HumaniVR @ “Festival of Digital Connections”

From October 5th to 7th 2022, our colleagues from co3learn, a digital education project at universities in Göttingen, Brunswick, and Hanover, had invited us to participate in the “Festival of Digital Connections”, present our current work, and step in contact with students from across Europe to discuss our visions for virtual learning environments.

Nicola and Mathis of HumaniVR were joined by our friends from Digital C@mpus Le@rning (thank you Salla and Olivia!), to provide festival visitors with the opportunity to check out our recent work and to test our VR worlds for language tandems, and interactive collaborative gaming.

Beyond the hands-on approach, Nicola hosted an interactive worskshop “University in new dimensions? Learning and teaching in Social VR” with students of various disciplines, discussing the potentials for VR in different scenarios. Students of mathematics have different necessities than students of history, or of biology. They all agreed, however, that well-built VR activities will be able to augment their learning journey in various forms, and brainstormed ideas for the future in a lively discussion.

Thank you to the organizers of the “Festival of Digital Connections” for putting together an inspiring event with great people!

An interview with Sina Haselmann, 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. Today: Sina Haselmann, member of the Cu2RVE project and doctoral student at the University of Hildesheim.

HumaniVR: Hallo Sina, vielen Dank, dass du uns für dieses Interview zur Verfügung stehst. Du arbeitest an einem zukunftsweisenden Forschungsprojekt. Wie genau ist der Titel?

Sina Haselmann: Aktuell trägt es den Titel „Die Vermittlung des Dimensionsbegriffs mittels immersiver virtueller Realität (IVR) am Übergang zur Sekundarstufe I“. Da ich aber aktuell noch in der Konzeptionsphase bin, übernehme ich keine Garantie für die Dauerhaftigkeit des Titels! Ich habe neulich ein Poster dazu auf der Tagung der Gesellschaft für Mathematikdidaktik präsentiert und auf Researchgate hochgeladen.

HumaniVR: Kannst du deine Forschungsziele in einigen Sätzen beschreiben?

Sina: Es geht in dem Projekt darum, VR als neues Lernmedium in der Mathematikdidaktik einzusetzen. Konkret werde ich ein VR-Lernspiel entwickeln, mit dem der Dimensionsbegriff an Schüler:innen zum Ende der Grundschule oder zu Beginn der weiterführenden Schule vermittelt werden kann. Obwohl die Kinder in der Grundschule nämlich viel über zweidimensionale Flächen und dreidimensionale Körper lernen, wird der Begriff der Dimension in der Regel nicht behandelt. Dabei spielt dieser nicht nur für die Mathematik in höheren Klassen, sondern auch für unsere Lebenswelt eine große Rolle: Wenn wir zeichnen, stellen wir in der Regel ein dreidimensionales Objekt in einer zweidimensionalen Ebene dar. Bei der Navigation mit Stadtplänen übertragen wir eine zweidimensionale Darstellung wieder in die dreidimensionale Welt. Auch in der Science Fiction wird man zum Beispiel mit dem Phänomen des Hyperraums konfrontiert, der von den Protagonist:innen für interstellare Reisen jenseits der uns bekannten drei Raumdimensionen genutzt wird. Uns erscheinen solche Ideen geradezu mystisch, da unser Gehirn vier oder mehr Dimensionen nicht visualisieren kann. Die Mathematik kann hier helfen, theoriegeleitete Vorstellungen zu schaffen. Und das von mir entwickelte Lernspiel – hoffentlich – diese kindgerecht zu vermitteln.

HumaniVR: Was ist dein Erkenntnisinteresse?

Sina: Zum einen soll das Lernspiel natürlich den Kindern näherbringen, wie man sich eine zweite, dritte und vielleicht sogar vierte Dimension vorstellen kann. Ob und wie dies wirksam gelingen kann, möchte ich im Projekt erforschen. Dabei interessiert mich auch die Frage, unter welchen Rahmenbedingungen das Lernspiel eingesetzt werden kann. Als Szenario könnte ich mir hier einen außerschulischen Lernort vorstellen, etwa ein Science Center in der Region.

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

Sina: Schon in meinem Studium der Mensch-Computer-Interaktion an der Universität Hamburg habe ich die Faszination des Mediums VR kennen gelernt. Ich finde aber generell bei neuen Technologien wichtig zu hinterfragen, wo der Nutzen für die Menschen liegt – jenseits vom aktuellen Hype. Seit April 2020 arbeite ich an der Uni Hildesheim im Projekt Cu2RVE am Design multimedialer digitaler Lernmodule. Dabei ist bei mir auch der Wunsch gewachsen, den sinnvollen Einsatz von VR als Lernmedium zu erforschen, zumal in diesem Bereich gerade unglaublich viel passiert.

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

Sina: VR ermöglicht es wie kein anderes Medium physikalisch unmögliche Umgebungen zu schaffen und diese enaktiv, also handelnd, erfahrbar zu machen. Der Körper der Nutzer:innen kann für die Interaktion mit virtuellen Objekten genutzt werden, und zwar im dreidimensionalen Raum anstatt nur auf einem zweidimensionalen Bildschirm. Dies erlaubt ganz neue Möglichkeiten des Lernens, kann aber auch leicht vom eigentlichen Lerngegenstand ablenken. Ich hoffe, hier auch zur Entwicklung neuer Designprinzipien beitragen zu können.

HumaniVR: Herzlichen Dank für deine Antworten und weiterhin viel Erfolg!

An interview with Nora Schumann, 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: Nora Schumann, expert on Intercultural Communication and Gender Studies, who recently completed her M.A. thesis at the University of Hildesheim.

