Virtual Reality in the Classroom

Our talk today got me thinking about different potential ways to expand on geographical information systems, or rather different ways to get a picture of how to position the data that they give us to gain new insight or perspective. With ArcGIS as an example, it’s clear that the ability to spatially relate and organize characteristics of real world objects or structures is a boon not only to the study of ancient Pompeii, but to the entire DH community. As we went over it in class today, however, I was struck by some potential areas where the technology could be expanded, or combined with other techniques, in order to overcome some of its limitations.

For example, today in class we talked about how the architectural layout of ancient Pompeii into conventional “city blocks” might not have been the result of any act of city planning, but rather merely a function of the gradient of the landscape. We also saw an example of how specific structures and areas of note, such as the city forum or amphitheater, could be ascribed an image for quick reference. However, what if instead of a still image, which only presents one perspective, we could present a complete 3-D model, in the style of something like Google Maps? What if we could then use the terrain data we already have from Pompeii, couple it with 3-D modelling and rendering, and then create a full 3-D, navigable, topical map of ancient Pompeii? By taking information we already have an adding an entirely new dimension to it, we could explore entirely new questions about the ancient world. We could look at Pompeii, from street level, and see it populated with structures, based algorithmically on data that has already been collected.

Since my project is focused on the applications of 3D modeling and virtual reality for instructive or educational purposes, the possibility of this type of digital reconstruction is of great interest to me. The most exciting prospect about all of this is that it’s more “connecting the dots” than “blazing a trail” – many of the constituent technologies, from GIS tools like ArcGIS and modeling and navigational tools like Google Maps already exist. If we can construct a framework to integrate the two together, and give Google Maps the ability to process the hard data of GIS platforms, all that remains is a means of visualizing the output.

To this end, I am reminded of an experience I had a few weeks ago, testing out Google Cardboard. The “device,” if you could call it that, came with a QR code that downloaded a demo app including 3-D models, an interactive Google Maps applet, and a 3-D panorama collection. If we could somehow connect the incredible knowledge accessed by ArcGIS to the affordability and potential ubiquity of Google Cardboard, real, academically rigorous 3-D models could become as commonplace in DH classrooms and seminars as PowerPoint is today.

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