Georgia State has begun to invest in virtual reality to expand its research efforts

Georgia State student Michael Gaither testing out the virtual reality system located in Library North room 275.
Photo by Tarilyn Johnson | The Signal

Georgia State is utilizing a new medium to further its advances in research: Virtual Reality (VR). Harsha Goli, Chief Financial Officer of the Panther Hackers, said that VR is a way to “trick” the user into a different perception of reality.

“What virtual reality means is a complete replacement of our current reality. Currently this is done in the simplest way possible, by placing a display with a separate window on each eye to replicate different angles,” Goli said. “This tricks the user into having depth perception, which is what makes it ‘real’ to him or her. So effectively, it replaces your vision and hearing with it’s alternate reality.”

VR’s research upsides

Georgia State psychology professor Page Anderson conducted research using VR to reduce the stress of people suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD).

“It’s not necessarily that virtual reality is a cure to social anxiety or probably anything. It’s what the technology can do for you,” Anderson said.

The VR system can simulate social environments to get those suffering from SAD accustomed through a more controlled immersion technique.

It’s based on a very similar principle that in order to overcome your fears you have to face your fears. Most people can not tolerate that type of treatment for their anxiety so the idea of virtual reality is if you can take first step in a virtual world then you will be able to do so in the real world,” Anderson said.

Anderson clarified that VR is not about the “real” experience, but preparing the user for the social environment and practicing cognitive processes.

“It does not make it a more real of an experience, but it allows you to practice ways of thinking that will decrease your level of avoidance for the real situation,” Anderson said.

The library has also made efforts to deploy innovate ways to conduct research using VR. In  November 2016 the library launched a new virtual reality room that is available for reservation.

Library North room 275 now houses HTC Vive headset, an Alienware gaming PC, two wireless handheld controllers, and two “lighthouse” base-stations positioned on floor-to-ceiling stands.

The inclusion of VR was brought on when Dean of Libraries Jeff Steely, allowed faculty to propose innovative projects that directly benefit students. Business Data Librarian Ximin Mi, proposed the inclusion of VR technology in the library claiming that VR would “strengthen” Georgia State’s research.

“As one of the few spaces open to all faculty, staff and students on campus, the GSU library serves the whole campus equally with information resources, research support, and increasingly technologies for inspiring research and learning activities,”Anderson stated in her VR proposal. “Adding VR services helps expand the spectrum of library technology support for learning and research, and strengthen the GSU library as a university-level research support hub.”

VR for the classroom

In an effort to further understand VR and the impact it may have on the students of this generation, Sinclair interviewed Art Historian Glenn Gunhouse at Georgia State, who said that VR ultimately creates experiences that may have not been possible otherwise.

“What VR offers to my students is an increasingly true-to-life way of visiting places that we otherwise could not visit, either because they are very far away, or because they no longer exist. I’m hopeful that, in the future, I will be able to bring entire classes into a common virtual space with me, so that, for example, I can teach my class on the Roman house inside a virtual Roman house,” Gunhouse said. “That’s technically possible now, using VR social-networking apps like VRChat. The only thing preventing me from conducting such a virtual field trip today is the lack of a classroom equipped with the necessary hardware.”

Panther Hacker members also believe in the impact VR can have on education as some of them participate in a project called, 3D Atlanta, dedicated to recreating Atlanta in the 20’s as a virtual world, so  “people can walk around town and be a part of Atlanta’s history,” according to Goli.

Sinclair said the library allocated $4000 from library donors to fund the implementation of the VR system and library is still open to more donations that would fund a possible to expansion of the existing room.

Thanks to generous library donors, the library has foundation funds that we can use from time to time to support innovative projects beyond our regular services,” Sinclair said. “So far, we have invested approximately $4000 in this equipment and service from foundation funds.”

The VR system has picked up some momentum since being implemented as “it has been booked 90 times by students, with over 150 hours of VR time logged so far,” according to Sinclair.


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