Biting Off More Than I Can Chew: Lessons Learned from a Suspended Virtual Reality Research Project

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

As you might know from reading my bio, for the past couple of years I had been working on an academic research project involving Sansar. As members of the faculty union at my university, academic librarians have an opportunity and obligation to pursue research as part of their overall workload. Here’s a brief description of what I wanted to accomplish with my research project:

As my multi-year academic research project, I am creating a user-navigable, three-dimensional version of the Mathematical Atlas website (a guide to the mathematics literature for undergraduate and graduate students created by Dr. David Rusin) using Sansar as a software platform. I am doing this research in order to try and answer the following questions:

What hurdles do academic libraries face in providing access to a pre-existing reference/research tool in a virtual reality environment to students?

Are the software tools currently available (for example, those in Sansar) sufficient to build effective, efficient VR experiences for reference? If not, then what else is needed? This research project would be among the very first library and educational uses of the Sansar platform.

How will patrons use reference and research tools in VR? In the specific case of the Mathematical Atlas, will the use of a three-dimensional landscape model help users better grasp the various areas of modern mathematical research and how they relate to each other, as opposed to a traditional flat, two-dimensional webpage? Or will the 3-D model simply get in the way of imparting useful information?

“Wanted to accomplish” is in past tense because, I now realize, I have bitten off way more than I can chew, and tried to take on a research project that I simply cannot complete with the resources I have in any sort of timely fashion. I originally had this wonderful idea that I would create a three-dimensional version of the Mathematical Atlas website, and I would then test users to see how being able to navigate the information in 3D would impact users’ comprehension of the material.

My research project failed due to a number of factors, such as a lack of research time, and poor overall planning and project management. But the biggest problem was that I picked an area where I lacked the necessary in-depth subject knowledge. I have an undergraduate computer science degree and a Masters degree in library and information science, as well as several years of experience as the liaison librarian for the Department of Mathematics at my university. However, it quickly became obvious that a much greater in-depth knowledge of mathematics was required to effectively create the scenes or rooms representing the various areas of contemporary mathematics research that I had envisaged as part of this research project. As I said, I bit off more than I can chew. To give you an idea of how complex this topic is, here is the front-page “map” of the territory:

The front-page map of the Mathematical Atlas website, showing the relationship between the various research areas in contemporary mathematics research (position of the circles), and the amount of published research (size of the circles)

So what I am doing over the next six weeks is writing up an academic paper about my suspended research project, where I outline what I wanted to do and the lessons I learned in trying to get a project like this off the ground, in hopes that other researchers can learn something from my failure.

I still do believe that Sansar and other social VR platforms provide a “short cut” to building and publishing virtual reality experiences that can be very useful for educational and research purposes. For example, I just recently learned about a project at my university, the University of Manitoba, where Dr. Andrew Woolford and Dr. Adam Muller spent four years creating a virtual reality experience based on the testimonies of survivors of Canada’s Indian residential school system. The goal of the project was to shed light on a shameful chapter of Canadian history where indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and sent away to boarding schools, where they lost their language and culture, and were often physically, mentally and sexually abused, all in the name of government-and-church-sanctioned assimilation into white settler culture:

I am curious about the technical aspects of this project, and I have reached out to the professors who did this work to learn more about it. This is the sort of thing that platforms like High Fidelity and Sansar would be a natural fit for. And I do believe that social VR platforms will play a key role in future educational and research projects. In fact, I still want to do research into applications of virtual reality and social VR to academic libraries. After I write (and hopefully publish) my paper, I will be sitting down to figure out my next research project.


UPDATED! Pictures from the Gala De La Lune Event in Sansar

Almost fifty avatars showed up in their finest formalwear for this Friday evening event! The following pictures of the Gala De La Lune event were taken by me, Torley Linden, and Andrew William:

UPDATE May 20th: Olympus Mons posted the following hour-long video to YouTube of the gala. Enjoy!

Gala De La Lune Formal Event Tomorrow Evening in Sansar

Have you joined the Discord yet? More details here

And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Linden Lab is hosting a formal event in Sansar tomorrow evening, Friday, May 17th, 2019 from 4:00-9:00 p.m. Pacific time/Sansar time. The event, titled Gala De La Lune, is described as:

A Great Gatsby inspired formal event. Croquet, scones, and ballgowns. It don’t mean a thang if it ain’t got no Electroswing.

And if your avatar is looking for something suitable to wear, the Sansar Store has a featured selection of formal clothing created for such an event!

Here’s the lineup of performers for the party:

  • 4:00-5:00 p.m. PST – DJ Bayleigh
  • 5:00-6:00 p.m. PST – DJ Puddles
  • 6:00-7:00 p.m. PST – DJ GrandadGotMojo
  • 7:00-8:00 p.m. PST – DJ DisneyHuntress

You will need to install the Sansar client software on your computer and create an account to attend this party. Here’s a guide on how to get started. On the day of the event, open up Sansar and navigate to the Atlas (look for the Go button on the left-hand-side menu). Once there, click on the Gala De La Lune experience to join. The doors will open 30 minutes ahead of the event.

It promises to be a very elegant soirée. I hope to see you there!

Sansar Pick of the Day: Sancraft

Sancraft is not the first Minecraft-themed experience in Sansar (that would be Sancrafter by JackTheRipper, which I wrote about back in August 2017). But Gindipple has created a wonderful interactive sandbox environment reminiscent of the classic cube-building game.

If you are in desktop, just press 1 to bring up a building HUD. If you are in a Oculus Rift headset, just press the X or A button on your Touch controllers to bring up the same menu. You can easily choose a cube type, then click on the ground to start placing cubes.

If you need to remove a misplaced cube, just select the shovel icon from the HUD and click on the cube you want to remove. Here are just a few examples of what people have built using Sancraft, posted to the official Sansar Discord:

Why not jump into Sancraft and flex your creative muscles? It’s great fun!