An Interview with Sara Hartmann, VR researcher

Within HumaniVR and in its neighbourhood, several young scholars are currently developing and executing highly innovative and interesting research projects in the Humanities using VR apps and hardware. This blog has had the opportunity to interview some of them about their aims and goals, and their personal take on the impacts of VR. Today: Sara Hartmann, theater pedagogue at the University of Hildesheim. [In German].

HumaniVR: Hallo Sara, vielen Dank, dass du dir die Zeit für ein Interview mit uns genommen hast. Wie heißt dein Forschungsprojekt?

Sara Hartmann: Mein Forschungsprojekt trägt den Arbeitstitel „Virtual-Reality-Nutzung in der Theaterpädagogik“

HumaniVR: Kannst du das Projekt bitte in einigen Sätzen beschreiben?

Sara: Das Projekt erforscht Möglichkeiten, wie VR-Technologie in theaterpädagogischen Übungen und Prozessen ohne Programmierkenntnisse eingesetzt werden kann. Hierzu greift es auf die Nutzung von bestehenden Spielen und Anwendungen (beispielsweise „Open Brush“) zurück. Es soll erforscht werden, wie theatrale Verhältnisse von Körper und Raum durch den Einsatz von VR erfahrbar gemacht werden können und wie ein performatives Zusammenspiel von VR-Nutzenden und Nicht-Nutzenden funktionieren kann.

HumaniVR: Was ist dein Erkenntnisinteresse?

Sara: Ich möchte Methoden für eine Theaterpädagogik entwickeln, die VR-Technologie zur besonderen Körper- und Raumerfahrung einsetzt. Hierbei frage ich auch, ob und wie bekannte theaterpädagogische Übungen mithilfe von Virtual Reality Technologie erweitert werden können.

HumaniVR: Was ist deine persönliche Motivation für dieses Projekt gewesen?

Sara: Seit ich die VR-Performance „Raumlauf 1“ (Trailer: entwickelt habe, sehe ich große Potenziale für den Einsatz von Virtual Reality in der Theaterpädagogik. Leider hat die Erarbeitung anderthalb Jahre in Anspruch genommen und ich musste einige Zeit in das Erlernen von Programmierkenntnissen investieren. Da dies in theaterpädagogischen Prozessen meist nicht umsetzbar ist, suche ich nach Möglichkeiten auch zeit- und kostengünstig mit dieser Technologie zu arbeiten. Hierdurch soll das Medium VR von verschiedensten Gruppen auch ohne Programmierung theatral erforschbar und nutzbar werden.

HumaniVR: Welche Rolle spielen bei deiner Forschung die Eigenheiten/Charakteristika der VR in Abgrenzung zu anderen möglichen Medien oder Technologien?

Sara: VR ist ein Medium, das zwei der Grundprinzipien des Theaters – Körper und Raum – in besonderer Weise erfahrbar und verhandelbar macht. Im Gegensatz zu anderen Medien der Rezeption oder Interaktion legt es den Fokus auf die eigene Präsenz und Bewegung im virtuellen Raum. Gleichzeitig ergeben sich Positionen und Haltungen im physischen Raum, die – meist unbewusst – besondere Körperlichkeiten hervorbringen, die theatral eingesetzt werden können.

HumaniVR: Herzlichen Dank für deine Antworten und weiterhin Gutes Gelingen!

An Interview with Mathis Göcht, VR researcher

Within HumaniVR and in its neighbourhood, several young scholars are currently developing and executing highly innovative and interesting research projects using VR apps and hardware. This blog has had the opportunity to interview some of them about their aims and goals, and their personal take on the impacts of VR. We begin with an interview of an ‘old acquaintance’ of HumaniVR, Mathis Göcht.

HumaniVR: Hi Mathis. You have just started to work on your thesis project. What’s its name?

Mathis Göcht: The title of my research project is “Communicative Action in Virtual Reality – Experiments in unusual Perceptual Spaces”.

HumaniVR: Can you describe it for us in a few sentences.

Mathis: The main part of my research will be the development of a VR environment in which specific aspects of the virtual world are manipulated in comparison to the perceptual space that we are used to in our usual environment. The test subjects, therefore, will not to be able to make use of the standard spatial reference systems deriving from their embodied presence in the real world. In the virtual environment, they will be challenged to solve a puzzle in teams of two, in which mutual communicative spatial coordination and the establishment of common ground will take a crucial part. The data will be recorded before being linguistically analyzed using transcripts of the teams’ spoken language.

