24 July 2017

Mind maps in 3D

I’ve often wondered whilst working with Datascape (Daden’s 3D visualization tool) whether it would be possible to produce 3D mind maps. Mind maps are widely used across Daden for planning, brain storming and keeping information in an accessible way. Fortunately, Noda arrived just in time for a recent Daden U day which gave me the opportunity to see how well (or not) 3D mind mapping would work.

Noda is available through the Steam store and makes extensive use of Oculus Rift and the Oculus Touch controllers. First impressions weren’t good, the lack of any tutorial means that the user must learn the UI through trial and error (Google Blocks uses a great intro tutorial to overcome this problem). I’m also not sure that the controls are particularly intuitive, for example whilst the teleport facility is good for large movements I couldn’t find a way to take a step back when I was too close to a node to comfortably work with it.

Control issues aside, the biggest problem seems to be the cognitive load and effort spent adding nodes, linking nodes, and particularly editing nodes (i.e. changing the text) would be better spent on thinking about the problem that you are trying to map out. This is illustrated by the fact that I prefer to use Mindmup (simple mind mapping in a browser) in preference to XMind (powerful desktop app) when brainstorming. I prefer Mindmup because it’s always ready in the browser and the limited options (e.g. no icons) means time is spent concentrating on the problem, not making the map look fancy.

However, I can see that once brainstorming is over Noda could provide a great way to communicate ideas based on a mind map, but until the UI is improved I wouldn’t want to be the one building it! Finally does 3D add anything to mind maps? I’d like to think that it does, but unfortunately, I didn’t see any mind maps in Noda that took advantage of it and I didn’t have the patience with the UI to build a mind map complex enough to need 3D.

Whilst this all seems very critical of Noda I must say well done for having the ambition to build this, and it should be remembered that Noda still Early access and therefore likely to improve rapidly. 

17 July 2017

Benjamin - Work Experience

Benjamin is a year 11 student from King Edward’s School who worked at Daden for one week as part of his course. The following is an account of time at Daden as written by Benjamin.

Work Experience Blog Post

After experimenting with Fieldscapes in the morning, I began to write a C# script for a new widget, that could be used to measure height in the environments. I’d only recently began learning C# and so this was a very useful experience for me. I learnt a lot about how to properly construct code by looking at the other widgets, and with help from Sean I learnt how to do more complicated things, like accessing other scripts and returning different variables from a method.

I finished the widget in the morning, and then began to document it. I cleaned up the code, adding notes, before writing a wiki article for it. With that completed I learnt about Source Control, and how the project was managed and updated, eventually uploading my changes to the server.

Wednesday & Thursday:
I had created some game assets in the past and so got to work creating some Norman props for a Motte and Bailey Castle environment in Fieldscapes. I rarely have an opportunity to practice throughout the day like I did, and so being able to create multiple assets with performance in mind was also a very beneficial experience.

Friday: I finished modelling a Battle Axe and then finally, I showed the assets in a meeting. Overall, I have learnt a lot about programming, modelling, and the way a project is managed in general. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Daden.

3 July 2017

iLRN Immersive Learning Conference - Coimbra June 2017 - and Fieldscapes wins best demo!

I was lucky enough to get to spend last week in Portugal attending the Immersive Learning Network's annual conference in Coimbra, Portugal. I delivered both a paper on Fieldscapes, and a couple of hands-on demos of the system - and I'm proud to say that Fieldscapes won best demo!

If you search Twitter for #iLRN2017 then you'll get a pretty good feel of the conference and I tweeted out most of my highlights, but here's a few key takeaways.

iLRN Itself

iLRN looks to be establishing itself as the "go to" place for research into immersive learning environments, which includes 3D, VR, AR, MR etc (in fact one of the calls at the end of the conference was to have a decent definition of immersive learning!). They've also identified a trivium (we were in an old University!) of base subjects (computer science, game science, pedagogic science), and a quadrivium for higher study (multiple perspectives, NPIRL, situtaion/context, transfer).

We working up our own "guide to Immersive Learning", but it certainly looks like iLRN will be a key reference point and we're keen to get involved in the annual horizon scan and gap analysis their keen to do.


I've not seen this much OpenSim in years! Seems like every other presentation was talking about research using it. What it does highlight is that there is still a lot off valid 3D immersive research going on and people haven't all jumped on the VR bandwagon. OpenSim is I think primarily used because it is a) open, b) cheap/free and c) easy to use (c.f. Unity3D). But there is a recognition that the visual quality (at least to the standard shown here ) is now falling below what people find acceptable. Talking to people at the Fieldscapes demos there may be a real opportunity  for us wit Fieldscapes here as we are a) cheap, b) easy (easier?) to use c) higher graphic quality. We're not open, but we have had elements of PIVOTE as open source in the past and are certainly keen to talk about opening the PIVOTE standard, and maybe even the PIVOTE engine.

3D and VR

In relation to the OpenSim/VR issue there was one interesting paper that showed that the differences in learning from 3D and VR were not actually that great - and in some cases the move to VR reduced it! We'd love to do some more solid research in this area.

Other Snippets

Some other papers and demos that caught my eye:

  • Using Kinect as a presentation trainer - capturing your body movements and audio levels and commenting as you go!
  • Using Unity3D to create a visual memory palace in 3D/VR
  • A good longitudinal study in the use of MiRTLE (blast from the past) for delivering immersive classrooms
  • Leonel and his team developing an ontology for immersive learning authoring - will be interesting to see what links there are with Fieldscapes
  • Using AR posters around the classroom walls for the kids to trigger content - especially languages. The speakers whole house is AR'd!
  • Great use of www.menti.com by Hanan (see below) for audience participation
  • A nice scottish Empire exhibition, build and use of VSim with primary kids
  • Nice Communicate! authoring tool for dialog based trainers
  • On the down side, far too much use of 3rd party promo videos in some keynotes

Old Friends

Elements of the conference were certainly like an SL/OpenSim meet up from the late noughties. In particular it was great to meet VRider/Hanan (centre) face to face having known and worked with him in SL for over 8 years or so!

Next Time?

Overall the event is certainly worth going to again. Montana in 2018 may be a bit off a long haul but London in 2019 won't! My recommendations for an even better event:

  • More discussion, less presentations (perhaps have far more posters instead). 
  • Look at using techniques such as Delphic Oracle and Fish-bowl which worked so well at OU's ReLive conference on Immersive Learning
  • Use immersive technologies to let people attend and participate remotely
  • Ditto between conferences to broaden out SIG and local meetings - and more of those?
  • More use of menti.com and similar
Overall, a great week, top'd and tial'd by trips to Bussaco and Porto, and a lot to reflect on, some of which will make its way into later posts and writings.