'Relational Presence': Designing VR-Based Virtual Learning Environments for Oral History-Based Restorative Pedagogy

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K–12, Oral History, Relational Presence, Restorative Approach, Virtual Reality


Relational presence is the core principle of a new approach to designing virtual learning environments (VLEs), which has been developed by the Digital Oral Histories for Reconciliation (DOHR) project (dohr.ca). Presence, normally understood as the sense of being in a virtual environment to the extent that one forgets the environment is virtual, is thought to have significant pedagogical benefits in K–12 experiential learning projects aiming to develop spatial and social competencies that learners can translate into actual-world contexts. DOHR, by contrast, aims to build the understanding needed for learners to address systemic racism in Nova Scotia, through an oral history and restorative justice–based curriculum. To serve this alternative learning goal, relational presence replaces presence. The usual emphasis in VLE design on simulation, interactivity, identity construction, agency, and satisfaction is replaced with new values of impression, witnessing, self-awareness and awareness of difference, interpretation and inquiry, and affective dissonance. This paper introduces relational presence in order to help establish, in the field of VLE design, a productive discourse around issues of justice, representation of marginalized communities, and pedagogy-led design.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.