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Title: Collaborative interaction in virtual environments
Author: Dodds, Trevor James
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2009
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Collaborative virtual environments (CVEs) extend existing virtual environment (VE) technology to enable it to run over a network (e.g. the Internet), and introduce mechanisms that allow multiple people to co-exist, be aware of each other’s presence (e.g. through avatars) and communicate. CVEs are useful for when teams of people want to collaborate when they are geographically separated, e.g. in games [14], social communication [65], visualisation [120], computational steering [17], or alternatively people might be spatially collocated in the real world but wish to work together in a VE, e.g. military training [99]. The dream is for interaction in CVEs to be more effective than interaction in the real world. The increase in globalisation and geographically distributed personnel who need to collaborate, act as a driving force for the development of effective collaborative technologies, which would allow businesses to save time and money, help distributed communities stay in touch, and reduce the impact on the world’s environment. The work presented in this thesis aims to make collaborative interaction in virtual environments more effective, more like that of face-to-face interaction, without unnecessarily restricting virtual collaboration to the naturalistic constraints of the ‘real world’ (cf. [79], [39]). This thesis describes the implementation and evaluation of techniques to support synchronous and asynchronous collaborations in virtual environments. The techniques were evaluated in the context of an urban planning application, where proposed developments could be modelled in 3D and evaluated by members of the public (and potentially clients, architects) to decide if they support or object to the designs (e.g. [30]). Synchronous collaborations were supported by a suite of techniques called Mobile Group Dynamics (MGDs), which were introduced and evaluated in two stages (Chapters 4 and 5). First, a novel ‘group graph’ metaphor was used to explicitly show the groups that people had formed themselves into (and help people locate the whereabouts of their collaborators), and techniques were provided to help people move around together and communicate over extended distances. The techniques were evaluated by providing one batch of participants with MGDs and another with an interface based on conventional CVEs. Participants with MGDs spent nearly twice as much time in close proximity (within 10m of their nearest neighbour), communicated seven times more than participants with a conventional interface, and exhibited real-world patterns of behaviour such as staying together over an extended period of time and regrouping after periods of separation (Chapter 4). Second, three additional techniques were introduced (teleporting, awareness and multiple views) which, when combined, produced a four times increase in the amount that participants communicated in the CVE and also significantly increased the extent to which participants communicated over extended distances in the CVE (Chapter 5). Asynchronous working in CVEs was assisted using the metaphor of Virtual Time (VT), where the utterances of previous users were embedded in a CVE as conversation tags (Chapter 6). With VT, participants chose to listen to a quarter of the conversations of their predecessors while performing the task. The embedded conversations led to a reduction in the rate at which participants travelled around, but an increase in the live communication that took place. Taken together, the studies have implications for CVE designers, because they provide quantitative and qualitative data on how group dynamics functioned in a CVE, and how synchronous and asynchronous groupwork was improved by using MGDs and VT techniques. In addition, the rich complexity of possible functionality for VT highlights a number of possibilities for future research.
Supervisor: Ruddle, R. A. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available