About The Great Experiment
The Great Experiment is an educational virtual reality (VR) experience that immerses participants within a highly authentic, virtual representation of the Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) at the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. In a series of increasingly interactive participatory experiences and discrete stages, participants find themselves immersed and actively engaged in those historical moments surrounded by authentic avatars of the founders.
The Great Experiment is a project of the Shenandoah Center for Immersive Learning (SCiL) of Shenandoah University. It draws its name from a 1790 letter written by George Washington to English historian Catherine Macauley Graham which says, "The establishment of our new Government seemed to be the last great experiment, for promoting human happiness, by reasonable compact, in civil Society.”
The experience utilizes and explores immersive technology and spatial computing as a medium of scholarship and education, allowing participants to explore the power of presence in their experience of history and civic learning through an experiment of rational deliberation. This employs the pleasure of learning new things to the fields of both recreation and entertainment.
Virtual reality possesses an analogous capacity to suspend the ordinary operations of human understanding and in a profound moment of presence, inserting people today into the altered state to create an extraordinary encounter with the past and an enduring learning experience in history. Participants in the immersive experience of The Great Experiment are engaged in a real-time, live, and participatory, albeit virtual, debate over the question of how to elect a chief executive of a republic.
About the Project Principals
Kevin R. Hardwick
Kevin R. Hardwick is Professor of History at James Madison University. His research interests and teaching competencies include the history of slavery, 17th and 18th century intellectual history, Anglo-American constitutional history, and the history of Virginia. He has edited and published several book length primary source anthologies and a collection of essays focused on the history of Virginia, as well as authored several essays that explore aspects of governance in 18th century Virginia. Hardwick is co-authoring with historian Warren Hofstra a book length treatment of the origins of the Electoral College and has been part of the "Great Experiment" design team since 2019.
Warren R. Hofstra
Warren R. Hofstra is Stewart Bell Professor of History at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia. In addition to teaching in the fields of American social and cultural history and directing the Community History Project of Shenandoah University, he has written or edited nine books including in part The Planting of New Virginia: Settlement and Landscape in the Shenandoah Valley; Shenandoah Landscapes and the Great Valley Road of Virginia; Ulster to America: The Scots-Irish Migration Experience; and “Sweet Dreams”: The World of Patsy Cline. He is also engaged in a collaborative project in immersive technology designed to present the debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 on electing the president in a virtual reality format that draws participants into real-time experiential and learning environments. As a companion volume, he is currently collaborating with Kevin Hardwick in drafting a book entitled “Perfectly Novel": The Intellectual Origins of the Electoral College.
Mohammad F. Obeid is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Virtual Reality Design (BS) program at Shenandoah University as well as Co-Director of the Shenandoah Center for Immersive Learning (SCiL). In those capacities, he leads various initiatives that aim to explore the utility of virtual learning environments for training and decision making in many domains. He holds a PhD and MS in Modeling and Simulation Engineering from Old Dominion University and a BS in Industrial Engineering from the German-Jordanian University. His research and recent career revolve around synthetic environments and medical-oriented simulations. In a general sense, his interests encompass extended reality (XR) platforms, interactive and predictive simulation, computer-assisted interventions, and multi-dimensional immersive environments to support decision making.
J. J. Ruscella
A pioneer of immersive learning, J.J. Ruscella serves as Chief Immersive Officer and EVP of AccessVR. His Immersive Design taxonomy is IEEE published and adopted by the Air Force University in their training curriculum. He founded and led the Shenandoah Center for Immersive Learning at Shenandoah University as Executive Director, where he won the H.Hiter Harris III Award for Excellence in Instructional Technology as well as the Shenandoah Valley Technology Council’s Innovation in Higher Education. Prior to Shenandoah, he founded the Interactive Performance Lab at the University of Central Florida, designing one of the first live simulation stages, StoryBox, that was housed at Lincoln Center 2016-17. Published author, award-winning film director, and critically acclaimed theatre director, Ruscella is an expert in applied story, with more than 25 years of experience in simulation and training.