North Carolina State University’s Virtual Reality Chemistry Labs: A Promising Practice in Enabling Inclusive Access for All Students

Date Updated

Underrepresented students—including those from a variety of racial, ethnic, gender, and ability backgrounds—may not receive equal access to an instructor's time and attention. An instructor's own biases determine the nature of their interactions with students, and even well-meaning instructors can make mistakes. This can often prevent students with disabilities from having full access to course and University materials. This may go unnoticed even by educators committed to diversity and inclusion and can be difficult to navigate.

Virtual reality can be used to enhance or replace classroom instruction. At North Carolina State University (NCSU), open access virtual reality experiences for organic chemistry laboratories were created in partnership between the Department of Chemistry at North Carolina State University and Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA). This virtual lab was designed to be as inclusive as possible. Designers worked with students that represented a broad range of race, gender identities, and ethnicities. These realistic simulations offer the advantage of minimizing instructor bias (since the instructor generates the material before meeting their students) while offering instruction in a more inclusive and accessible format to students who might find barriers in a lab. 

Comments provided by underrepresented minority students who participated in a class that utilized VR point to the perceived impartiality of the instructor, ability to engage with the material independently, and remote access as some of the desirable features of the experience. North Carolina State University’s Virtual Reality Chemistry Labs are a promising practice in enabling inclusive access for students that might face bias in the classroom or who need to participate remotely.

To learn more about the science behind how virtual reality can create more inclusive environments for students, visit NCSU’s “Why VR?” webpage, which hosts links to a peer-reviewed article, a poster session, and more. Learn more about accessible ways to teach chemistry to students with disabilities at Can chemistry be taught to students with disabilities?