Extending Open Virtual Worlds for Cultural Heritage and Education
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of St Andrews
Unit of AssessmentComputer Science and Informatics
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Information and Computing Sciences: Information Systems
Education: Specialist Studies In Education
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Summary of the impact
Virtual Worlds are challenging to develop and deploy in small community
settings. Our research into their measurement, design, and usability has
allowed us to radically reduce the cost and footprint of a platform needed
to support the collaborative creation of content, letting communities
share their histories with both local and global audiences. Integrating
this platform with an approach to virtual fieldwork lets communities
explore authentic recreations of historical scenes, giving new
perspectives on cultural heritage that stimulate reflection and
understanding across the generations and enhancing the visitor experience
by making new modes of interaction available for museums. This has enabled
educational and cultural heritage bodies in Scotland to connect with new
audiences and increase public participation in local heritage.
The goal of our research was to adapt and develop emerging 3D
technologies to create digital interpretations of the past connected to
local communities. We aimed to meet the challenge of creating authentic
historical scenes based upon expert evidence and interpretation, and to
develop appropriate delivery systems to deploy these in museums and
schools. This draws upon the experience of Miller, Dow, and Allison
(Computer Science) in both systems research and technology-enhanced
learning, and on the domain expertise of Sweetman (Classics), Fawcett (Art
History) and Dawson (Archaeology). The research was structured along four
strands: the use of 3D technologies in education (Sweetman and Miller
2008—10); Open Virtual World (OVW) system measurement and design (Miller
and Allison 09—12); methods for creating authentic historic scenes
(Miller, Fawcett, Dow, Sweetman 09—13); and platforms for delivering
content over the Internet, in schools, in museums, and on-site (Miller,
Dow, Allison 11—13). The research was funded by the EPSRC, HEA, and the
University to a total value of over £300K.
Initial research developed support for virtual archaeological fieldwork.
Prototypes using 3D game engines, VR and Second Life (SL) were developed
and evaluated. SL was chosen due to its support for user presence through
avatars and collaborative live development. The resulting application
applied gaming methodologies within an integrated 2D web/3D OVW framework.
Evaluation of system performance, reconstruction methodology, usability
and educational value yielded the key insight that the resource's strong
educational value was severely restricted by limitations resulting from
the SL service model . We therefore refined our OVW approach, removing
all reliance on SL. Using open-source tools such as OpenSim required
significant systems analysis and development, including measurement
studies which identified distinct intra-application traffic classes with
separate requirements and priorities ; system development to combine
client-side window management with server-side rate control of network
traffic  to improve control and reduce delay whilst being "fair" to
external traffic; empirical studies of the relationship between Quality of
Experience and Quality of Service identifying critical performance
thresholds to drive optimisation; and measurement of client, network and
server limitations to develop "balanced" systems . The results of these
studies facilitate the development, configuration, and deployment of OVWs
that deliver an appropriate quality of experience. Alongside these
delivery innovations, the research pioneered a methodology which
integrates software development, scholarship, real-world data, 3D
modelling, and interpretation, to create historically-authentic 3D
artefacts. This goes beyond digital reconstruction to recreation,
modelling both tangible and intangible culture. Using this methodology,
major artefacts including St Andrews Cathedral and Linlithgow Palace have
been reconstructed and deployed to the public in interactive installations
that are richly interactive and integrate with web resources to provide
varied investigative pathways. Use in school classrooms and exhibitions
demonstrate accessibility, engagement and positive learning outcomes
Transforming a "hobbyist" virtual world into a general platform that
supports multiple deployment scenarios identified new challenges including
walk-up-and use-interfaces, integration with existing applications,
meeting curatorial priorities, and creating immersive displays within
restrictive cost and environment constraints. In collaboration with
Timespan, the OVW TARDIS project developed affordable immersive display
("CAVE") technology where an avatar is controlled by natural movement
detected using a Kinect, and synchronised projections that can be
arbitrarily placed to create an immersive environment .
The packaging of all this research into a Virtual Time Travel
Platform (VTTP) supports collaborative creation of historic scenes
and their deployment in heterogeneous environments, underpinned by a
methodology for co-creation based upon archaeological, historical and
digital data. Our research enabled Sweetman's and Fawcett's research into
the likely form and use of the buildings, "providing eminently
practical ways of testing theories and assumptions. It is then of the
greatest value for conveying more widely the understanding that has been
References to the research
 Towards the 3D
Web with Opensimulator. Oliver, I., Miller, A.,
Allison, C., Dow, L., Campbell, A., Davies, C. and McCaffery, J. Proc.
