Archive for the ‘Phase 1 progress (complete)’ Category


April 8, 2010

I’ve just got back from leading a field trip to Pompeii. A huge amount of money has been poured into the promotion and protection of the Campanian sites in the last few years and it was very interesting to see the results beginning to come to fruition. Virtual technology is increasingly being touted as a way of bringing the sites to life: trialling GPS software, for example, that will allow visitors to see virtual reconstructions of the building as they enter its ruins. Herculaneum has been the first to benefit from fully operational vr with the opening of the Museo Archeologico Virtuale (MAV) which I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries but have not had the chance to visit until now. We LOVED MAV. The coherence of the experience has clearly been carefully thought through – the floor and walls of the first small room respond to visitors’ movements – the accompanying info sheet you are given explains that this is to free visitors from their bodies – to become spirit- it’s a bit cranky, I guess, but it does reflect an attempt both to familiarise visitors with the ways they can interact with the virtual exhibits and to give an expression to the experience of living in a ‘spirit’/virtual world. I make that link deliberately because a little later, in a corridor, one of us noticed a figure walking past and then, as we watched, more ‘ghosts’ paraded around the walls. Other exhibits simulate the eruption but the majority of the museum is given over to vrs of domestic space, some projected as life size and – here’s an issue which reminds me of our project – often brought alive by the hint of human life – a candle light that travels along a row of upstairs windows.

Visiting the Virtual House of the Faun

Visiting the Virtual House of the Faun

What I really liked about MAV though was the way it played with the layers of ‘Pompeian’ history – acknowledging, just like our project does, the impact of the Victorian imagination on our vision of Pompeii. The brothel sequence involves a vr of the Pompeian streets at night – the camera (as your eyes) skulks along the dark alley towards the brothel – ‘you’ dare to open a door and who is there waiting for you but a naked woman with strategic, waving ostrich fan – a fantasy ‘Roman’ woman of the nineteenth century  from Alma-Tadema’s painting, In the Tepidarium. These kinds of links were played with in the bath sequence too – while your real feet paddle in ‘the water’ of the pool (your movements trigger a splash sound as in our atrium), by waving your arm over the steamed up ‘window’ in front of you, you wipe away the steam to see another similarly nineteenth century take on Roman women bathing.

Of course, we did go to ‘real sites’ too – revisiting the Macellum (market) in Pompeii allowed be to take photos of the frescoes, still in situ, that inspired the back wall of the Pompeii Court in the Crystal Palace and in the Museo Nazionale in Naples I photographed the series of dancing figures that are featured throughout our model. I had forgotten how tiny they are – given that the guidebooks insist that the paintings in the Court were all true to scale, we may have to shrink them in the model. Nic will be pleased!! i will load my photographs onto the web pages accessible through the HUD.



March 19, 2010

At the end of last week, we took part in the University’s DISCOVER event down at the Mall shopping centre in Bristol. For three days, the centre is filled with hands-on exhibits demonstrating different projects going on at the university.

(Photo: University of Bristol Centre for Public Engagement)

The event is a chance for us to show people and school children in Bristol what we do. It was quite an eclectic mix, but fittingly we were back to back with the volcano exhibit (it featured a volcano model worked by a treadle that erupted sporadically – until it broke down and had to be operated with a car battery charger!) We had two laptops so that people could communicate with each other’s avatars – it was great fun and we’d like to thank everybody who came to see what we were up to. I’d like to thank as well the people who helped us out, especially Neeraj, who did a great job. Oh, and Jess, one of the students who took part in our Pompeii seminar a few weeks ago, who did a fantastic ad hoc ‘time travel’ spiel which kept many school children entertained.


March 7, 2010

This coming week, we’ll be showcasing our project at the DISCOVER event in The Mall at Bristol. This is an annual event organised to show the local community the  kind of research that happens at the university – particularly in the sciences. We’ll have a stand with two lap tops so visitors can  tour the model and we’ll be there all day on Thursday and Saturday. We’re one of the few Arts exhibits so I hope people will be interested to see what we’re up to.


February 19, 2010

Following last week’s classroom use of the model, this week we used it in a different learning environment, a 3hr seminar session for postgrads in the Graduate School of Education. We spent some time introducing our project before letting the postgrads loose in the model (at which point we had some awkward moments when the state of dress/undress in which my third years had left the preconfigured avatars became apparent!). We asked them to work together to try out our learning activities, It was a great plan because we got to see how the activities work (one turns out to be far easier to complete than the other) as well as to gather feedback whilst the students got to see some of the capabilities of the online environment. Afterwards, Nic took them all on a ‘Second Life Safari’ to visit other educational projects and we discussed pros and cons of teaching and learning in this context. It was another very useful session – so good to be working with people in the model rather than just talking about it in the classroom.


