Last week, Andrea Stevenson Won sat down with her colleague, Christopher Byrne, for the latest installment of his podcast, Communication Breakdown, to chat about the Virtual Embodiment Lab.
One of the newer labs in the Communication department, the VEL has the advantage of a wide array of students with varying skill sets in the lab. Some students are Communication majors, others are from Information Science and some join from the College of Engineering. This diverse research group is trained to program virtual worlds, run experiments (including safely spotting participants as they experience virtual worlds), and even explaining the lab’s research (like this blog post)!
Won credits the recent jump in interest in consumer virtual reality to the gaming industry. “Popular culture initially saw VR as a tool for the gaming community,” said Won. With headsets now becoming increasingly affordable, Won hopes to see the technology breakthrough at an “institutional level” prompting wider research in the clinical, educational and collaborative potential of virtual reality.
Regarding clinical applications, Christopher Byrne and skeptics around the world beg the question, “Does it work?” In short, yes. Won referenced research by Hunter Hoffman where VR was used for burn victims undergoing painful procedures where they found immersive VR technology to help reduce the pain. Now, I don’t think virtual beaches are going to replace anesthesia, but the power of this detail-rich technology is undeniable.
With all the good things about VR, there are some drawbacks Byrne knows first hand. “The first time I tried VR was my 50th birthday and I fell backward over a coffee table.” While this is a possible danger of the technology Won quickly explained that he was most likely not being properly spotted and, while knocking on wood, she has yet to experience any sort of injury in her lab.
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Earlier this month, Virtual Embodiment Lab (VEL) Director Andrea Stevenson Won sat down with the folks at Teach Better to talk about VR, her research, and their impact on education.
The Teach Better Podcast, run by Doug McKee and Edward O’Neill, focuses on teachers in higher education and has created a community of people looking to better understand teachers and their tactics. They asked Professor Won to join the podcast to discuss her research exploring whether and how a virtual world can be created to provide a more engaging learning experience for students.
Won spoke on the advantages of simulations versus hands-on demonstrations, saying, “Often times physics experiments or demonstrations don’t work out as planned and the instructor has to spend valuable time tinkering with the apparatus. In VR you can get “perfect” results, every time.” This could be good for the next generation of students, who will be some of the most tech-savvy learners of our time.
Apart from learning, Professor Won also is interested in studying VR as a way to communicate. “Learning is usually a social activity and I think that we shouldn’t forget that when doing it in VR.”
Check out the podcast to listen to the entire interview, and browse past shows to find more teachers leading the way into the future. Also, keep this page bookmarked for ongoing updates on VEL research.
When you think of VR where does your mind go? Is it an ultra-realistic video game providing the complete entertainment experience? Or maybe it’s being able to view the Grand Canyon while sitting in your living room. But what about putting on a headset and going to work?
The Cornell Virtual Embodiment Lab is asking questions about collaboration and competition, something anyone with a 9-5 job is all too familiar with.
So why should you care about this? Well, if you’ve had to travel for work meeting you may want to pay attention. Companies spend a total of $111.7 billion a year in domestic travel for conventions, meetings, and training purposes. However, as VR technology becomes more advanced some of these trips may not be needed. Instead of flying to corporate headquarters employees could simply meet in a virtual space. This would save valuable resources in time, money, and fuel expenses that come with travel.
This study was headed by Yilu Sun, who came to the lab as a MPS student in Information Science. Her experiment was inspired by an earlier study that tracked movement of participants in collaborating pairs to predict their success at a collaborative task.
In her study, she manipulated avatar appearance, and whether participants were competing or collaborating. She is currently analyzing the data, and hopes to contribute to knowledge about how common social interactions may occur in virtual reality. “When we see the trends we notice all of these fantasies we see in sci-fi coming within our grasps. VR is a tool that can transition us into a more globally connected group of people.”
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