Comm 166/266

About the Class:


In 2021, 263 students, all with their own VR headsets, across 20 weeks and two courses, spent over 200,000 shared minutes together in the Metaverse. They engaged in large group field trips, small group discussions, performed live music and skits, and worked both alone and together to build their own virtual worlds.


Communication 166/266 Syllabus

Virtual People

Autumn, 2021


Jeremy Bailenson

Course Overview

Virtual Reality is becoming mainstream, with more than ten million systems being used in the United States alone. This class examines VR from the viewpoint of various disciplines, including popular culture, engineering, behavioral science, and communication. Each student will receive an Oculus Quest 2 headset, and the bulk of our learning will occur while immersed in VR.


Course Structure

Each week will follow roughly the same structure:

  • Readings must be finished by Tuesday, 5pm PST. Students will turn in a one-page response paper related to the readings each week. This response paper will include at least one question about the content of the reading for that week in bold
  • We will typically use Wednesday’s lecture time (9:45am–11:15am) in different ways. Sometimes we will have individual VR experiences (e.g., watch 360-degree videos) and then invite the creator of the content for an interview. Other times we will synchronously enter VR together (e.g., sit in on a meditation class in AltspaceVR).
  • During Friday’s lecture time (9:45am–11:15am), typically a synchronous student panel will discuss the readings with Professor Bailenson while the rest of the class observes.
  • Discussion sections will occur in VR each week using the ENGAGE platform, on Mondays and Tuesdays before 1pm. Students will receive a short quiz covering all of the prior activities from the week (e.g., readings, VR activities, student panels, and discussion section) which will be released at 1pm and is due at 9:45am on Wednesdays (at the start of class).


Required Readings

Each week’s reading assignment will consist of selected chapters from two books which were written specifically as textbooks for this course—Experience on Demand, and Infinite Reality. Some weeks will also include additional readings and videos. All readings, including PDFs of both books, will be available on Canvas. See the Reading Schedule for more details.



Canvas is the platform we will be using for coursework submissions. All course information (i.e. course readings, quizzes) can be found on Canvas. You may need to self-enroll in the COMM166/266 Canvas site, but should have access to it already. Check this as soon as possible and report any problems.


Course Structure and Student Evaluation

Evaluation in this course is a combination of the following:

Participation in Student Panels [Zoom]                                                                  15%

Quizzes (x8 @ 3% each) [Canvas]                                                                            24%

Discussion Section participation [VR]                                                                     20%

VR Journeys (Documented by Screenshots)  [VR/Canvas]                                  15%

Response Papers [Canvas]                                                                                       20%

Built VR Scene in ENGAGE [VR / Canvas]                                                                6%

Student Panels ​

All students will be required to join one of the student panels via Zoom during the quarter. Each panel will consist of approximately 10 pairs of students who will discuss the reading with Professor Bailenson. Students will choose one date for which they will be a panelist and prepare questions, ideas, and topics for the panel. These sessions will be observed by the rest of the class, and will also be recorded. Content from the panels, including new content, will be testable and on quizzes. Pairs should expect to work together on Zoom prior to the panel.


Each week there will be a quiz covering the material. The quizzes will be short, and can be taken between Tuesday 1pm and Wednesday at 9:45am. Once a student begins the quiz, they will have 20 minutes to complete it. Quizzes will be made up of approximately 10 multiple choice items and one short answer question. If a student encounters technical difficulties while taking the quiz, they can request a second attempt. The quiz window is a hard deadline: unless there is an OAE exception, students will not receive extensions on quizzes. At the quarter’s end, the student’s lowest quiz grade will be dropped, and their quiz grade will be calculated using the average from the remaining seven quizzes.

Discussion Section Participation

Students must attend sections using their headsets via the ENGAGE platform, and be prepared to participate actively. This means having read and thought about course content prior to section, and being prepared to describe key points, arguments, and questions. You will be called on to do so, and evaluated on the quality of your contributions. Discussions will start promptly on time. Please show up on time and in your appropriate section. If you cannot make it to your discussion section for any reason, please notify both your section TA and the TA of the section you plan on attending instead. At the end of each section, students will be asked to fill out a brief survey – in order to receive credit for attending and actively participating, students must complete these surveys. We will be checking attendance rolls and survey completion.

VR Journeys

We will be doing many different activities in VR, and it is critical that everyone participate in these journeys. These journeys will typically take about one hour. Students will turn in a screenshot documenting their participation in the journeys by 9:45am PST on Friday for asynchronous VR journeys, and by 5pm PST on Friday for synchronous journeys taking place during lecture time.

Response Papers

Each student will turn in a one-page (300 – 500-word) response to the readings each week. Response papers should be submitted by 5pm PST on Tuesday and will cover the readings for the rest of the week. Response papers are intended to build on the reading, not summarize them. For example, one might suggest a new VR application based on the week’s topic, discuss the ethics of VR, or apply the readings to current events in the world. In addition, students should ask one response question about the reading at the bottom of the paper in bold typeface. This question needs also to be submitted separately on Canvas to be shared with other students. Submitting this question to its separate thread is necessary to receive full credit for weekly responses papers.

