How I Created a Virtual Reality Environment and (almost) Presented it at a Conference

Sabina Ku and Ino Tsichrintzi

I always found Virtual Reality fascinating but never expected to actually not only be able to have access to it, but to also be able to create a VR environment AND have an opportunity to present it at a conference!

By joining the HPC Support group at Pomona College, I got to experiment with VR and use it to create an environment that enabled us to share some of the things we do at the In The Know Lab. I have to admit that at first, I was really excited and that despite my initial fear, I was able to feel confident in making this application, and make it good. The process, however, was a bit harder than what one would think.

The main problem I had to deal with was including 360 videos of students in the environment. Those videos showed my fellow students in the lab and talking about the different tools that we have and how they use them in the context of our educational purposes. Though the videos looked fine on the computer, when integrated in the VR environment, they became distorted. I tried to approach the problem in many different ways after doing some research online and according to the advice of others who had encountered similar problems. Many of the solutions did not work, making me feel desperate, but in the end, I found a way to project the videos in the surroundings of the application’s user without distorting them. I later realized that the reason behind this issue was that the 360 videos were not in the appropriate format for use in a VR platform.

After completing the application, I felt really proud of myself and very excited to have something completed in order to present at a conference called ELI. The conference can be best explained by their own definition: “The EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) is a collaborative community committed to advancing learning through IT innovation.” ELI is associated with EDUCAUSE which states on their web site: “We are a nonprofit association and the largest community of technology, academic,
industry, and campus leaders advancing higher education through the use of IT.”

That was the first conference I attended as a presenter and I was very excited about it. When we got there, however, things did not run as smoothly as I would have liked. As we were setting up our booth, I had to set up the VR headset, but the one I was using back at the In the Know Lab was Oculus Rift, and the one at the conference was different (Samsung Odyssey/Microsoft), making it harder to use. I had never tested with a different headset and thus setting it up while people were coming to our booth was not ideal. After a while, though, I managed to set it up and was ready to run my program. When running the program, however, I realized that the headset I developed with was using a different setup in Unity than the one we were using at the conference. That was when I started panicking. I tried to find a way to make it work but, in the end, it was too late and I gave up.

I did not get to present what I did, but I still had the opportunity to share my excitement about the new technology with the people who came to our booth.

Ino is pensive, starting to realize things are not going great
Ino is ready to give up
Ino (left) in a Hololens AR headset experiencing an Anatomy class developed at Case Western

Even though that was not my greatest achievement, it was still a very valuable experience. At the time I was very disappointed since I felt like the hard work that I had done was all for nothing, but I later realized that I learned so much throughout this journey. For me, it highlighted how much more important the work I had done was, and not its recognition.

By Ino Tsichrintzi