Steven Sturman


Return to: ETAP_623_Spring_2021_(Byrne) | Using VR in Social Work Education

About Me

Steven Sturman

My name is Steven Sturman and I have been an Instructional Designer at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work since 1997. I am responsible for helping the school's faculty use technology in their courses. I have been instrumental in helping them develop online and hybrid courses.

My current area of interest is integrating Virtual Reality (VR) into distance education classes. Our school recently launched a new online Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) Program, and we have been integrating VR into that program using the Oculus Quest platform. My role has been to research how VR is being used in education and helping orient our faculty and students to its usage. I have also been working to develop our own Virtual Reality Learning Environment (VRLE) to teach students how principles of trauma informed care can be integrated into the physical setting of health care agencies.

I am co-author of the blog Helping Apps for Practitioners and Educators - HAPPE. The blog provides useful information for people in the helping professions that would like to learn more about using mobile apps in either education or practice.

In addition to supporting the faculty I am also responsible for supporting the school's social media initiatives. I helped develop and launch the school's podcast series, inSocialwork, and currently serve as the Chair of the podcast committee. It was the first podcast series sponsored by a School of Social Work in the world. inSocialWork launched in 2008 and currently has over 295 episodes.

As Chair of the school’s Technology Steering Committee, I am responsible for helping guide the strategic plan for the school with regards to technology implementation across the curriculum.

Having a degree in law, I also consult with faculty on issues such as copyright, accessibility, and privacy.

My Topic and Purpose

This mini-course will provide instructors with an introduction to immersive Virtual Reality (VR) and how to integrate it into their courses. This course will provide instruction and learning activities so that instructors can learn to use the Oculus Quest VR platform specifically, but the strategies will be applicable to other immersive VR devices. This mini-course will also provide guidance on how to create scaffolded assignments for learners so that they can learn how to use the technology. The mini-course will integrate Fink’s (2013) Taxonomy of Significant Learning to engage instructors in the learning process. It will also offer a model for how to support student use of new technologies and engage them in the learning process.

Scope of Learning Outcomes and Content

These learning outcomes map to Fink's Taxonomy of Significant Learning.

Fink, L., D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. Jossey-Bass. ISBN-13: 978-1118124253.

Foundational Knowledge

  • Understand the differences between immersive VR, AR, XR.
  • Know what technologies are necessary to access virtual environments
  • Understand how VR is currently being used in various professions and disciplines
  • Understand the instructional affordances of VR


  • Develop a learning plan for their own VR skills development
  • Acquire the skills necessary to navigate and access apps that are available through the Oculus Quest platform
  • Identify possible VR applications to meet their course learning objectives


  • Examine the instructional affordances of VR and determine how these affordances can be leveraged to improve learning outcomes for their courses
  • Develop a learning plan for their students to develop the skills necessary to use VR
  1. Integrating the VR experience with traditional learning materials and activities
  2. Activities to develop comfort with the Oculus headset
  3. Application specific tutorials for the content they will be learning

Human Dimension

  • Consider their prior experiences with learning new technologies and apply that knowledge in developing their learning plan for VR
  • Consider the accessibility needs of learners and plan for alternative assignments if they are not able to access VR based materials
  • Understand the affordances of VR that support better understanding of others


  • Understand the affordances of VR that can lead to greater empathy for others

Learning how to Learn

  • Develop skills for continuing research of how VR is being adopted within their specific discipline
  • Identify resources that will provide information on continued development and application of VR
  • Identify Communities of Practice that they can join to learn more about VR

Learner Analysis

This course is targeted specifically towards faculty that will be teaching in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work’s on-line Doctorate in Social Work program (DSW). Other educators may also find the information useful when considering how to adapt VR for their programs.

The faculty members are experts within their specific content areas. However, they have limited knowledge of how VR is being adopted within the broader field of social work and in other health related professions.

