Virtual Reality Tool Aims To Change How Students Learn About Gaspee Affair

Jun 12, 2017

Over the weekend the city of Warwick celebrated the 245th anniversary of the burning of the British ship, the HMS Gaspee.  Many Rhode Islanders consider it one of the earliest clashes in the American Revolution. The skirmish is often overshadowed by the better known Boston Tea Party, which took place more than a year later.

An example of what students could see using a smartphone.
Credit Courtesy of Brown University

Now a group of Brown University students is working to raise the profile of the Gaspee Affair. They're creating a virtual reality experience aimed at middle and high school students.

Using just a smartphone and a virtual reality program, students can be transported to Narragansett Bay circa 1772.

“It’s an important story that has significance in terms of the events leading up to the American Revolution, and I thought with the ‘wow factor’ of VR and the dramatic story that we can raise the profile of the Gaspee,”  said artist Adam Blumenthal.

Blumenthal is Brown University’s Virtual Reality Artist-in-Residence and creator of the education tool.

Students working on the VR tool.
Credit Courtesy of Brown University

The program lets users witness the burning of the British ship and capture of its crew as lead by Rhode Island colonial leader John Brown. And Blumenthal said the tool makes for a more engaging learning experience than a typical history lesson.

“Introduce the topic and have some discussion, introduce the VR part so the students go into VR and have an experience,” Blumenthal explained. “The students will come out of VR and maybe write some things, and then go back into VR.”

Blumenthal expects to release the program online this fall. He said he hopes to be able to recreate other historical events using virtual reality in the future.