27th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Information Networking and
Applications. 2013. DOI: 10.1109/AINA.2013.126.
This paper provides a measurement study that addresses the relationship
between QoS and QoE.
Canons & Cathedrals with Open Virtual Worlds.
Kennedy, S., Fawcett, R., Miller, A., Dow, L., Sweetman, R., Field, A.,
Campbell, A., Oliver, I., McCaffery, J. and Allison, C. Proc. UNESCO
Digital Heritage Congress. 2013.
Heritage Through Time and Space: Supporting community reflection on
the highland clearances. McCaffery, J., Miller, A.,
Kennedy, S., Vermehren, A., Lefley, C. and Strikland, K. Proc. UNESCO
Digital Heritage Congress. 2013.
Details of the impact
Cultural heritage has recently embraced 3D technologies to impressive
effect. The PiXaR film Brave, set in an imaginary Scottish castle,
introduced millions to Scottish landscapes. The Scottish Ten
project captured stunning 3D representations of heritage sites. Computer
games like Assassins Creed enable exploration of historic scenes.
The VTTP platform complements these technologies and migrates them to
community and research settings that are radically smaller than was
possible before. Where Scottish Ten digitally preserves sites as
they are today; VTTP enables authentic recreations of their heyday; where
Brave present a single pathway through a fictional narrative, VTTP
enables visitors to explore authentic scenes; where Assassins Creed
delivers pre-defined scenarios to a global audience; VTTP enables
community participation in the creation and exploration of scenes directly
connected to communities.
Science awareness. The 3 month "Create and Inspire" public
engagement course at Dundee Science Centre (12/2011—3/12) [S10] used VTTP
and the St Andrews Cathedral reconstruction to create a multi-user exhibit
which managed to "take a vision, achieved through decades of
scholarship of how this building was - and make it accessible to all"
[S6]. There were over 1000 visitors at "Science in the City" (3/12),
including classes from 7 primary schools, STEM ambassadors, and all ages
of the public. Visitor-book comments were unanimously positive: many
suggested that the experience had contributed to revising their perception
of the sites, and many expressed a desire to follow up the experience by
visiting the sites or by connecting to the reconstructions from home.
"Kids were very interested and enjoyed being able to interact with the
Cathedral, the controllers are a medium that made it easy for them to do
this (77th Kelty Cubs). This gives a new view to
something which has interested me for many years. It helps put what you
see on the ground into perspective (Teacher). Love that you are
bringing history to life in a way children want to interact with
(Visitor). I think it is great fun (School Student)." [S9]
Others invited use in schools and museums, which we have since taken up.
The VTTP has exhibited at over 20 venues globally including, by invitation
Digidoc 12 "the world's leading digital documentation and
visualisation conference focused on cultural heritage" (Cabinet
Secretary for Culture and External Affairs) [S11].
Installations in Museums. On the 200th anniversary of
the Sutherland clearances, using the VTTP and methods developed by
Sweetman " has produced the first virtual world with historical
content, accessible in a cultural context in the UK; it has enhanced the
visitor experience in our museum, and has put Timespan on the map as a
forward thinking organisation with a growing national reputation"
[S7], The Timespan VTTP installation features a pre-clearance Caen
Highland Township, "a Scots township at the centre of an uprising in
the 19th Century ... It offers a unique
opportunity .... where gaming technology is married with historical
information" [S6]. The installation, with a 300" wrap-around display
and natural body movement control, extends Timespan's story-telling room's
functionality so that "the visitor is able to not just sit and listen
to a story but to be part of the story" [S6]. The strength of the
impact flows from an intuitive user interface, local content, local
participation in content creation, and visually powerful 3D graphics. "One
of my own ancestors was cleared from Caen. ... I can now sit in Timespan
(or at home) and take my avatar through the township into the
longhouses, corn-drying kiln and byres to see what my own ancestors saw.
This is a surreal experience let me tell you!" [S3]. At the public
event to launch the Caen reconstruction, 100% of those who filled in
questionnaires agreed or strongly agreed with the statements: "The
exhibit helped me imagine what it would have been like to live in Caen"
and "I would now like to find out more about life in the Highlands"
[S13]. In the month following the launch (6/2013) there was a 32%
increase in visitor numbers [S3]. Synergy with an excavation of Caen and
photographic interpretation mean that "all three elements ... combine
to make a powerful narrative ... for those who like history and for
those who think they don't" [S6].
