The Vauquois Experience exhibit, specifically designed for the 2019 ACCelerate Festival at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, is finding a new purpose. 

Todd Ogle, the executive director of Applied Research in Immersive Experiences and Simulations in the University Libraries and the leader of the development of the Vauquois exhibit, is re-examining how  the exhibit can be used to educate local middle and high school students about World War I.

Through virtual reality and 3D-printed components, the exhibit creates an immersive experience that places users right in the middle of the underground tunnels built in Vauquois, France, during World War I.

Image of a virtual reality headset with a cave visible through the lenses

The Vauquois tunnels were constructed between 1914 and 1918 as French and German armies battled for control over a strategic hill that offered a view of a critical supply route. Traditional above-ground warfare made no progress, so both sides went beneath the surface for an advantage, digging elaborate and sophisticated tunnels with the goal of destroying their enemy with underground explosives.

“The plan of engaging with students was always one of our goals,” Ogle said of the exhibit. “And so we’re always working on how we can take these tools and experiences and make them something that can actually be applied in a curriculum by teachers at varying levels.”

Blacksburg High School teacher Jeffrey Pedersen embraced the Vauquois Experience Exhibit as a powerful teaching and learning tool. Pederson teaches history to sophomores and has brought multiple groups of students to Newman Library to experience the immersive exhibit first-hand. He said having access to this resource at Virginia Tech deepens his students’ interest in World War I.

“Being hands-on, being outside of the classroom, doing something that’s not traditional draws them in because this is not what they’re used to on a day-to-day basis. It allows them to deepen their understanding beyond what I have to teach them for a curriculum and beyond what they have to know for a test,” said Pedersen.

The use of virtual reality offers Pedersen’s high-schoolers a relatable, yet unique, educational experience as it utilizes the same type of technology that many students already use. 

“When we think of virtual reality, a lot of us think of video games. When we look at videos that have been created in the Unreal Engine, a lot of us think of games and finding a way to leverage that to make a connection to students is another amazing possibility,” said Pedersen. “I can’t do it on my own, so having these connections [with Virginia Tech] and being able to find a way to utilize those things to help students learn is fantastic.” 

Ogle remains ambitious with the Vauquois Experience Exhibit. In addition to the online virtual-reality experience already in use, his goal is to use the physical/virtual exhibit as a catalyst to  work with local schools and offer his technological tools and expertise as a resource for students. 

“We want to continue working with our partners here in the local schools on how we can really fine-tune the experience itself so it can be folded into their curriculum and the way they teach World War I,” Ogle said.