Imagine walking across a wooden plank. Your eyes glance down and 90 stories beneath you lies a bustling street.
People are walking and cars are zooming past one another on the city blocks below. As soon as one foot touches the plank, waves of air begin to blow, threatening your balance at any second.
This may sound like the story of a professional tightrope-walker. For many, it probably sounds like a nightmare. But for students in the Virtual Reality: Entrepreneurship, Ethics & Engagement course, this was a casual Wednesday morning activity.
“Virtual reality is unlike anything that has preceded it,” said Jed Macosko, a Wake Forest physics professor who jumped at the chance to teach the course. “It captures what is being presented to you better than anything else because it allows people to really feel like they’re somewhere.”
The topic of the entrepreneurship course is allowing students to get hands on experience with cutting edge technology — an opportunity that is largely possible through its partnership with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. In an effort to diversify the classroom and further the relationship between the two universities, Provost Rogan Kersh and Dean Ruskin of the School of Filmmaking at UNCSA decided to kickstart the first joint-enrollment course.
Virtual reality headsets are beginning to appear more commonly in the commercial sphere, but there is plenty of space for invention and exploration in the realm of film — an area that the course hopes to tap into.
“Film and T.V. can be very powerful tools to help us process the world around us,” Macosko said. “In general, my hope is for Wake Forest students to learn from UNCSA students how difficult it is to make a film.”
Of those who have attended the first few classes, Wake Forest’s students come from business, science and engineering fields. UNCSA students, on the other hand, are in the School of Filmmaking. But the variety of passions and disciplines is what makes the class hopeful for success.
“In this classroom we have so many different types of people,” said Charlie Herndon, a passionate first-year student in the School of Filmmaking at UNCSA and member of the Virtual Reality joint class.
“We have the UNCSA students who are more interested in producing, filmmaking and directing. I think the Wake Forest guys are just passionate about everything. There’s the curiosity for the technology and people’s stories — it’s the same curiosity I see in some of the best filmmakers.”
Each Friday throughout the Fall semester, Wake Forest students in the class will travel to the UNCSA campus for class to take advantage of the well-appointed virtual reality lab. In fact, the UNCSA School of Filmmaking is one of 11 schools across the country to receive state-of-the art equipment from Oculus, according to the School of Filmmaking website.
“It will be interesting to see how the Wake Forest students adapt to the way we do things here,” Herndon said. “Everything is methodical because we run it like a professional film set.”
On the second-to-last day of class, students will be divided into teams mixed with UNCSA and Wake Forest students and charged with the task filming a virtual reality film that communicates a story.
“Virtual reality has been called by many the ‘empathy machine’,” Macosko said.
“It takes you into an example where you can empathize with what you see. My hope is that students enter in and take advantage of the situation and its possibilities.”