With the guidance of the Extended Reality and Learning (xREAL) Lab and the communication studies department at Cal State San Bernardino, current CSUSB graduate student Shane Burrell got into his dream Ph.D. program for this coming fall: the gaming studies program at the University of Oregon.
“I was super nervous about not getting accepted even into one school, let alone the school that has all the virtual reality and gaming things I dreamed to study,” said Burrell, a Victorville resident who received full tuition and scholarship to the university.
Burrell, whose ultimate professional goal is to develop theory in virtual reality (VR), credits CSUSB’s xREAL Lab for piquing his interest in the subject. When he first entered the CSUSB graduate program in communication studies, he decided to take an internship with the lab.
“I wanted to know all that I could about VR and the possible effects VR could have on the people that used it,” Burrell said. “The xREAL Lab gave me virtually everything I needed to investigate this potential effect of VR.”
The lab is where Burrell’s idea for his master’s thesis took shape. In his thesis “‘Did That Just Happen?’: Influence of Embodiment and Immersion on Character Identification in Virtual Reality Environments,” Burrell constructed a measurement for character identification and used the influence of embodiment and immersion. According to Burrell, character identification is when a user of virtual reality adapts to their character role within the simulation and how embodiment and immersion influence this adaption.
“The xREAL Lab really provided all the help and support I could have needed,” he said.
While the xREAL Lab sparked his interest in virtual reality, the CSUSB communication studies department piqued his interest in research.
“Since I wanted to know everything I could know about VR and the possible effects it could have on users, the communication studies program gave me the tools and skills I needed to learn to develop this even further,” he said. “Because in research we constantly ask why or how, and the communication studies department really homed in on the aspects of research that could help answer those questions.”
Burrell thanks Mihaela Popescu, professor of communication studies, and co-founder and faculty director of the xREAL Lab; Liliana Conlisk-Gallegos, associate professor of communication studies; Jo Anna Grant, professor of communication studies; and Gretchen Berquist, assistant professor of communication studies, for helping him along the way.
“They helped me really look at my research in a different way and more specifically than I feel like I could have asked within a class,” he said. “I could have never accomplished everything that I have done without the faculty. They all have a very special place in my heart and having all of their support and faith in my abilities really gave me a lot of courage to go on within the program and strive to accomplish more.”
“As both the faculty director of the lab and Shane’s thesis advisor, I am very proud of his accomplishments, which speak so well of the quality education and opportunities for professional development we offer at CSUSB,” Popescu said.
At the University of Oregon, Burrell hopes to “take advantage of labs they have within the department” (the gaming studies department has three VR labs) and “conduct more research and experiments.”
In the future, Burrell, who is a 2020-21 Sally Casanova California Pre-Doctoral Scholar, hopes to establish new pedagogies and practical use of virtual reality in society and education. He would like to teach students how to use innovative technologies to implement change within their communities by showing new ways to approach specific problems that impact student communities.
“I find that with all of the studies that are out there on VR, there is no basis for them to truly have a solid theory to stand on,” Burrell said. “So that is something that I plan to achieve.”