The Center for Digital Humanities at The University of Arizona and Snobal, a technology company developing cloud enterprise virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) software, are the successful recipients of a Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) grant investigating the impact on learning of the choice and comfort level with digital avatars in immersive learning experiences.
As VR technologies become more widely adopted in educational settings to enhance student engagement, there is an increasing focus on how best to ensure that VR technologies and experiences are accessible to people from diverse backgrounds and abilities. The research will study students' preference and selection of virtual avatars in an immersive virtual environment and how those decisions and options can foster a more positive learning environment for people from diverse backgrounds and abilities.
Bryan Carter, Director of the Center for Digital Humanities and Associate Professor of Africana Studies, will introduce his students to Snobal’s enterprise VR collaboration and presentation authoring app, Snobal Sphere, using the Pico Neo 2 Eye headsets. The students will have a selection of diverse options as they establish themselves in the virtual environment and begin engaging with the course content. Anonymous data collected via survey, eye tracking and choice will be used to enhance user experience throughout the semester and presented through a white paper at the end of the study.
“Digital avatars are supposed to represent the user, but the virtual representations have often been a generic, one-size-fits-all variety, lacking in cultural diversity and physical ability,” Carter said. “There is an opportunity now to develop industry standards and broad guidance on avatar comfort and other preferences to ensure that virtual technologies are accessible to people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.”
The use of digital technologies including VR/AR for remote collaboration has accelerated in both business and educational settings in the last year with online education assuming greater importance than before and students' needs and expectations having changed.
"The world works very differently than it did a year ago. We are seeing a huge shift in where and how people work and study and the adoption of digital technologies such as VR. VR has the potential to change the way we learn, collaborate and communicate but many of the elements around responsible development and use are still evolving including guidelines on virtual avatar design and preference,” said Ann Nolan, Snobal co-founder and chief growth officer.
“We know that the experience people have of their virtual avatars impacts how they feel in VR. Avatars can literally change people's behavior and attitudes and how they feel about themselves in VR. But we don't know what avatar choice needs to be made available to students to ensure inclusive learning experiences? What drives avatar comfort in learning environments? This research is about enabling us to better understand this so the broader VR industry can have clear direction,” Nolan said.
The project is funded by a research grant from Facebook Reality Labs (FRL), which requested proposals targeting the company’s third Responsible Innovation Principle: “Consider Everyone.” The latest round of grants included 115 proposals from more than 100 universities in 25+ countries and is supporting research on how best to build the next computing platform in a responsible way with a focus on ensuring consideration of the needs, requirements of user and non-user experiences across diverse social groups and cultures.
The results of the research will be made available by Snobal and The Center for Digital Humanities at The University of Arizona at the completion of the research next year.
Snobal is a global technology company that is revolutionizing how business and education use VR/AR to solve mission critical issues. The company’s VR/AR platform, Snobal Cloud makes it easy for business and education to deploy, author and report virtual experiences. Innovative companies across the world use the company’s platform to scale their VR/AR experiences across diverse use cases and applications ranging from workplace training, employee onboarding and collaboration and customer collaboration. Headquartered in Melbourne, Australia Snobal has been an innovator and industry leader in advancing the use of VR/ AR for business and education since 2014.
About Center for Digital Humanities at the University of Arizona:
The Center for Digital Humanities is a research and innovation incubator for the computational study of the human condition. Through the organizational, analytical and visualization power of digital technologies, CDH provides creative, scholarly and educational support for researchers, teachers and community members seeking to more fully understand the world’s enduring and emerging needs.