In Awe: A Virtual Reality Experiment at Hamilton College

Pictured above: Study participant Jeff Greenwald, Hamilton ’17

Researchers studying awe in a lab setting can’t take participants to awe-inducing locations like mountaintops, and the standard of watching videos of those situations has limitations. To help solve this problem, Hayley Goodrich ‘17, a Psychology concentrator at Hamilton College, and Educational Technologist Kyle Burnham recently set out to explore the use of Virtual Reality (VR) for Goodrich’s thesis project on the experience of awe.

A vague theoretical connection between awe and meaning exists in the awe literature. According to Goodrich:

awe arises when something in the environment is vast and cannot readily be incorporated into one’s existing meaning frameworks.

Goodrich wanted to explore if awe really did emerge in response to a violation of some meaning-making structure. Studying such a connection necessitated that she first make participants feel awe. (more…)

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Unpacking My Library: The Book in Augmented Reality

See also: The Life of Books

This semester, students in Professor Andrew Rippeon’s “Unpacking My Library: The Book, The Burke, and the 20th Century” (Literature & Creative Writing) are introduced to the history and practice of the book in a long arc from the pre-Gutenberg era into the present.

With a focus on the 20th century, Rippeon’s students consider “the book” and “the library” as literary, theoretical, and material engagements: what does it mean to curate a library? How do technological developments bear upon information? How do authors and artists respond to these questions? Over the semester, and in addition to reading in these contexts and to writing their own original critical essays, students make letterpressed broadsides and books, curate micro-libraries, and produce (as a hard-copy book) an anthology of their writing.

Students put the finishing touches on a book making project.
Above: Students put the finishing touches on a book making project.

Top: Prof. Andrew Rippeon demonstrates setting type to a group of students.

In this iteration of the course, students will create their own charged technological context for the book: how does an augmented-reality book further pressurize the context we’re discussing? Students will use 3D technologies (3D printing and the Sprout Pro learning station), and augmented reality applications to produce a book that has a much broader material-technological footprint, at once engaging with and commenting upon the status of the book in the 21st century. We intend to produce an augmented-reality book that documents its own context and production.


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Building the Campus of the Future: EDUCAUSE-HP Research Project

Hamilton College is pleased to announce its participation in the Building the Campus of the Future: 3D Technologies in Academe EDUCAUSE/HP research project. This exciting initiative seeks to identify the 3D modalities that hold the greatest potential to result in improvements in learning and research outcomes, as well as enhancements of student engagement, faculty satisfaction and other qualitative metrics. The Research & Instructional Design Team (Library & IT Services) will be leading the initiative at Hamilton. (more…)

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Experiments in Virtual Reality at W&L’s IQ Center

Students, faculty, and technologists at Washington & Lee’s Integrative and Quantitative (IQ) Center have been experimenting with virtual reality (VR) for a couple years, starting with cell phone-based VR systems like Google Cardboard. This year W&L upgraded to a dedicated VR headset, called the HTC Vive. These new VR headsets provide a compelling (and immersive) way to visualize and interact with content but there is very little educational content currently available, especially for higher education. This means that, for the time being, getting the most out of these systems requires either creating original content or adapting existing material to work in VR.

Fortunately, when it comes to visualization, many of the workflows for generating and manipulating 3D content such as molecular modeling, 3D animation, motion capture, photogrammetry, geographic information systems, 360-degree photography and video translate well to VR platforms with a little work and a healthy respect for the current limitations of the hardware.

According to IQ Center Academic Technologist Dave Pfaff:

Developing interactive scenes for VR takes a little more work and some specialized skills, but the potential for creating educational tools that facilitate active and blended learning at all levels of education are virtually limitless.

Faculty and students, including a group from W&L Advanced Research Cohort (ARC), have launched a number of explorations this year that are highlighted in more detail on W&L’s Academic Technology Blog, including:

  • Interactive structural biology models (catalyzed phosphorylation reaction)
  • Photogrammetry models of campus buildings
  • Laser scan model of a Wooley Mammoth
  • Crystal structures in 3D
  • “Grabbable” MRI scans of the brain from the “Glass Brain” project
  • Motion capture animation from a dance class

Clip from W&L’s virtual reality lab


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Discipline​ ‐ An Immersive, Distraction‐free Virtual Reading Environment at Amherst College

Over the past decade, academics (students and faculty alike) have been doing more and more of their reading on screens— monitors, tablets, and even smartphones. With the increased convenience of electronic documents, however, have come a number of costs. The ergonomics of reading from a vertical monitor are less than ideal, as is the visual experience of reading a backlit screen. And, of course, with computers come distractions: your smart phone buzzes an incoming text, your email pops up an incoming message, Facebook beckons to you with a only few keyboard strokes away. All in all, the shift to electronic documents poses serious challenges to the kind of serious, long‐form reading that is the lifeblood of the academy.

Discipline environment - quiet study with fire
Discipline environment – quiet study with fire

The Discipline project was conceived by Amherst College Associate Professor of Religion Andrew Dole as a way of mitigating these problems by moving the reading of electronic documents to the ‘final compute platform’, virtual reality. Discipline is a set of immersive, distraction‐free environments in which texts are displayed in the form of virtual pages, books, or other artifacts. Discipline focuses the user on the task at hand by providing aesthetically pleasing environments and eliminating distractions. Imagine sitting alone in a grand library reading room. Gold leaf volumes line wooden bookshelves while sunlight streams through stained glass windows onto the leather‐topped mahogany table before you, on which lies an ancient illuminated manuscript. Or imagine sitting on a porch in Maine in late summer with the sunlight glinting off a lake, the only sounds the rhythmic breaking of the waves and a gentle breeze rustling the pines. Or imagine a leather wing chair in a wood‐paneled study, with dancing shadows cast by a fire crackling in the hearth, a grandfather clock softly ticking behind you. These are your working environments when you enter the Discipline project.

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