A VR university campus

Taking online university to a whole new level
18 December 2020

Interview with 

Chris Headleand, University of Lincoln


A gamer wearing a virtual reality headset.


Another one of the side effects of the pandemic has been having university students off campus, and despite Zoom calls and Skype, it’s not quite the same thing as getting to wander round the buildings and explore. Back in May one group decided to have a go at making online uni more immersive using virtual reality - that’s right, they built a 3D virtual environment of the University of Lincoln, and if you happen to have a headset, you can look around and explore as BBC presenter Chris Berrow heard from Chris Headleand...

Chris H - So this all started really as we were trying to create like a virtual meeting room space and because we wanted to use this for university research projects and even actually embedding some research experimentation in there, we tried to base it off a university building. Literally just as we got to the point where we were starting this project, we noticed that there was a lot of stuff coming up on Twitter about people missing being on campus because of lockdown just kicking in. And university is a weird engagement, right? You move there, it becomes your home, it becomes a big part of your life. And suddenly all these people have been told that they basically couldn't socialise with their friends, couldn't, you know, mingle with their kind of extended family and university's a lot more than its buildings. It's a lot more than its campus. It's a community. It's the research. It's the ethos of the environment. The buildings are really closely linked to a lot of those memories as well.

Chris B - You know, you can get bogged down in doing every single metre of every single corner and then making sure that the walls are round here instead of there being a straight line. How kind of liberal were you when it came to the actual designing of the campus?

Chris H - We want to make sure that all the buildings were actually recognisable as the building they were supposed to be. But if you learn to navigate this, you can also navigate in the campus, you can get a sense of where you are. Everyone has their favorite bit of campus, you know, and if we try to do things too accurately, you know, things change quite often. We're quite dynamic. We're quite an agile university and I literally just couldn't keep up to date with the minor tweaks that we make as we go along.

Chris B - The one question that my wife who actually went to the university said I had to ask you was, did you include the swans? Because swans are such, apparently a huge part of going to Lincoln University.

Chris H - Yeah. We are super into our waterfowl at Lincoln. Everything is Swan something, you know, our bar is the Swan. There’s mythology around these swans, there’s swan watching, you know you’re not really a University of Lincoln student unless at some point you have been chased by a swan. I mean even our mascot is Swanny. We really wanted to get swans in there, but I am not a free-form modeller and I am not an animator, and I couldn’t not find anything that didn’t look like a really ugly swan. I couldn't find anything that matched the rest of our assets. And I thought this is just not gonna work. So I couldn't get anything like that in version one. But fortunately one of my colleagues from the school of media, Graham Cooper, has created this absolutely fantastic swaggering swan. It struts, it swaggers, it's got this kind of like funky attack mode. We're hoping he's going to go out there in the next update.


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