Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning, the campus hub for innovative and creative teaching methodologies, brought students to an ancient Assyrian palace via Oculus Rift, a virtual reality system. The students were in a class on the history of the ancient near east taught by Kathryn Slanski. The palace model was created by Learning Sites, a Massachusetts-based company that creates virtual models of archaeological sites for educational purposes.
In mid-2015, members of the Islamic State terrorist group used barrel bombs to destroy much of an ancient archaeological site in northern Iraq. In mid-2017, a group of Yale students toured the site anyway.
The students didn’t actually travel to the ancient city of Nimrud, about 30 kilometers south of Mosul. Rather, in a confluence of the very old and the very new, students “traveled” to a virtual model of the Northwest Palace — often called a “jewel” of archaeological remains in Iraq — via Oculus Rift, a virtual reality (VR) system housed at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).
“The study of the ancient Near East has for a long time been very detached from the remains that are still in place in Iraq” due to frequent instability in the region, said Agnete Lassen, associate curator of the Babylonian Collection at Sterling Memorial Library.
Recently, however, companies like Learning Sites, which provided the model of the Northwest Palace to the CTL, have begun modeling many of humanity’s most important cultural heritage sites in VR. “I went to the opening of the CTL [in January 2017] and they demonstrated VR … and I wondered: Can we do this for the ancient Near East? Would this be an opportunity to teach students in Professor Slanski’s class?” Lassen said.
What a wonderful time we live in!