HumaniVR: What would you like to find out with this experiment?

Mathis: My research interest is related to concepts in cognitive linguistics. I want to address the influence of the immediate environment and the egocentric perception of oneself in a specific environment, concerning the communication about space, for example the use of deictic language. Furthermore, I want to find out how people create a successful and potentially new communication system if they are embodied in different perceptual spaces, and how common ground can be created in these interactions.

HumaniVR: What has been your personal motivation behind this research project?

Mathis: My motivation derives from my general interest in emerging technologies such as VR. After gaining my first experience in VR-based research in my bachelor’s thesis, I continued to pursue this interest, working for HumaniVR.
Since I’m interested in the emergence of language systems and common ground, as well as the influence of bodily perception on linguistic reference systems, I’ve decided to turn this into a research project for my master’s thesis, taking advantage of the opportunities Virtual Reality environments provide.

HumaniVR: Which role does VR play as a medium and technology? Which characteristics of VR do you find particularly important in contrast to other technologies?

Mathis: In contrast to a common misconception, VR can not only be used as a simulation of the real world but extend certain aspects of physical reality. This enables researchers to manipulate features of the environment that are otherwise difficult or impossible to influence in regular lab conditions. By providing users with a sense of presence — the feeling of being physically embedded in the virtual world — VR extends the possibilities of other digitally mediated communication technologies, which can only be perceived through a screen and, thus, lack a sense of embodiment.

HumaniVR: Thank you, Mathis, for this interview.

What pupils say about their VR research – part 2

Here are further original voices from students of Gymnasium Athenaeum describing their own current VR studies.

I am writing my seminar paper about the so-called “Museum of Other Realities”, a museum in Virtual Reality with many art projects by various artists. The special thing is that you can actually ‘enter’ many artworks, some are also interactive. I would like to find out if users understand this as a ‘full-blown museum’, so: if experiencing art can be completely transferred into the digital, virtual world.
Visiting the MOR can be overwhelming at first. You need some time to orient yourself. This is a very special feeling, and a very cool experience. Particularly for people who are not interested in art and in museums, it is an interesting advantage that you can enter the MOR from home, sitting on your bed. You don’t have to actively travel there or something.

– Leon

My topic is called „Language competence under stress”, that means: how does our language use change – particularly when we use the foreign language English – under time pressure? My test subjects, pupils and young grown-ups from Germany, will play a cooperative puzzle game in Virtual Reality, using English.
I myself have felt much more influenced and stressed while playing in VR, compared to games on a screen. You put yourself under more pressure, to actually achieve the goals in the game, and to not ‘die’. I’m asking myself if you can still fully use your language competence in such a realistic situation in VR.”

– Eileen

What pupils say about their VR research

At the “Gymnasium Athenaeum” in Stade, pupils preparing for their Abitur are currently participating in the seminar “Language, Learning, and Technology”, using Virtual Reality equipment provided by HumaniVR.

They explore how VR technology helps them and their peers learn and explore the (virtual) world. In line with the school curriculum, they execute their own small research projects and formulate their findings in the form of a ‘seminar paper’ – similar to those they will encounter at the university in the not too distant future.

This cooperation between HumaniVR, the University of Hildesheim, and Gymnasium Athenaeum combines three pedagogic and didactic angles:

  • It fosters critical media competencies: VR technology is undoubtedly fascinating for young people. But does it help us learn, work, socialize, etc beyond the initial “Wow!”-effect? What about long-term motivation? This seminar invites students to think beyond the user perspective, by putting them into the researcher position themselves.
  • Pupils reflect on their own learning process by helping others learn. The “Learning-by-Teaching” paradigm is a well-established pedagogical concept: by putting students into the situation of having to design and test small learning modules for their peers or younger kids in their school – here: with VR – they are invited to see education (including their own) from a meta-perspective.

  • They take first steps into empiricism: questions about the interaction of humans with technology are complicated, so thorough empirical work is necessary. Designing a systematic, methodological research project (though small it may be) and then write it up cogently are skills any future university student will need.

But enough theory 🙂

Here is a small glimpse at what students themselves have to say about their interests, their projects, and their experiences with VR at school.

