To make a flying start of 2021, a very special XR ERA meetup took place on Thursday, January 21st at 11:00. In an ample 40 minutes, participants got the chance to visit a virtual exhibition and wander through a life-size digital reconstruction of the Amsterdam neighbourhood Vlooienburg in the 17th century.
The meetup’s goal was to collaboratively explore the potential of remote teaching using virtual reality and 3D reconstructions. This can be relevant when meeting in real-life, visiting other cities and let alone organizing educational excursions are not possible, But also when the objects or places one wants to see and discuss are inaccessible or just do not exist (anymore), which is the case for Vlooienburg: a vanished neighbourhood.
About the organizers
Jelger Kroese (Centre for Innovation) and Paul Melis (SURF) put their heads together to develop a real VR experience session for this meetup edition. The idea was initiated by SURF (Paul Melis, Casper van Leeuwen and Ben de Vries) who worked together with Arno Freeke and Huu Dat Nguyen from TU Delft’s VR Zone for the technical realisation. The final experience was hosted by 4D Research Lab (Jitte Waagen and Tijm Lanjouw). The 4D Research lab supports research into the material past at the faculty of Humanities of the University of Amsterdam. Jitte and Tijm guided us through their three-dimensional model of the Amsterdam neighbourhood Vlooienburg they originally created for the exhibition ‘Waterlooplein: the neighbourhood inside out‘ at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam (2020 – 2021) in the context of the NWO research project ‘Diaspora and Identity’ executed by archaeologists at the Amsterdam Centre for Ancient Studies and Archaeology and the bureau Monumenten en Archeologie from the Municipality of Amsterdam.
A snapshot from the original model based on Vlooienburg in 1680. Credits: 4D Research Lab, Mikko Kriek and Tijm Lanjouw.
Mozilla Hubs as basis
At the start of the session, we first got together in the XR ERA community group in Microsoft Teams, followed by moving to a dedicated virtual environment created in Mozilla Hubs. Participants could choose to experience the environment using a VR head-mounted-display, or navigate the environment using their web browsers on a regular regular desktop PC or laptop. Transitioning of participants from Microsoft Teams to the Mozilla Hubs environment went surprisingly smooth. Upon entering, the event hosts took a moment to teach all visitors how to navigate through the environment, which seemed to work out for all of us within a minute.
From museum environment to actual virtual reconstruction
The first part of the meeting in the virtual environment took place in a museum-like setting modeled by the TU Delft VR Zone: a gallery hall with several corners and niches displaying objects part of the history of the Vlooienburg neighbourhood, ranging from pictures of the Waterlooplein area at different moments in history, to old maps and snapshots of the first reconstructions the 4D Research lab made. While virtually ‘walking’ from corner to corner, Jitte Waagen took us through the process of reconstruction, elaborating on highlights and challenges they came across in the process.
Jitte Waagen giving a tour around the virtual museum.
Afterwards, the whole group was invited to move to another ‘room’ which turned out to be part of 4D Research Lab’s virtual model of Vlooienburg, rendered in life-size, enabling participants to walk through the neighbourhood as if they were physically there. Almost as having a city tour in real life, the group wandered through the streets of Vlooienburg while Tijm Lanjouw told us the story behind specific sections of the Jewish district and enthusiastically elaborated on how life must have looked like in the 17th century.
Tijm Lanjouw giving a tour in the 3D reconstruction of Vlooienburg
“Interesting“, “cool“, “it was really fun“, “great experience” and “I’d never been in Amsterdam before” were some of the spontaneous comments from the attendants. It was clear from people’s reactions that the overall impression of the session was positive. A commentator mentioned that experiences like this could represent an excellent means for teaching and creating new job possibilities, such as virtual tour guides. Others further noted that immersive technologies add elements of humanness to a learning experience. Nonetheless, the session was not entirely free from problems. Difficulty to identify which person was speaking and audio issues were experienced by some participants.
A few participants and organizers posing for a group picture at the end of the lecture
Overall, the session was a great experience, and from XR ERA we believe that this type of lectures could be of great impact in all kinds of curricula, such as archaeology, history, sociology and biology. We’re happy to hear the organizers will continue to explore this teaching mode to find out what potential this medium has for remote learning in a spatial, social and interactive way.
Also read this interview with the creators!
Join future meetings
Does this taste like more? Join the XR ERA community to connect with fellows and stay up to date on future meetups. Would you like to know more about this specific project? Get in touch with SURF (Paul Melis) or the 4D Research Lab (Jitte Waagen).
This meetup was realised by: