PY3VRB-Virtual Reality and the Brain

Module Provider: Psychology
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Pre-requisites: PY2RM Research Methods and Data Analysis
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Dr Peter Scarfe


Type of module:

Summary module description:
This module will help the student to gain a better understanding of consciousness and the brain by determining what virtual reality is, how best to create it, and what it can be used for.

“Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?”

Morpheus in the film “The Matrix”

In the year 1641 Rene Descartes published his Meditations on First Philosophy. In this book he pre-empted the whole notion of virtual reality and how this would have profound consequences for how we understand the brain and our own consciousness. To some extent we are still trying to catch up with Descartes’s ideas. The aim of this module is to explore how we can gain a better understanding of consciousness and the brain by determining what virtual reality is, how best to create it, and what it can be used for. To do this we will cover topics in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, engineering, robotics and film.

Assessable learning outcomes:
By the end of the module, students will be able to:

(1)Critically analyse ideas and techniques at the forefront of research in sensory perception and neuroscience.
(2)Appraise literature in philosophy, engineering and robotics, recognising how this is central to understanding perception, consciousness and the brain.
(3)Apply their understanding of perceptual psychology to current technological innovations in virtual reality e.g. telepresence, medicine, media and entertainment.

Additional outcomes:

Outline content:
We forget that our whole perception of the world is somehow mediated by a roughly 140mm by 167mm chunk of jelly-like substance weighing approximately 1.35kg sitting in complete darkness inside our head. In this module we will examine how we can understand perception, consciousness and the brain by examining the fundamentals of virtual reality. We will define what virtual reality is, why it is important, and use this knowledge to place perceptual psychology into a wider real-world context. Virtual reality systems are thought to be on the brink of revolutionising multiple fields such as medicine, science, film, computer games, and social interaction. We will critically analyse the hype surrounding these claims by examining the philosophical, perceptual and technological basis of virtual reality.

The module will consist of seven 2-hour seminars.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

Each seminar will consist of the mixture of taught material and open discussion. Students will be required to (1) prepare for each seminar by reading a set of papers each week, and (2) take an active role in class discussion. The course will use a “team-based” learning approach. Assessment will be 75% final exam and 25% written assessment towards the end of the course, this allowing students to integrate their cross-disciplinary knowledge of virtual reality. 

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Seminars 14 1
Guided independent study 85
Total hours by term 99.00 1.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 75
Report 25

Summative assessment- Examinations:
1.5 hours.

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:
This module is assessed through coursework (25%) and a final exam (75%).
The 1.5-hour Summer Exam will require students to answer 1 essay question on topics covered in the module.
Coursework will comprise a written report towards the end of the course.

Formative assessment methods:

Students will be provided with feedback on their coursework essay by seminar tutor. This feedback will help students prepare for the final exam. Students have the opportunity to provide the module convenor with up to two essay plans for comment and feedback in preparation for the exam. 


Penalties for late submission:

The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.
•where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
•where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at:
You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

Assessment requirements for a pass:
A mark of 40% overall.

Reassessment arrangements:
Re-assessment is by re-examination in August/September.

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
1) Required text books:
2) Specialist equipment or materials:
3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
4) Printing and binding:
5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

Last updated: 20 April 2018


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