HumaniVR at International Conferences (IPrA18 & ICLC16)

During conference season in 2023, HumaniVR has been an active participant at some of the largest linguistic conferences worldwide.

Karsten Senkbeil was a speaker at the 18th International Conference of the International Pragmatics Association (IPrA) in Brussels (July 2023) in a panel entitled “The pragmatics of body, mind and technology – different approaches to theorizing and analyzing digitally mediated interaction”.

He presented results from our research in a paper called “Blended Origo – Deixis in Virtual Reality”.

Thank you to Dr. Andreas Candefors Stæhr and to Prof. Lian Malai Madsen from the University of Copenhagen for putting together an inspiring panel, mapping out how we can come to terms with language in digital contexts that involve not only our minds, but also our bodies.

Karsten also spoke at the 16th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference (ICLC16) in Düsseldorf (August 2023), again focussing on deixis, and discussing cognitive characteristics of the ‘origo’ (= the pivot of speaker’s orientation in space and time during a speech act, i.e.: the location of “I”, “here”, and “now”) while experiencing VR.

Mathis Göcht wins Award for Excellent Master’s Thesis 2022

Great news for the whole HumaniVR team: our colleague and friend Mathis Göcht, who has been a key member of HumaniVR since 15 January 2021(!), won the award for the best Master’s Thesis in Hildesheim in 2022, donated by the Universitätsgesellschaft Hildesheim e.V.. His thesis entitled „Kommunikatives Handeln in Virtual Reality – Experimente in außergewöhnlichen Wahrnehmungsräumen” [Communicative Action in Virtual Reality — experiments in extraordinary spaces of perception] covers the cognitive and linguistic effects that VR immersion has on deixis and common ground emergence. It contributes highly significant groundwork to cognitive linguistic questions on how space and directions are processed in and through language. His work represents a prime example of what HumaniVR has been striving to do in the last years.

Together with the mayor of Hildesheim, Dr. Ingo Meyer, and the president of the University of Hildesheim, Prof. Dr. May-Britt Kallenrode, the Universitätsgesellschaft e.V. and its guests celebrated Mathis’s excellent work in Hildesheim’s City Hall on June 13th 2023. The award comes with a prize money of 500€. Congratulations, Mathis!

Cooperation with Trinity College Dublin intensifies

For the second time in a row, the module “SpEakWise Virtual Reality Edition” took place in February-March 2023 at the University of Hildesheim and Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Ireland, giving students the chance to meet in the “Hildesheim Tandem Garden” for a multilingual and intercultural learning / gaming encounter. See here for a summary of how this module works.

We at HumaniVR continue to enjoy the collaboration and in particular to observe the enthusiasm and skilful problem-solving capacities of our German and Irish students.

Thanks go to the researchers and assistants on both sides of the North Sea: Roman Eich, Nicola Hoppe, Melike Karaca, Karsten Senkbeil, and Christian Sinn, and to our partners in Dublin: Gillian Martin, Breffni O’Rourke, and Sina Werner.

Sina performs last checks on the ‘Tandem Garden’ before the students from Dublin are good to go.

Following up on the successful continuation of “SpEakWise VR edition”, members of HumaniVR and TCD have agreed on further intensive cooperation between the two universities. Spoiler Alert: we may have great news just around the corner … so stay tuned 🙂

Research Retreat at Göttingen: two days of intensive discussions on virtual learning environments.

Our sister project Digital C@mpus Le@rning hosted a research retreat (“Klausurtagung”) at the picturesque FREIgeist resort in Göttingen on December 8-10, 2022, and Nicola and Karsten from HumaniVR joined the inspiring workshops, debates, and discussions with our colleagues from Hildesheim and beyond. Karsten hosted a brainstorming workshop on the question of ‘presence’ in VR and in other digital formats. Nicola and our friends from VIRTUAL le@rning provided insights into the status quo of our language learning environments in the “Hildesheim Tandem Garden 2.0”.

After two days of intensive brainstorming and plans on how to extend, expand, and improve our recent work, it appears safe to say: the future of Social Virtual Reality – both in research and teaching – at the University of Hildesheim looks promising.

Thank you very much to the organizers of this retreat, i.e. Birgit Oelker, Sanne Ziethen, and Jürgen Sander!

New publications

Together with our colleagues from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, Gillian Martin and Breffni O’Rourke, Karsten has published a report on their analyses of intercultural and multilingual communication in Social Virtual Reality. This is the link to the publication (open access) entitled:

  • Senkbeil, Karsten, Gillian Martin & Breffni O’Rourke (2022): SpEakWise VR: exploring the use of social virtual reality in telecollaborative foreign language learning between learners of English and German. In: Arnbjörnsdóttir, B.; Bédi, B.; Bradley, L.; Friðriksdóttir, K.; Garðarsdóttir, H.; Thouësny, S. & Whelpton, M.J.: Intelligent CALL, granular systems and learner data: short papers from EUROCALL 2022. pp. 352–357. DOI: 10.14705/rpnet.2022.61.1483

In related news, Anne-Elisabeth Roßa, a close friend of HumaniVR and member of our sister project VIRTUAL le@rning, has published her account on the application of Social Virtual Reality in training programmes for future teachers of religious studies in secondary school. This is the title:

  • Roßa, Anne-Elisabeth (2022): Avatarbasiertes Lehren und Lernen in VR-Umgebungen in der Religionsdidaktik. In: Pirker, V. & Pisonic, K., Virtuelle Realität und Transzendenz. Theologische und didaktische Erkundungen. Freiburg: Herder. pp. 232-249.

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.