The topic of my seminar paper will by “Emotional-Affective Learning with Virtual Reality”. I’d like to see if learning content with an emotional VR experience is more memorable in comparison to common methods of learning, such as in class, reading texts, and so on.
I’ll do that using the VR app “The Anne Frank House VR”, a virtual version of the house, in which Anne Frank hid during the Second World War.
I would like to find out if the affectedness, and the general emotions concerning the topic ‘Anne Frank’ are strengthened by using VR. I already have read studies saying that knowledge and facts that we experience in connection with strong emotions are stored in our long term memory much longer.
– Lena

My project is called „Cooperative problem-solving in Virtual Reality”. This is about the VR app “Keep talking and nobody explodes”, a cooperative game, in which one partner has the manual to defuse a bomb, and the other one is wearing the VR goggles, sees the bomb and needs to defuse it properly. I would like to examine which aspects have an influence on cooperative problem-solving: their age? How well people know each other? If they have prior experience in VR? Who exactly is most successful in solving such problems in VR?
I also find the plans of Mark Zuckerberg and Meta very interesting, particularly that people will meet directly in VR in the future, to – for example – do sports and fitness together with friends. I think this should be very motivating.
– Leon

The „Museum Schwedenspeicher“ in my hometown Stade offers a Virtual-Reality-based ‘stroll’ through Stade in the year 1620.
I want to research in how far this type of getting to know history is motivating for users and helps them learn information. I will work with groups of test subjects: one of the groups will have the virtual experience, the control group will receive the same information as a text. Then I will see in how far the medium influences the learning progress. I also have interviewed the museum’s pedagogue Mrs. Etzold. She explained to me the concept of the virtual tour, and how it is connected to the ‘real’ city tour outside.
– Alexandra

HumaniVR @ Trinity College Dublin

The University of Hildesheim has a long-standing cooperation with Trinity College Dublin: “SpEakWise”, a blended-learning project, in which students from Germany and Ireland develop language skills and intercultural competence together in a joint computer-mediated seminar, already since 2007.

Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Now, “SpEakWise” has partnered with HumaniVR, updating its established tandem approach with the newest technology: “SpEakWise VR”.

So on January 25th 2022, the first cohort of “SpEakWise VR”-students met in the virtual environment “Hildesheim Tandem Garden” (which has been developed by Karsten and Mathis), using their foreign language skills (English and German respectively), testing their cooperative problem-solving competencies, and having an overall fun time together in Virtual Reality.

At Trinity College Dublin, Dr Gillian Martin and Dr Breffni O’Rourke deserve thanks for making this happen. Karsten’s trip to Trinity College was a great success thanks to them — and in particular thanks to the students at Trinity and in Hildesheim, who really rose to the occasion and made their collaborative VR ‘adventure’ memorable and exciting.

Screenshot 1 from “SpEakWise VR”: two students from the University of Hildesheim meet two students from Trinity College Dublin in the “Tandem Garden” — and have a virtual coffee together.
Screenshot 2 from “SpEakWise VR”: This player needs to figure out the right combination for the ‘button puzzle’ in front of her. Team Red (in the background, on the other side of the fence) has access to that information and can help her.
Which language will they use though?

In line with HumaniVR’s agenda of developing new methodologies for VR research, for teaching, and learning in VR across languages and cultures, Karsten, Mathis, Nicola and Nora collected large amounts of data and feedback from the students both in Hildesheim and Dublin. It is going to be analyzed very soon – stay tuned for what we’ll find out!

Workshop on “Current research and teaching in and with VR/AR/MixedR”, hosted by HumaniVR

In collaboration with our neighbouring projects “Hololingo!” and “Digital C@mpus Le@rning”, we are hosting a workshop entitled

“Aktuelle Forschung und Lehre in VR/AR/MixedR”

on Nov 25th 2021 at the University of Hildesheim (Bühler Campus).

This is the programme (the working language will be German):

14:00 – 14:05Begrüßung und Organisatorisches
14:05 – 14:50Keynote: Dr. Timo Ahlers
(Universität Potsdam)
Holistischer und phänomenbezogener Mündlichkeitserwerb beim Game-Based Language Learning im Social-VR-Tandem
14:50 – 15:10Dr. Anne-Elisabeth Rossa (SUH)„Schöne Idee, aber was soll das bringen?“ – Diskussion um Chancen, Herausforderungen und Perspektiven zu avatarbasierten Lehr- und Lernräumen und zum „Microteaching-Peerteaching“ in virtuellen Lernumgebungen.
15:10 – 15:25Leonard Meiertoberend (SUH)Entwicklung eines virtuellen Sicherheitsrundgangs
15:25 – 15:45Kaffeepause
15:45 – 16:30Dr. Ralph Kölle (SUH)Räume schaffen – Ein kurze Einführung in die Unity-Programmierumgebung am Beispiel von Hololingo
16:30 – 16:45Mathis Göcht (SUH)Hybride Präsenz in VR
16:45 – 17:10Andreas Taranto (SUH)Umsetzung von Lernkonzepten nach dem Gemeinsamen europäischen Referenzrahmen für Sprachen in einer Social Virtual Reality.
17:10 – 17:20Abschlussrunde: Blick in die Zukunft, nächste Schritte, Vernetzung, externe Kommunikation, …

Contact Karsten Senkbeil if you’d like more information.