Built VR Scene in ENGAGE

In the sixth week of the course, there will be no readings, student panels, or quizzes. Instead, each student will focus on building their own VR scene using the .IFXSNAP “Snapshot” capture tool in ENGAGE. Those who are familiar with programming can build interactive demos using the scripting language in ENGAGE. Those not familiar with programming can use the menu-driven IFX commands to create a scene and save it as an .IFXSNAP file. We will talk about the goals of the VR demos for each student in office hours during the sixth week. The final scenes will be presented to the class during the last Friday lecture time (Week 10).


Weekly Schedule


Week 1) How does VR work?

Reading: Experience on Demand, Chapter 10; Infinite Reality, Chapter 3

Wednesday Lecture: Course Introduction (Zoom) & How to Use the Quest 2

Friday VR Journey: Full Class Meeting in ENGAGE (VR) & VR ‘Scavenger Hunt’


Week 2) Presence.

Discussion Sections: Let’s Talk about VR (VR)

Reading: EoD, Chapter 2; Lee, 2004

Wednesday VR Journey: Build a Zoo or Safari in ENGAGE (Screenshot)

Friday Panel: Student Panel on Presence/Tracking (Zoom)


Week 3) Education.

Discussion Sections: Immersion and Presence (VR)

Reading: EoD, Chapter 9; Makransky & Peterson, 2021

Wednesday VR Journey: Synchronous Group Field Trips in AltspaceVR (e.g., Solar System)

Friday Panel: Student Panel on VR & Education (Zoom)


Week 4) Avatars.

Discussion Sections: ENGAGE Art Critique from Museum trip (VR)

Reading: EoD, Chapter 7; IR, Chapter 4; Herrera, Oh, & Bailenson, 2020

Wednesday VR Journey: Build an avatar different from you, Full class Meeting in ENGAGE

Friday Panel: Student Panel on Avatars (Zoom)

Assignment: Group Performances in VR


Week 5) Empathy.

Discussion Sections: Avatars (VR)

Reading: EoD Chapter 3, IR, Chapters 5 and 6, Cogburn et al. 2020, Watch 2D video capture of 1000 Cut Journey

Wednesday VR Journey: Asynchronous VR: The Party, 6X9, Traveling While Black, Notes on Blindness (VR), Clouds Over Sidra

Friday Panel: Student Panel with Dr. Courtney Cogburn (Zoom)


Week 6) Build Something!

Discussion Sections: Empathy & VR, What to Build This Week (VR)

No Readings, Student Panels, or Quizzes. All efforts will go towards building a room in ENGAGE, including during course time where the Prof and TAs can assist


Week 7) Medical.

No Discussion Sections: Office Hours, TAs available for ‘Just-in-Time’ Feedback on VR Scenes

Reading: EoD, Chapters 5 & 6; Weiss et al. 2021

Wednesday Panel: Student Panel on Medical VR (Zoom)

Friday VR Journey: Full Class Meditation Session in EvolVR in AltspaceVR by Jeremy Nickel and Caitlin Krause (VR)


Week 8) Climate Change.

Discussion Sections: Medical VR & Exposure Therapy (VR)

Reading: Markowitz & Bailenson, 2021; EoD Chapter 4

Wednesday VR Journey: Asynchronous VR: Crystal Reef, Coral Compass, Immerse, Wevr demos (VR)

Friday Panel: Student Panel with Dr. Erika Woolsey (Zoom)


Week 9) Sports Training.

Discussion Sections: Climate Change and VR (VR)

Reading: EoD, Chapter 1

Wednesday VR Journey: Asynchronous VR: Football, Soccer, Skiing, Golf, MMA, Basketball Continue work on Built VR Projects in ENGAGE (VR)

Friday Panel: Student Panel with Trent Edwards (Zoom)


– Thanksgiving Recess (no classes) –


Week 10) Future of VR / Accessibility.

Discussion Sections: ENGAGE discussion on Other Training use Cases (VR)

Reading: IR, Chapter 9, 11, and 14, Mott et al. 2019, Mott et al. 2020

Wednesday Panel: Student Panel with Dr. Martez Mott (Zoom)

Friday VR Journey: Full Class Presentations of Built Worlds in ENGAGE (VR)


Submitting Your Work

Work will be submitted electronically through Canvas. It is your responsibility to ensure that your work is properly submitted via Canvas: the Teaching Team will not be accepting any assignments sent via E-Mail. You should verify that this is the case and seek support, or at least let the instructors know within the hour, if you are encountering technical difficulties submitting work. We will keep the Canvas calendar up to date, which is a helpful means to know what is due, when, and how to submit work. Deadlines for Response Papers, VR Journeys, Quizzes, and Built VR Scene in ENGAGE are hard deadlines. If a student has an OAE Accommodation Letter, this is to be submitted to the Teaching Team before an assignment is due, not after.

