Immersive experience, a new page in learning 

The author experiences a virtual world through the technology of Dreamscape Learn

Usually, teachers motivate students, but in my case, it was the other way around. Everything started when Seljan, one of my students who had been selected for the SUSI for Student Leaders program in 2023, shared the program link for the 2024 SUSI Scholars. At first I was hesitant because only 108 participants would be chosen globally (one from each country) for the six streams of the SUSI program (Contemporary American Literature; Journalism & Media; American Politics & Political Thought; Foreign Policy; Culture, Identity, and Society; and U.S. Economics & Sustainable Development) which translates to 18 people per program & Institute. 

However, being a positive-minded person, I wanted to give myself a chance. So, I clicked on the link and completed the application form. One day, I received a message from the U.S. embassy in Baku that I had been selected for the program. Yes, this is real—I am here at Arizona State University (ASU), and now my dream has come true!  Obviously, my student motivated me, which makes it an unforgettable experience for me. 

When I shared with my Dean, Professor Vugar Aliyev, and the Chief, Department of New Media and Communication Theory, Professor Khatira Huseynova at Baku State University in Azerbaijan that I had been selected for the 2024 SUSI scholars’ program, they were elated and noted that this experience would be very useful for our faculty and students. 

On June 2, I and other 17 scholars in my cohort arrived at ASU, where we have been having immersive learning at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, a leading journalism school in the United States, known for its hands-on learning approach, state-of-the-art facilities, and strong connections to the media industry. As at today, we have spent 10 days. Each day we learn emerging trends in our discipline and visit relevant industry partners. 

Today, June 12, we turned our sights to immersive media. As usual, at the beginning of the day, we received a message on WhatsApp from Dr. Dawn Gilpin, the Program Director and Associate Professor/Assistant Dean of Research at the Cronkite School, saying that scholars should meet New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab Director Retha Hill in front of the Cronkite School at 8:00am, then take the light rail together to ASU’s state-of-the-art Media and Immersive eXperience (MIX) Centre in downtown, Mesa. As is the culture of the 2024 SUSI Scholars cohort, everyone was on time, and the program coordinator Ms. Kate Devine handed out train passes so we all took the light rail together. The trip took one hour.  

A composite of photos showing the scholars on the light rail to Mesa, and the author under the entrance sign to the Media and Immersive eXperience Center
On our way from Phoenix to the Media and Immersive Experience Centre

Again, this hour on the train was another opportunity to learn about rail transportation in America as Ms. Devine, who accompanied us, explained the workings of the light rail and the places our train passed through. However, this journey was a bit dramatic as we had one unforgettable experience: When we arrived at our destination in Tempe, three members of our cohort did not alight quickly enough from the train because they didn’t realize that the doors close in just 40 seconds, so they had to get off at the next train stop. Ms. Devine quickly sent a message via WhatsApp explaining to them where to get off and how to walk back. This is the beauty of technology and knowledge of the application during ‘emergencies. In just a few minutes the entire cohort was together again!

Thus we proceeded to the business of the day: A tour and immersive experience at the ASU MIX Center, a groundbreaking and multidisciplinary facility. 

Ms. Hill was ready to welcome us to the Center, which partners with DreamWorks. We were made to sign individual indemnity forms for our experiential learning sessions, after which we were exposed to immersive experiential learning using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). At the DreamScape immersive experience VR and AR Labs, we experienced the Alien Zoo in groups of six (6) using avatars; visited the Himalayan mountains; did laboratory testing as scientists for zoonotic disease virus and also as chemists testing waters for arsenic – a chemical element that naturally occurs in the earth’s mineral deposits and dissolves in groundwater, which may have harmful health effects depending on how much you consume and how sensitive you are to it. This experiential learning brought out the scientists in us and made us problem-solvers as we were able to detect and neutralize the chemical. We thus provided our communities with safe drinking water, making us useful to our communities. 

A composite of photos showing the scholars experiencing XR technologies in wearable headsets
Exposed to immersive experiential learning using VR and AR

Today’s activities show that through immersive experience, learning science could be made easy and pleasurable, as it offered us a wealth of cognitive and emotional benefits that traditional teaching methods do not offer because it provided us with interactive and engaging experiences. 

After the immersive experience, we visited the other laboratories at the MIX Center: four (4) state-of-the-art soundstages, and the Meteor Studio Fabrication Lab and Production Shop. We left the MIX Center just before 2 pm and were already boarding the train at 2:10 pm. After another hour-long ride, we were back downtown where we had lunch individually. Then we reconvened at 3:30 pm to debrief with Ms. Hill in her laboratory at the Cronkite School. 

A composite of shots from around the MIX Center
Visiting the other laboratories in the MIX Center: Meteor Studio, Fabrication Lab, and Production

During the debriefing session we ideated on the questions: How can journalists and other communicators use the technology at DreamScape to train a new generation of communicators? What would we do if we had access to this technology at our institutions? These question formed the basis for our interactive session with Ms. Hill, who afterwards paired us and gave us the assignment to pitch journalism and other Mass Communication professions to prospective undergraduate students. 

Cultural Exchange and Personal Growth

I am not only enjoying the knowledge gained from the program, I have also met very successful and kind people who have different qualities that broaden my outlook on different cultures. In the course of this program, which will run in three cities (Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.), we have been paired as roommates in the various cities. In each city, every scholar will have a new roommate. At present in Phoenix, my roomie is Dr. Abigail Odozi Ogwezzy-Ndisika, a professor at the University of Lagos, Nigeria and an accomplished scholar/practitioner. She is an intellectual, hardworking, friendly, kind, and supportive person. I enjoy being her roommate and learning about her culture and experiences.

Sharing My Journey

Every day, I share my experiences on my social media accounts and my students and colleagues are very happy to see and learn about the USA and my experience in journalism and media. I am optimistic that by the end of my time here, I will have gained valuable experiences in my field and “sell” to my own university the ASU charter:

ASU is a comprehensive public research university, measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed; advancing research and discovery of public value; and assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural, and overall health of the communities it serves.

Arizona State University Chater