HumaniVR: Hi Nora, thank you for taking the time for this interview. What is the name of your research project?

Nora Schumann: It’s “(Un)doing Gender in Virtual Reality”

HumaniVR: Can you please describe your research project in a few sentences?

Nora: I am guided by the theory of doing gender, which roughly speaking assumes that the “social” gender is not something that one “has”, but something that one “does” and that is reproduced again and again in the interaction with others. One of the ways in which we assign a gender to others is by first classifying the other person into “sex categories” on the basis of external characteristics. I am investigating which characteristics of the sex categories can be manipulated in virtual reality (VR) and which effects the manipulation has on the perception of the counterpart and on one’s own behaviour in relation to gender (re)production. 

HumaniVR: What would you like to find out?

Nora: I am interested in the effects of manipulating the characteristics of sex categories, which characteristics play a dominant role in the assignment for us in virtual reality and whether these differ from characteristics of the “real” world. I would like to find out whether, and if so, how it is possible to design a human-like avatar that is not directly gendered by the players and what possibilities arise from the design.

HumaniVR: What was your personal motivation for this project?

Nora: I would like to create more sensitivity for the fact that in our everyday interactions, we immediately assign a sex category to our counterparts most of the time, along with all the stereotyping and attributions that unconsciously go along with it. Stereotyping and categorisation make it easier for our brains to work, but in my view, they make us less free and, coupled with power relations, lead to structural inequality and discrimination.

HumaniVR: What role do the peculiarities/characteristics of VR (as opposed to other possible media or technologies) play in your research?

Nora: It is difficult or impossible to escape the “real” body and its perception by others. VR offers the possibility to influence physical characteristics and thus the perception of us by others relatively easily – for researchers also in a controllable setting. The sense of embodiment can lead to a very strong, personal experience. VR thus offers the chance to take social and cultural science and gender theories out of their academic “ivory towers” and make them practically accessible and physically tangible to a larger group of people. In my opinion, this new form of science communication is a great opportunity and an important task for researchers. I see great potential here for further research that deals with discrimination based on other physical characteristics (racism, ableism, etc.).

HumaniVR: Thank you, Nora, for this interview.

HumaniVR presents at EUROCALL 2022

“EUROCALL” is Europe’s largest conference for Computer-Assisted Language Learning. It took place in August 2022 in Reykjavik (online). Joining forces with Breffni O’Rourke and Gillian Martin from Trinity College Dublin, Karsten contributed research results on multilingual interactions in Social Virtual Reality between students from Dublin and from Hildesheim in the ‘Hildesheim Tandem Garden’.

The presentation was entitled “SpEakWise VR: Exploring the use of Social Virtual Reality in telecollaborative language learning”, and it touched on the didactic concepts behind the ‘Tandem Garden’, observations on how language learners in SVR employ all skills and tools at their disposal – various languages, their own and their avatars’ bodies, VR objects, gaming skills etc – , and how they ‘code-switch’ between English and German whenever necessary.

The presentation was recorded and is available at request. Please feel free to contact us if you are interested.

Screenshots from our presentation at “EUROCALL 2022”

Call for Chapter Proposals

HumaniVR will organize and fund an edited volume called

“Virtual Reality in den Geisteswissenschaften – Konzepte, Methoden und interkulturelle Anwendungen [Virtual Reality in the Humanities – Concepts, Methods, and Intercultural Applications]”, edited by Karsten Senkbeil and Timo Ahlers.

The volume is scheduled to appear in 2023 with the publisher Peter Lang Verlag (Berlin, ISSN: 1868-372X) as part of the series “Hildesheim Studies in Intercultural Communication“.

We have just published the Call for Chapter Proposals via LinguistList (and other outlets). If you are interested in contributing, feel free to contact us.

Collaborations between HumaniVR and the degree program “Interkulturelle Sprachwissenschaft” [Intercultural Linguistics]

The new degree program “Interkulturelle Sprachwissenschaft” at the University of Hildesheim is now up and running, and will continue to grow. Karsten and Nicola of HumaniVR are involved as both lecturers and researchers. We answered a few questions on where our research and our intercultural and linguistic seminars intersect, for this news item that the university just published.

VIRTUAL Campus at “Mittsommernacht” in Hildesheim

We really had a blast at the “Midsummer’s Night” festival in Hildesheim!

It was great to work with students, colleagues, their friends and families — including plenty of kids, who REALLY seem to enjoy VR 😀 — and show them how we use VR and AR to teach and learn in exciting ways.

Thank you to the whole team for making this possible (consisting of “HumaniVR” and “Digital C@mpus Learning” members): Andreas, Anne, Birgit, Karsten, Leonard, Markus, Mathis, Melike, Merle, Nicola, Olivia, Salla-Noora, Sanne.

HumaniVR @ “Mittsommernacht” Hildesheim 2022

The “Mittsommernacht” festival at Campus Domäne in Hildesheim is a fantastic event with music, art, exhibitions, and of course food and drink.

This year, on June 18 2022, “HumaniVR” and its sibling project “Digital C@mpus Le@rning” join the festival to offer visitors glimpses into our current work with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

Both children and adults are invited to try out the “Hildesheim Tandem Garden”, to test their language skills in exciting multilingual games, to explore the virtual chemistry laboratory and solve a tricky situation with “dangerous” chemicals, and several other activities.

Here’s to hoping for fair weather. We are looking forward to a fun experience with students, friends and families.

Location: Campus Domäne Marienburg, Hildesheim
Time: Saturday 18 June 2022, 16:30 – 21:30 h

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: https://vimeo.com/516160705) 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.