Attendance: Synchronous Class Panels and Sections

Class will meet during its scheduled time of 9:45am PST via Zoom on Wednesdays, and via VR and/or Zoom on Fridays. Regular attendance for class is strongly recommended as there will be substantial time devoted to discussion in class. We recognize that for some students in different time zones regular synchronous attendance will be difficult.

Sections will be held synchronously, and students must attend. We have planned sections to take place at different times throughout the day to make it feasible for students in different time zones to attend. Sections cover information that is important for quizzes.

ABC: Always Be Charging (your VR Headset).


All classes will be recorded and made available on Canvas after the class for those students that cannot attend synchronously.

For classes on Zoom, the Teaching Team would love to see your faces, and we hope to make this classroom a place where everyone feels safe and comfortable using video. However, we also understand that these are unusual times that require us to video-conference in from varying situations, and therefore we will not penalize you if you need to turn off your video feed. That said, you should expect to be called upon when in class.

Per the University’s academic calendar, this quarter begins on September 20th and concludes on December 3rd. There will be no midterm or final exam. If you are experiencing difficulty attending or studying for this course, please contact the instructors as early as possible to discuss possible solutions or resources for assistance.

Research Participation

This class is one of the first large-scale courses in history to be taught largely in VR. Hence, we are studying the process. Students will sign a consent form in the first week of the course, and will answer short questionnaires at the end of each discussion section (TAs will leave ample time each week to administer the questionnaire during section time). Stanford Institutional Review Board (IRB) has decided all students should fill out the surveys each week, and if students choose not to consent to participate in the study, then their data will be deleted. Neither the Professor nor the TAs will know which students have given consent, as that process will be monitored by an independent third party. Students should keep their decision about study participation strictly confidential and not discuss it with other students.

Grading Policies and Re-reviews:

Your course grade will be based on completion of student panels, discussion sections, reaction papers, VR Journeys, Quizzes, and the Built VR Scene. In completing course requirements, you are expected to abide by Stanford’s Code of Academic Integrity and Acknowledging the Work of Others.

Grades will be based on the following scale:

A          93-100%

A-        90-92%

B+        87-89%

B          83-86%

B-         80-82%

C+        77-79%

C          73-76%

C-         70-72

D          60-69%

F           Below 60%

If you have questions or concerns about any grade you receive, then you may submit a 1 page written request for grade re-review within three days after you receive the grade. It is important to note that a grade re-review may result in a higher or lower grade as the instructors may review your entire assignment.

VR Support

In this class we are trying something new—an entire class taught in VR with over 150 students—and there will be inevitable bumps in the road. Many of you will experience technical problems, and some of you may find the medium taxing. If you are experiencing any discomfort with the medium, or content within the medium, at any time, please contact Professor Bailenson or your TA immediately.

A lot of problems will be solved by careful planning—for example, always charging the headset in advance on days it will be used, having batteries nearby for the hand controllers, and logging in to discussion section and VR journeys 15 minutes before the scheduled start of an event. We will be actively utilizing a Canvas Discussion Thread for technical questions. In general, you should try for about 20-30 minutes to find an answer to your question before reaching out to fellow students, the TAs, or the instructor. We are more than happy to help you when you’re struggling, but we also want to know that you’ve tried to help yourself first. When you ask for help, let the person you’re asking know what you’ve already done. This makes it easier to answer your question quickly.

Picking up Your VR Headset

If you do not have your own VR headset, we will provide one (Oculus Quest 2) for you for the duration of the course.

Pick-up will be in McClatchy Hall (Building 120) on the ground floor in Mendenhall B.

We have designated pick-up windows that will ensure you get your headset before the first class on Wednesday. If neither of those pick-up windows work for you, please email Patty and Brian ASAP to schedule another time.

IMPORTANT: Keep all packaging (boxes, cardboard, etc.) and everything else that comes with your headset. You will need to return everything just as you found it at the end of the quarter so that we can continue to teach this course in the future. Thank you for your cooperation and mindfulness!

Returning Your VR Headset

You will need to return your headset at the end of the quarter before you leave for Winter Break. We will send an email by the end of Week 10 detailing drop-off logistics. However, ensuring the headset gets returned is your responsibility. If you know you will be leaving campus early or if you miss the email from the teaching staff, please be proactive and reach out to anyone on the team who can help arrange a headset drop-off.

Again, you must return the headset with all the packaging and materials.


Special Thanks to the members of our teaching team:

Brian Beams, Cyan Deveaux, Daniel Akselrad, Eugy Han, Hanseul Jun, Mark Roman Miller, Mark York, and Tobin Asher.

Never in the history of VR have so few worked so hard to bring you so much in so little time.