February 18, 2010

This week, Nic and I have had the opportunity to teach with the model and begin to evaluate student responses. On Monday 15 February, my usual third year Pompeii class migrated from the Arts Faculty to the computer facility in the Education Support Unit for the afternoon. We put the students in pairs and gave each pair an avatar account to log in – the theme of the class was domestic space in Pompeii and modern reconstructions. Nic started with some basic orienteering (none of the students had used SL before but picked it up very quickly), then I introduced the material to the students via a ppt display I ran via Gwendoline in our presentation area on the island. After that, I asked the students to explore the house in order to come up with questions or ideas about how ancient domestic space worked. Then we met up back at the presentation area to work through their ideas, which we explored in the RL space of the computer suite.

After a break, we moved on to thinking about modern reconstructions of ancient Pompeian houses, showcasing particularly (again via the ppt in SL) the Court in the Crystal Palace, the Maison Pompeienne (the Court’s Parisian contemporary) and the J.P. Getty Villa in Malibu. We sent the students back into the house, this time to gather ideas on the effect of inhabiting reconstruction and the pros and cons of reconstructing. They had been set some reading on these issues prior to the class (extracts from Lowenthal’s The Past is a Foreign Country) and the resulting RL discussion was very rich. There was no doubt that actually inhabiting a reconstruction helped students engage with the theoretical discussions of the urge to reconstruct and to appreciate the spatial effects of the historical reconstructions we had discussed. The students all enjoyed the experience and their feedback reflected the engagement with concepts made possible by the inhabitation of the model.

As Nic has reported on this blog, the class definitely worked because we had both RL and SL contact with the students. RL presence allowed me to assert more authority (limited at the best of times!) over them when I needed to move the class on whilst the SL environment afforded them the freedom to think and communicate with each other in an environment outside the classroom.

Although our aims in teaching this class was primarily to see how the material could be delivered in an enhanced way through SL, we also learned some interesting lessons about the avatar characters. It was very interesting to observe students’ reactions to the random avatar characters we had assigned them and although we didn’t teach them, they quickly began to edit their appearance and (un)dress them.

Straight after, we all watched Westworld to remind ourselves of the danger and hubris in attempting to reconstruct the past. Of our characters, I can imagine Acheron is the one most likely to go on a vengeful, Yul Brynneresque rampage…. One of my undergraduates subsequently went online and found out that there’s a remake planned. The irony!!!

Treet TV’s Designing Worlds Episode

February 16, 2010

This is the Treet TV’s Designing Worlds episode on our project that was broadcast a few days ago. See previous blog post for more information!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Designing Worlds visit a Victorian Po…“, posted with vodpod


February 5, 2010

It’d be fair to say that we weren’t really completely convinced about the emphasis JISC put on holding launches for their projects but it seems it was definitely worth it because, the press releases that went out have resulted in a small amount of media attention. First we were interviewed by the Bris’l Evening Post and they kindly put a nice article and a big photo in the paper. You can see it online:


But much more glam was this week’s experience of being on live Second Life TV. Treet TV’s Designing Worlds programme came to do an episode on our project and we filmed for 45 minutes or so, showing Elrik and Saffia, the presenters, around our model and talking about the ideas behind our work and the different historical layers represented in the model. We’d very much like to thank the programme for coming to see us – if you visit their web site you will see some of the stunning SL islands they have featured in the past. The programme seems to be very supportive of educational sims and their programme archive reinforces the creative approaches to topics such as First World War Poetry and the Slave Trade that can be taken in environments like Second Life or Open Sim. The url to see our show is

It’s a pretty good way of getting a feel for our Second Life space and the ideas behind it – so we’re extremely grateful to the Treet team for making such a great resource for people visiting this blog.


December 17, 2009

Yesterday we finally held our launch party. We have lots of work to do still but it was great to be able to showcase what we’ve been up to. We’d like to say thanks so much to everybody who came along, whether in Bristol or in Second Life. Hosting the event simultaneously in both words was a little chaotic but I hope that we got across some of the flavour of the project. We used SL voice tools so that we could speak to both audiences simultaneously and worked a brief ppt show within SL but used a projector so that the Bristol audience could also see it. Our thanks again to everybody – we have really appreciated everybody’s support throughout this project.


September 27, 2009

I should have been using this blog entry to report on the success of our launch party on Thursday. Unfortunately, due to a bereavement, we had to postpone at the last minute. It was a real blow because we have been working towards the launch for weeks.

Because we’re down on manpower this week as a result of events, not all of our final evaluation events will take place before next week. On the up side, our goal by the end of the next week is to have the model, collection and island all finished, some final evaluations completed and the rest arranged, and the finished version of the final report submitted to JISC.


September 20, 2009

So near the end! We’re now working on the very final presentation elements – shaping the terrain of the island, working out where all the info panels will go etc. The island won’t yet look as we envisaged it but we can work on aesthetics and refinements in the coming months. The main point now is to get the basic experience in place for Thursday’s launch. In real life that also means rushing about shopping for prosecco and nibbles. Sorry Ben, not sure how we can get these to you via VR!


