I had the pleasure of attending the launch event for the Sun Center of Excellence at St. Paul College. Along with 10 or 12 other remote participants, I attended the event in their new Wonderland mixed-reality classroom. You can see the classroom by launching Wonderland from the "SPC Sun COE MiRTLE" link on the Virtual Northstar web site. This classroom, based on the MiRTLE project from the University of Essex, includes a video screen and a screen for slides in the front of the room. Using the video application, those of us in the Wonderland classroom were able to see into the room where the live event was happening and (mostly) hear what was going on. Here’s what the setup looked like from my vantage point:
A variety of speakers were up at the podium and those of us in-world were able to remotely control the camera to zoom in and out and pan around the room. Here you can see that we’ve zoomed in a bit:
You can also see that the slides projected on the real-world screen are reflected on our in-world screen, so the text is easy to read. I had initially thought they were using the PDF Viewer, but at the end when they stopped the slide show, I could see that it was actually a Microsoft Windows session being shared using the VNC Viewer.
When the meeting was over and the crowd in the physical room started chatting, I introduced myself to a few of the other remote attendees and we had a short debriefing session:
Consensus was that most things worked quite well. The new space was attractive, the video was clear and performed well, and the slides were easy to see on our in-world screen.
By far the biggest problem was our ability to hear the people speaking in the physical room. Audio quality itself seemed fairly good since those of us who stayed to chat at the end could hear one another fine. With just a bit more tweaking, the St. Paul folks should be able to better equip the physical room with more microphones. For the panel session, it would have been particularly helpful if there was a microphone to pass around to each speaker.
Another tweak that would have enhanced the remote experience was to position the camera in a better location. We got a great view of the two computer monitors on the left hand side, but a distorted view of the speaker and the screen.
From a software point of view, having the ability to mute other attendees would have been helpful. At one point, someone had an open mic and was clearly not looking at the chat, so didn’t notice that their audio was disturbing the meeting. The design I have in mind for this feature is to allow anyone to mute anyone else, but the person who gets muted will see a notice on their HUD that includes the name of the person who muted them along with instructions on how to come off mute. By including accountability in the feature design, my hope is that the feature will be used responsibly.
In our debriefing chat, someone suggested an "eject" feature to remove a disruptive person from the world all together. I can see the desire for this feature, but I’m hesitant. What do others think? Is there a gentler way to stop someone from being disruptive without forcibly logging them off?
Finally, I want to add my congratulations to St. Paul College for being an early adopter of virtual world technology and living on the bleeding edge helping to evolve Wonderland into a great platform for teaching and learning.