Ahlers, Kölle et al. win “Best Paper” award for their work on VR language tandems

HumaniVR’s Timo Ahlers and Ralph Kölle are part of a team of authors (with Milica Lazović and Cassandra Bumann) that has won the “Best Paper” award at the recent conference “Bildungstechnologien der Gesellschaft für Informatik (DELFI)” in September 2021. They discuss the progress made with the Hololingo! platform (HumaniVR’s ‘sibling project’).

The paper is available open access and in English. This is its full title:

Ahlers, Timo / Bumann, Cassandra / Kölle, Ralph / Lazović, Milica (2021): Hololingo! – A Game-Based Social Virtual Reality Application for Foreign Language Tandem Learning. In: Kienle, Andrea / Harrer, Andreas / Haake, Jörg M. / Lingnau, Andreas (Eds.): Die 19. Fachtagung Bildungstechnologien der Gesellschaft für Informatik, Lecture Notes in Informatics (LNI), Gesellschaft für Informatik, Bonn 2021, 37–48

Congratulations to the whole team of authors!

HumaniVR presents its work at “NEW le@rning”

“NEW le@rning” is a collection of lectures on ‘best practices’ in the application of digital tools for innovative teaching and learning at the University of Hildesheim.

On October 27th 2021, Karsten was invited to give an overview of past, current, and future activities of HumaniVR, particularly concerning language practice in Social VR tandems.

We discussed our recently designed “Hildesheim Tandem Garden” (see image) as one of the environments we are currently using for that purpose, followed by a lively and highly enjoyable discussion.

The presentation was videorecorded and is available on request (in German).

“Hildesheim Tandem Garden” screenshot

Pupils of “Gymnasium Athenaeum” research VR as a tool for learning

In the school year 2021/22, HumaniVR cooperates with the “Gymnasium Athenaeum” in Stade, Lower Saxony, to examine and develop the potentials of Virtual Reality for teaching and learning in high schools.

In a seminar called “Language, Learning, and Technology”, 12th-graders have the opportunity to experience and test the capabilities of VR hardware and apps to help them and their peers learn about language, culture, history, science, nature, and new forms of art (to name only a few of the possibilities). Now, it will be their task to design and execute small studies and experiments with suitable research questions. They will critically and constructively assess the usefulness of VR as a tool for innovative teaching, and actively participate in the creation of the classroom of the future .

HumaniVR will accompany these experiments, counsel and advise – and hopes to learn a lot from members of the first generation of potential “virtual natives”.

Thank you, “Athe”-pupils, for your active participation and enthusiasm so far. It is lots of fun to work with you! Thanks also to their teacher Mrs. Engbers and the principal Mr. Niestroj for making this possible.

Innovating University Education with VR: University of Hildesheim wins bid to extend its range of digital learning tools

Congratulations to the University of Hildesheim for acquiring external funding directed at “Innovating University Education through Digitalization” worth more than 3 million euros!

Starting today, 01 August 2021, the university will have the opportunity to heavily bolster its digital teaching and learning formats and break new grounds in three different strands, subsumed under the title “Digital C@MPUS-le@rning”. One of these strands revolves around the implementation of Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality on a larger scale in various subjects, ranging from chemistry labs to teacher training modules (“VIRTUAL le@rning”). The HumaniVR team has been an active participant in making this happen, and will continue to do so: Karsten Senkbeil will coordinate the efforts of the “VIRTUAL le@rning” team, and Nicola Hoppe will be in charge of further developing foreign language teaching programmes in VR.

This success really has been a team effort. So thank you to everyone who has contributed to the “Digital C@MPUS le@rning” bid! Thanks to Vice President Jürgen Sander and Birgit Oelker for believing in the opportunities of Virtual Reality and for having HumaniVR on board. And in particular, thanks to the “VIRTUAL le@rning” team surrounding Anne-Elisabeth Roßa, Markus Herrmann, and Jan Hinrichs.

There is plenty to do – and now there is actually some money and time to do it. HumaniVR is very much looking forward to being part of the “Digital C@MPUS”!