[Research] A phd thesis close to my interest

Fraser, M., (2000)Working with Objects in Collaborative Virtual Environments, PhD thesis, University of Nottingham. What I find interesting in this research is the continuous balance between technical and social sides. I would like to put this kind of flavor in my phd. I also like the emphasis put on the lack of study about how technology effectively support collaboration. The notion of ‘naturalistic’ data within ‘experimental’ situations is smart as well.

Collaborative Virtual Environments (CVEs) are three-dimensional graphical worlds, which allow geographically distributed users to communicate using some combination of visual and auditory representations. As these technologies have emerged, the focus on their development has been mainly technical, such as incorporating ever-larger numbers of users into the environment. Surprisingly, however, there have been few investigations of whether and how these technologies might actually support collaborative work. This thesis draws on social scientific research to investigate the potential of CVEs to allow simple forms of collaboration. In particular, studies of workplaces have shown how objects (documents, models, visualisations etc.) in the environment are critical to achieving collaborative work. Such analyses reveal how the social organisation of such work is accomplished with and through objects, both in real environments and through communications technologies. These kinds of investigation are applied to explore the possibilities of ‘object-focused interaction’ in CVEs. What problems arise in distributed participants’ interaction as a result of assumptions of current CVE designs? Rather than adopting ever more complex hardware, what resources can be provided by currently widespread desktop technologies for interacting with and around features of mutual interest in virtual environments?

Peculiarities of object-focused CVE interaction are described, including difficulties in: peripheral monitoring and gaze direction; misleading user representations; organising actions for their visibility by others; ‘seeing what other users see’; and defining the structure of virtual environments prior to their use in situ. Interface techniques to address these features of CVE interaction are also introduced, including extending peripheral views with distorted ‘lenses’; extending visual representations of action onto virtual objects; navigating with respect to others’ virtual actions; sharing views of multi-user virtual environments; and displaying the intricacy and validity of object definitions in CVEs.