Faculty teaching in the DSW program have PhDs and are familiar with teaching in an online environment. However, they have no formal education in teaching and the underlying learning theories. Their knowledge of teaching comes primarily from their experiences seeing teaching modeled by other instructors and by their own experiences in the seated and online classroom. As VR is a new technology, they do not have any experience teaching with it or seeing effective uses of VR in a learning capacity. Faculty also do not have knowledge of the specific learning affordances that VR offers and they do not have an understanding of the specific learning theories that underpin the use of VR for education.

Faculty teaching in the DSW have varying skill levels with online technologies with some being very technology adept and others learning new technology as they need to implement it for their courses. These faculty have been successful with learning other technologies needed to teach in an online environment and have a general aptitude that will allow them to learn VR specific skills with the proper instruction and support.

Faculty will also need guidance on resources that they can follow to keep abreast of how VR is being used moving forward.

Needs Assessment

The DSW program integrates VR into the program as both a teaching tool and as a content area that the students need to learn about. The goal is for students to develop the skills to effectively and critically consider using VR in their future practice. Faculty need to have the appropriate VR related skills and knowledge to effectively guide students in developing this aptitude.

  • Faculty need to have a basic understanding of the different types of VR/AR/XR
  • Faculty need to be able to guide their students’ learning around the use of VR within social work practice and related fields.
  • Faculty need to be aware of how VR is being used in education and the unique affordances that VR offers. This includes a basic understanding of the learning theories that come into play when designing learning activities using VR.
  • Faculty need to be familiar with how the technology works so that they can engage with their students in VR Learning Environments (VRLEs)
  • Faculty need to develop skills and learning plans that will allow them to keep up on advances with the technology and how it is being adopted in the field

Learning Foundational Knowledge

Faculty need to develop knowledge about the basics of VR. There are many different and evolving terms associated with VR. Faculty need to become familiar with the different terminology so that those teaching in the program are all approaching the topic with the same basic understanding. Faculty have limited knowledge on how VR is being adopted within the field and how it might be applied to practice. This course will need to provide them with examples of how VR is being used and help them to link these uses to what their students will need to know. Faculty have not taught with VR before and have not seen examples of how VR is being used within education. They will need instruction on the features of VR that support learning and examples of how VR is being used for educational purposes.

Applying Knowledge of VR

Faculty scheduled to teach in the program have little or no experience with using VR or any familiarity with the Oculus Quest headsets being adopted for the program. This course will need to implement learning activities that will allow the faculty to learn to successfully use their VR headsets and navigate into virtual environments. It will also need to instruct them on the usage of the virtual classroom that will be used throughout the program. Faculty will need to be able to demonstrate these skills and apply these skills in accessing and navigating VR apps through their Quest headsets. Faculty will also need to be able to locate VR apps that they may want to use in their courses.

Integration of VR into their Courses

Faculty will need to be able to understand how VR can be used in education and the unique affordances it offers. They will need a basic understanding of learning theories so that they can effectively design learning activities that will make the most of the VR technology. Faculty will also need to be able to draw parallels between teaching activities within their course and how the same principles could be leveraged in practice, so that they can illustrate these for their students.

Learning how to Learn

Faculty will need to receive information on resources that they can use to keep appraised of new developments in VR. They will need to consider a plan for their own continued learning regarding the implementation and evolution of this emerging technology.

Performance-Based Objectives

Upon completion of this course faculty will be able to:

  • Identify the differences between AR, VR, and XR.
  • Understand how VR is currently being used in social work and related health professions.
  • Utilize their Oculus Quest headsets to access apps and navigate virtual environments.
  • Understand the affordances that VR offers for learning activities.
  • Develop learning activities for their courses that utilize best practices and the unique characteristics of VR.
  • Develop an action plan for continued learning about how VR is being implemented and how it might be applied to their curriculum.

Curriculum Map

View a pdf version of these images with clickable links: File:Using Immersive VR in Social Work Education.pdf

Course Curriculum Map.jpg
Intro to VR.jpg
VR Skills Development.jpg
VR Educational Applications.jpg
Continued Learning.jpg