ND Learning Collaborates with Professor Boccuti for Italian VR Experience

Author: Alann O'Shea


Italy is renowned all around the world for its distinguished architecture, culture, and language, so much so that an estimated 75 million people from all across the globe visit the country each year. In fact, more revenue is generated from tourism into the country than from those coming to Italy for business purposes. Travelers imagine a country with mouth-watering cuisine found on every corner, from the Northern risotto of Milan to the Southern gelato of Sicily, and can’t wait for a taste. Dreamy-eye jetsetters search for perfect picaresque angles in front of the iconic Roman colosseum and atop the bridges of the romantic Venetian canals. People flock from all over the world to experience all Italy has to offer–it’s not difficult to understand why Italy is one of the 10 most-visited countries in the world.

But what about those who have dreamed of visiting the country but are not able to do so? We know well that traveling is a privilege that we can’t always afford. Well, what if we told you that there’s an alternative to saving up for months or even years for that long-anticipated trip? Indeed, thanks to the ever-developing world of extended reality (XR), you can now put on a headset and be almost teleported to somewhere else: the other side of the earth, a historical place, or even a fictitious world.

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On October 12, 2023, Notre Dame Learning collaborated with Dr. Mattia Boccuti from the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, who is instructing the Medieval-Renaissance Italian Literature and Culture course this semester, to create an Italian XR experience inside of The Hesburgh Library. Over the summer, Professor Boccuti reached out to KC Frye, Director of Creative & Media in Notre Dame Learning’s Office of Digital Learning (ODL). Frye had already been discussing how to incorporate XR experiences into the classroom with colleague Adam Heet, a digital projects specialist in the Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship. Professor Boccuti’s idea for giving students a feel for what it was like to live in Italy during the Renaissance period of the 14th and 15th centuries seemed like a perfect opportunity to turn this concept into an (extended) reality.

With the help of Professor Boccuti, Frye and Heet found a number of existing XR experiences, including virtual reality video, augmented reality (AR) art galleries, and the work of Matthew Brennan, a doctoral candidate at Indiana University who had developed stunning virtual reality recreations of Italian Renaissance chapels and their fresco works through VR videos posted to YouTube. After receiving Brennan’s permission to use his videos for Professor Boccuti’s class, the team worked with Kuangchen Hsu, ODL’s director of learning design, “to identify the learning objectives the videos were meant to fulfill and how to structure the class session in a way that guided the students’ engagement with them."

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“So much of what Notre Dame Learning does centers around accompaniment,” said Frye, who, along with Heet, attended the class to help Professor Boccuti facilitate the lesson. “We’re here to walk alongside instructors as they bring innovative new approaches into their courses, and that collaboration starts well before students feel the impact of the finished product. Just like our faculty partners, we want to be purposeful in how we design learning experiences so that what makes them dynamic isn’t just the medium through which they’re delivered.”

Students from the Medieval-Renaissance Italian Literature and Culture course met at the Center for Digital Scholarship, located on the second floor of Hesburgh Library. There, KC and Adam gave the class a tutorial on how VR and AR are used to make anybody who wears the headset feel as if they were actually inside the Vatican Museums. In one of the VR headsets, students were able to make themselves jump up into midair while listening to the YouTube video, as if they were magically granted the ability to walk on air. Students could also use an iPad to point in any direction and make a famous Italian painting appear on the screen as if it were there inside of the library.

Professor Boccuti said that he greatly enjoyed collaborating with ND Learning to create this one-of-a-kind experience. He is grateful to have such talented and knowledgeable staff members such as KC, Adam, and Kuangchen here at Notre Dame. When everybody’s passions were able to come together in one place, it’s no surprise that the class session ended up being so well-received by the students.

Ben fatto, Dr. Boccuti and ND Learning!

Originally published by the the CLSC on November 30, 2023. Republished at https://italianstudies.nd.edu/ on December 6, 2023.