Q&A: Muhsinah Morris Is Leading Morehouse College into the Metaverse

Morehouse College in Atlanta has become a leader in virtual reality education among historically black colleges and universities. EdTech: Focus on higher education spoke with Muhsinah Morris, director of the Morris Metaversity, assistant professor and principal investigator of the Morris Research and Innovation Lab, about VR’s unique ability to support black students and rekindle their joy in learning.

EDTECH: Who is Morehouse in the metaverse?

MORRIS: Morehouse in the Metaverse began as a proof of concept that a virtual reality campus could be realized. Our partner VictoryXR has been the secret sauce all along. This helped us develop Morehouse’s digital twin, which is accessible through a variety of VR headsets. We started with three courses and now we have 10 courses that are completely in VR. Students can join from anywhere, but several courses have students bring headphones to class so they can experience the Metaverse together.

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EDTECH: How have students responded to learning in VR?

MORRIS: Seniors who took advanced inorganic chemistry felt that they would have been better chemists if they had taken it their freshman year. In this course, you must be able to visualize molecules and molecular geometry and understand complex chemical reactions. VR helps students visualize the molecular world in a way they haven’t been able to all the time they’ve been studying chemistry. They experience molecules being blown up to the size of a room. They were able to do problem-based learning activities. Many of them want to go into health professions so they can study the inside of the body and look at anatomical structures.

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EDTECH: How is VR particularly valuable to HBCUs?

MORRIS: As an HBCU, much of our pedagogy is grounded in culturally responsive spaces and ensures that our students can identify with content that might not normally feel like it’s meant for them. We create an engaging space where they want to live and where they feel comfortable.

In creating Morehouse’s digital twin, we augmented the space with artifacts from the actual campus. In our hallways, students see African artwork and pieces of history created by African Americans who have accomplished amazing things in their fields. We’ve created a world they’re familiar with, using the latest technology to do it.

READ MORE: How new technologies are helping HBCUs retain students.

EDTECH: How can VR expand inclusion and representation in ways traditional learning may not?

MORRIS: I now teach in the education department and have taught in the chemistry department my entire career. In my course on exceptional learners, we talk about differentiating instruction for people with different abilities and using technological strategies to ensure that teachers create the right conditions.

Our students will have the opportunity to create scenarios within virtual reality that will be suitable for learners with physical disabilities or neurodivergents. How do we develop technological tools and solutions to adapt to their needs? How can we create experiences that instill a sense of belonging? Being aware of these helps teachers create pathways and be more creative with the activities they bring to the room.

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EDTECH: How can the versatility of VR help personalize learning?

MORRIS: I call this offering an “Opportunistic Reality” for our students. Augmented reality technologies help them hope, endure and exist through complex materials and challenging aspects of their discipline. Exposure to this technology at this level gives them an insight that others may not have, which is very important for young black men, especially those we serve at Morehouse.

Young black males make up only 2 percent of education professionals. It is critical that they enter the workforce knowing how to use XR technologies and how to design an XR curriculum. It is important to experience this as students and preschool teachers. It provides opportunities that our students often don’t have. They have the opportunity to develop, create and gain autonomy in a space that is on the cutting edge.

EDTECH: What results have you seen at Morehouse?

MORRIS: In our history course, we saw a 10 percentage point increase in attendance compared to traditional face-to-face classes. We have seen an increase in student engagement and a significant increase in student final grades. Not only do students want this type of technology, but the numbers show it has made a difference.

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EDTECH: How else are you using VR to serve the campus community?

MORRIS: We’ve had services in the Metaverse and a virtual gala to accompany our annual A Candle in the Dark gala, which celebrates African-American achievement and raises funds for scholarships. We have meditation Mondays and this fall we have fitness initiatives that will be led by our kinesiology program. We are moving forward to empower more students with this technology.

EDTECH: What excites you most about VR?

MORRIS: When I see students understand their fields in a way that fosters curiosity—where they are not limited to outdated learning environments, but are optimized in that space—I see their joy. In many cases, this part of the education system has been lost. When we’re young, we ask questions because we’re genuinely curious, and as we go through the system, we lose that, and part of our spirit gets crushed in the process. It’s really good to be back in a space of joy and opportunity for those students who didn’t think it existed anymore. This is an “opportunistic reality” not only for students but also for faculty.

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