WHAT DID WE EXPERIMENT WITH?
Our aim with this experiment was to run a completely new and hopefully exciting event experience. We wanted to talk about the use of virtual reality as a research method in social sciences and saw no better way to do that than to actually enable attendees to fully immerse.
HOW DID WE DO IT?
To run a fully immersive VR event that would tackle the challenges and prospects of VR as a research method in social sciences, we needed a virtual room and a few researchers with the right experience and interesting research outputs.
We partnered with Chris Long from Immersive VR Education. Chris was responsible for the infrastructure, he offered to host the virtual room via the Engage Platform. Engage was built to support classroom experiences and is working with teachers and lecturers around the world to provide a way for them to easily build materials in virtual spaces without needing coding or other VR experience. Anyone can sign up to Engage, it is free to use and experiment with. They offer licensing models for more tailored needs. Chris and his colleagues run monthly events fully in VR, and you can follow the #CPDinVR hashtag on twitter to find out when their next event will be.
We invited three panelists to join the event and talk about the type of experiments they ran using VR and how they build up on existing research in this space. To find out about the panelists, have a look at the event roundup, and for more resources on other social science researchers using VR, read this summary.
I personally went through a few technical hoops. I had some difficulties testing the equipment from our office because of a variety of firewalls. I then tried it out from home, and I learned that a wifi hotspot is not always adequate for such an event, especially if I wanted to bring in some special effects into a pre-loaded room, not to mention load a different room altogether. I feared my whole set up would fail during the live session, but thankfully, it went very smoothly.
WHAT DID WE LEARN AND OTHER IDEAS?
The event was quite amazing and indeed fully immersive. We had about 20 attendees joining from (most likely) the comfort of their living rooms. The panelists could show their slides on the virtual screen in the virtual auditorium, and I brought up our SAGE Ocean Twitter page at some point to show the results of a poll we ran the week before. Although, tweeting with a headset on was unsustainable.
We learned a few things. First that standalone headsets are not yet powerful enough for live and immersive events. Second, you need a strong wifi connection, even better if wired. Whilst joining from your laptop was possible, it didn’t provide that full immersion and the excitement of being in a completely different environment rather than just another webinar. Furthermore, none of the attendees nor the panelists felt compelled to follow the ‘unwritten’ rules of politeness during events. We would move around, teleport from the castle wall to the tree, pet the virtual animals and wave at others in the room. This made it for a much more entertaining experience, and I wonder if we would ever get bored of it!
I was pleasantly surprised by the level of audience engagement. We’ve had an attendee that felt more comfortable to write their question on the blackboard. Others kept asking questions and clarifications. And the time flew by!
In summary, working with Chris and the Engage platform was great, we’ve managed to run a very smooth event and build up interest. We are looking forward to running more of these in the future.