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Department ofPhilosophy


Erick Ramirez Receives Graves Award

The award will support Ramirez’s research on ethics and virtual reality and underscores the important role new technologies play in the classroom.

The award will support Ramirez’s research on ethics and virtual reality and underscores the important role new technologies play in the classroom.

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Apr. 1, 2020—Erick Ramirez, assistant professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University, has received a prestigious Graves Award in the Humanities. The award, which encourages outstanding teaching among junior faculty members in the humanities, will provide $10,000 in support of Ramirez’s research project entitled “An Ethics for Virtual Reality.”

With the growing availability of virtual reality (VR) technologies, the world has seen an explosion of research on VR experience as well as an expansion in the ways that VR technologies are being put to use. Because of this, Ramirez says he is looking to “build an ethical framework for designers of virtual worlds to increase the positive outcomes of simulations while avoiding the serious damage of ethically irresponsible virtual reality.”

The Arnold L. and Lois S. Graves Awards are bestowed every two years by Pomona College, under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies, to support teachers of unusual skill and enthusiasm. As one of 39 colleges eligible to compete for the award, Ramirez joins the ranks of previous Graves Award winners from SCU’s departments of Classics, English, Philosophy, and Religious Studies.

“Erick’s outstanding teaching and the timely nature of his research make him a perfect fit for this award,” says Kate Morris, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Not only will SCU students benefit from this research, but there is real potential for this work to alter the landscape of learning environments across the disciplines. Erick’s work underscores the important role that Santa Clara University is playing in the development of technologies for use in the classroom, while also positioning ethical practices at the center of those conversations.”

Along with a team of undergraduate research assistants, and in collaboration with SCU’s Imaginarium, Ramirez is working to develop VR translations of moral dilemmas, such as the “trolley problem,” and has already developed five VR simulations. He will now be able to create two more—one about the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” and one on clinical ethics. Ramirez plans to employ these simulations as a component in a pilot study testing the impact of VR in classroom instruction on campus.

“There is promising evidence that virtual reality improves knowledge retention and transfer in the classroom when compared to thought experiments,” Ramirez explains. He is already using his VR simulations in the classroom, particularly when discussing topics such as moral dilemmas, the trolley problem, or research ethics with his students.

Ramirez is also developing a web series on the ethical issues in VR, and writing a book, The Ethics of Virtual Reality: Building Worlds, which provides an ethical framework for the use and development of VR simulations.


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