August 10, 2022

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

VSU Faculty Study Impact of Virtual Reality on Performance Anxiety

Dr. Bobbie Ticknor coordinates Valdosta State University's Virtual Reality Lab and teaches in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice. 

Dr. Mark McQuade taught classes in Valdosta State University's Department of Music from August 2017 through May 2022. He now directs the drama program at Lowndes High School. 

VALDOSTA — Dr. Mark McQuade was touring Valdosta State University’s Virtual Reality Lab when inspiration struck. The associate professor of music wondered if the technology could help his students overcome performance anxiety.

“As a teacher I am always looking for new ways to help students succeed and reach their full potential,” he shared.

McQuade listened to Dr. Bobbie Ticknor, coordinator of VSU’s Virtual Reality Lab, discuss how virtual reality can be used by educators to improve learning outcomes and how the innovative technology can transform lives. After the presentation he approached her with an idea for a collaborative research study.

“This research explored a new way to help students overcome a problem that is faced by so many — performance anxiety,” said McQuade, who joined the VSU Department of Music faculty in August 2017 and taught vocal pedagogy, applied voice, and other courses through May 2022.

McQuade and Ticknor conducted the study, “The Effects of Virtual Reality Training in Reducing Performance Anxiety,” during the 2021-2022 academic year. They wanted to find out if virtual reality technology could help VSU music students reduce their performance anxiety by allowing them to practice singing in computer-generated virtual spaces on a regular basis.

McQuade and Ticknor knew that virtual reality was already being used as a form of exposure therapy to treat people with anxiety disorders like phobias, posttraumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and more. As a behavioral treatment, exposure therapy can help people overcome fears and anxieties — situations, thoughts, memories, emotions — by breaking avoidance patterns. It works by exposing people, for example university voice students, to whatever they are afraid of in a safe environment.

Seven vocal music majors participated in the study. They were asked to perform weekly in virtual environments created from their studio class and their voice jury and recital locations. The students were asked to take a pre-study survey to provide a baseline assessment of their performance anxiety levels. Heart rate and blood pressure measures were taken before and after each virtual reality session. A post-study survey allowed the students an opportunity to share their experiences overall.

“This study provided some new insight into our hypothesis that more exposure to a given performance environment would lessen the anxiety of an actual performance,” McQuade shared. “Because most participants saw improvement in this area, it warrants further study. As such, I would encourage students to perform regularly in virtual environments that reflect their performance environments.”

McQuade and Ticknor recently presented their findings at the 57th national conference of the National Association of Teachers of Singing Inc., an organization committed to transforming lives through the power of singing and advancing excellence in singing through teaching, performances, scholarship, and research.

“We had several teachers from across the United States and Canada who were very interested in applying this technology in their own studios and for their own performance anxiety,” McQuade said.

McQuade and Ticknor plan to submit their research to peer-reviewed journals for publication.

As a tool for researchers, practitioners, and educators, Ticknor believes virtual reality technology can be used to improve lives. She joined the VSU faculty in 2014 and, in addition to her role as coordinator of the Virtual Reality Lab, serves as an associate professor of criminal justice.

Ticknor incorporates the use of virtual reality in her classes and in her criminal justice work outside of academia. She works with Prison Reentry Initiative of Georgia, a program of the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support, and Reentry that helps rehabilitated offenders navigate the barriers to successful reentry into society while also ensuring public safety and reducing recidivism. She also serves on the National Incarceration Association Advisory Council. Her areas of expertise include correctional rehabilitation (treatment, program evaluation and design, and curriculum development), technology in criminal justice, sex crimes and sex offender policies and practices, reentry services, and biosocial criminology.

McQuade recently transitioned from teaching music at VSU to directing drama at Lowndes High School. He is an expert in voice teaching, vocal pedagogy (teaching others to teach singing), and stage direction / stage craft. He enjoys conducting research on the use of virtual reality technology in singing, vocal acoustics, and the connection and crossover between opera and musical theatre in the 21st Century.

“I believe virtual reality is an invaluable tool that is now being widely embraced by researchers and practitioners alike,” Ticknor said. “Our students at VSU are one of only a handful of programs using the technology for learning and improving.”

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