Reading in the Virtual World with Andrew Dole

September 7, 2017

Andrew Dole, associate professor of religion, talks about his efforts to create spaces for students and professors to read without distractions, and about using virtual reality to enhance academic focus.

Dole explains that new virtual worlds can help solve ergonomic issues as well as eliminate distracting environments as viewers move through a range of digital spaces he’s created for this project: a dim, but cozy library room where the user reads next to a crackling fire, the porch of a remote cabin where the sun is shining off a peaceful lake, and a black space lit only by softly flickering red candles.

Video Transcript

That’s how I see it. I see this as a matter of solving the problems that technology has created by using better technology.

When the idea for using virtual reality for academic reading came to me, I saw it as a solution, a possible solution, to these two problems. Ergonomically, in virtual reality. you can put an object wherever you want and you can be in any posture you want. You’re not locked into reading off of a monitor. You’re not locked to a physical device. And the second problem is focus. When you read off your computer screen there are things popping up all the time. There’s the constant temptation to check email.

The contrast just in the amount of focus that I’m capable of when I’m reading paper versus reading electronically is really sharply marked. It’s really, it’s really remarkable, and the idea for this reading project came to me, I conceived an idea of what I think of as a possible next step for academic reading work in electronic format.

The literature on virtual reality since before it’s actually been around has promised that virtual reality will allow for greater degrees of immersion than is possible with any other kind of electronic display technology. So I thought let's try to use this to create environments where you can focus on your reading as well as or better than you can when you’re reading a paper book in the actual world.

The absorption of knowledge from texts is really the center of what it is that we do, in the center of what it is that we try to teach, and if the experience of reading texts changes so much that the ability of either professors or students to absorb that kind of information is diminished, then that's a real problem in what we do. The movement of texts from paper into an electronic form, although it has it’s good sides, has not been really good for focus or for long-term engagement, so I’m hoping that this project will push the pendulum back in the in the right direction.