The low equipment cost (<£3000) and support for content creation make
CAVE installations available to small museums for the first time.
Embedding the VTTP makes its content available to Timespan's 13,000 annual
visitors and web users, and connects with the 40 community groups that use
Timespan's facilities including a group researching genealogy, the
knitting circle, carol singers, local archaeologists, a meeting of local
councillors, as well as primary, secondary and DAS school visits [S7]. The
invitation to exhibit alongside Canadian Caen descendants at the Helmsdale
Highland Games symbolises digital Caen Township's place at the centre of
the local community. Following on from the Caen project, Historic
Scotland, Creative Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund have funded VTTP
installations of the Brora Salt Pans, the 18th-century
Fethaland Fishing Station Shetland Museum (90,000 visitors p/a), a model
of 19th-century St Kilda World Heritage site, Taigh
Chearsabhagh Museum (30,000), and the Eyemouth Fort Museum [S12]. The
Vikingaminjar heritage company and the Cultural and Education director of
Mosfellsbær are funding the University of St Andrews to reconstruct of a
10th-century Viking longhouse [S4] for use in schools and
Education and Schools At Madras College, the virtual St
Andrews Cathedral informed the social science approach to a local
unit of the Curriculum of Excellence, engaged Department of Assisted
Learning students, and contributed to baccalaureate project work. The Head
of DAS, Glenrothes High observed that "these children with a range of
moderate learning difficulties spend many hours on the X-box so the
controls were recognisable and posed far less threat than paper and
pencil... The pupils engaged fully with the activity and the arrangement
allowed for co-operative learning, good oral communication skills and
was fun" [S5]. A social science teacher commented "The quality
and quantity of work students have been doing in their own time speaks
of how the Cathedral reconstruction has fired their imagination. I
haven't known anything like it before"' [S2].
In a session with Dundee High students, all indicated it changed their
impression of ancient Sparta: "This session has now made me realise
that they were more civilised than I thought. I liked the virtual world
that showed what the church looked like" [S9]. Describing a session
in Linlithgow academy with the virtual Linlithgow Palace developed jointly
with Historic Scotland and Education Scotland, the Education Manager for
Emerging Technologies in Education Scotland observed "each session
lasting 40 minutes, buzzing with investigation, exploration, enthusiasm,
and energy. Many pupils returned to interact further with the Palace
during their own free time over lunch"" [S9].
A meeting with HM Inspectorate of Schools (10/2012) led to invitations to
Royal High, the Scottish Association of Teachers of History Conference
(11/2012), distribution through the pan-Scotland GLOW website (05/2013),
and further school use including at Dundee High, Strathkiness Primary,
Helmsdale Primary and Glenrothes High [S12]. Press and TV coverage [S6]
with a total print circulation of over 200,000, has fed into online
registrations (over 2000), web visits (20,000) from 112 countries, social
media (8000 peak weekly reach) [S8], and an invited feature in
"History Scotland" reflect growing interest and influence. "We see the
support and partnership of those at St Andrews University as vital and
influential in ...our agenda of using contemporary digital tools and
worlds to support, enrich and enhance learning" [S1].
By creating immersive reconstructions with interactive content, windows
onto the past have been opened which provide people with rich new insights
into their cultural heritage. Existing and emerging digital literacies
make the exhibits open to those with a huge range of interests and
abilities. Internet access, portable exhibitions and installations enable
access from home, in the classroom and in museums. Embedding exhibits in
local museums reaches across generations and bring heritage to all parts
of the community.
Sources to corroborate the impact
[S1] National Advisor for Emerging Technologies and Learning, Education
Scotland. Corroborates support of national priorities in education.
[S2] Teacher, Madras College. Corroborates student engagement.
[S3] Chair of Board of Directors, Timespan. Corroborates increase in
[S4] Projects director, Vikingaminr ehf. Corroborates funding for
[S5] Head of DAS, Glenrothes High. Corroborates educational
[S6] Press and TV reports. Corroborates public engagement and
[S7] Timespan Innovation of the Year. Corroborates interactions with
[S8] OVW Web usage statistics. Corroborates web site visitor profile.
[S9] Exhibition and School Feedback. Corroborates visitor engagement
[S10] Create and Inspire report. Corroborates activity and footfall
at Dundee Science Centre.
[S11] Digidoc documentation. Corroborates significance of Digidoc
[S12] Virtual Histories letters of support. Corroborates extension to
[S13] Timespan User Evaluation. Corroborates excellent user
experience and comments.