to VR mostly because I was looking for other ways to simulate outdoor experiences in the lab and VR obviously jumped out when that started to happen.”

Anthony Chaston teaching Introduction to VR Research event in AltspaceVR.

Chaston explains that his dedication to VR as a teaching tool is a natural progression, providing a more social and interactive experience than traditional online and teaching methods, even when hosted in the classroom. While physical field trips continue to have value, the ability to not just visit physically and financially inaccessible places, but study in risky and “impossible” places as part of their learning experience. A student in the article whose honours thesis is on virtual reality nature therapy said:

“The fact that he has creatively and bravely decided to teach a university course fully in VR is astounding,” she says. “I also am drawn to VR as I believe it is an accessible tool that will be able to help many more people around the globe. What the field of psychology is doing in VR is just the beginning – it can especially help with mindfulness and presence, as well has many benefits for treating PTSD and systematic desensitization therapy.”

Dembecki says she’s hoping to learn about the use of VR in therapy and counselling.

“I plan on working in trauma-based counselling, and using VR as one of the tools to help suffering individuals heal and move on to a healthy state.”

Chaston’s work with Educators in VR includes not only leading the VR Researchers Team Project but building the nature meetup world for the team’s events and developing and teaching an innovative introduction program to VR research to help students, educators, and researchers understand the nature and challenges of researching in and with immersive technology. He presents it monthly in AltspaceVR. The VR Researchers Team Project now meets weekly with networking and special guest presentations and discussions in AltspaceVR on Thursdays.

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