September 12, 2009

This week Nic and I were both representing the project at different conferences. I was at the Digital Resources in the Humanities and Arts conference in Belfast which was the venue for the wrap-up meeting and presentation of the JISC Enhancing Digital Resources projects. It was great to see what all the projects had achieved in the last year – they’re all very different but I think ours shaped up pretty well alongside them. Unfortunately, the nature of project work is that a lot of project teams will be broken up as the JISC money comes to an end. We are very lucky not to be in that position and to able to see the end of this month not as the end but just the end of the JISC phase of the project.

Nic, meanwhile, was at ALT-C, the national conference for learning technologists. He gave a paper about the learning activities in our model and got a very enthusiastic response. Presenting at ALT-C was one of our goals from the very beginning so it’s great that it had a positive outcome.


September 4, 2009

Officially the last month of JISC funding and we’re rushing to finish everything for our informal ‘launch’ on 24 Sept (if you read this and you have an SL account, come to our site at 1pm on the 24th and join in). We’re cracking on with the bots – the tourist bots are circling (at rather unpredictable speeds as of yet) the atrium and we have written the dialogue for the Pompeian ghost bots. These two are integral to the learning activities and their dialogue helps children complete two learning activities, one about life in the household and one about the myths shown in the paintings.

Programming the bots to respond to choices made by the visitor is the complex part of the process. The bots work by reacting to key commands, such as ‘come’ but the problem is that if anybody in its earshot says that word as part of a sentence, they will obey that command rather than stay in the location and scenario they are supposed to.

The learning activities involve students working in teams with two avatars and are designed to test their communication, cooperation and map-reading skills as well as their historical knowledge. They need to gather information to answer questions on their worksheet. In order to complete the worksheet questions they will need to find and talk to the two Pompeian bots who will test them to see how much they have learned. If the students please the bots with their answers, they are rewarded with the answer to a question or a secret code word. If they fail, then the bot will send them away to find the answer in a specific part of the house.


August 28, 2009

Last week the metadata, this week the draft final report. We’re more or less ready to submit this to JISC by the end of the bank holiday. The value of keeping this blog has come to be appreciated by both of us as we draw together everything we’ve achieved this year – it’s hard to believe we’ve accomplished so much, especially when we feel so time pressured to get everything ready for the end of the month. Inevitably, the court and island won’t be quite as finished and polished by the end of the month but it’s not far off and the ideas we’ve explored over the year are full of potential for further development.

The great thing about JISC is that they do ‘allow’ some failure. By which I don’t mean that it’s OK to make a complete hash of things, but that the template of the final report does allow reflection on lessons learned and unforeseen obstacles rather than just a self-congratulatory flag wave. This makes the compilation of the final report a much more useful experience, both for us and for its readers.


August 21, 2009

I can’t believe it – all the metadata is done. What a good feeling!

Nothing more to add. This is easily enough for the week.


August 14, 2009

I’ve had to face the inevitable this week: I must start writing the project final report for JISC. The amount and detail of info they require is not as bad as I feared but will mean that I’m taken away from helping finish the project before final evaluations in September. Frustrating. On the other hand, without JISC we wouldn’t have been able to do all this, so I guess it’s a small price to pay.


August 7, 2009

My main job this week was scripting the dialogue for the tourist ‘bots. As reported in last week’s blog, these two bots (Isaac and Alva) will walk around the atrium, stopping off at key points to view paintings and rooms. They will also mimic known reactions to the site: Isaac gestures shock at the naked Venus and he also (provided Ale can programme him) will stumble up a step. Alva will pause to read her guidebook.

I’m really pleased with the dialogue – all of it is genuine: either extracts from the guidebooks or else comments from reviews (Alva, for instance, mostly speaks the words of Lady Eastlake, who reviewed the courts for the Quarterly Review March 1855. Isaac speaks the rather critical and (often hysterical) response of The Crystal Palace: An Essay, Descriptive & Critical and also quotes the Routledge Guide: Ten Courts of the Crystal Palace.


July 31, 2009

We are now sure of what’s happening with the ‘bots so can go ahead and plan them with the help of Ale in IRLT. We’re having to strip back to basics because we have a strict budget but we’re happy with that – this is a pilot exercise so we’re looking to experiment rather than fully implement. Certainly the school student feedback suggests that this is the way to go.

The plan is to have 3 categories of robot avatar:

1. The welcome ‘bot. This female bot, in Victorian dress, will stand still at the entrance of the house but is programmed to turn to face new visitors and to give them information about the HUD and how to use it. She will do this by asking suggestions and offering visitors a series of responses so they can get the information they want.

2. The tourist ‘bots: these 2 Victorian characters, Alva and Isaac, will move on a predetermined route around the atrium of the house, pausing at 6 or so ‘hotspots’ where they will inspect a painting or a room. At these points they will speak to ecah other, either reading from the guidebook or passing comment on what they see. The point of these ‘bots is to ensure ongoing population of the mdoel and to help the visitor orientate himself – giving clues as to what should be looked at and demonstrating some Victorian responses to the site.

3. Roman character ‘bots: Claudia, a young Roman girl and Acheron, a rather ominous sounding slave cook will occupy the rear part of the house. They are divided from the Victorian characters in this way to reflect the idea of travelling into the past as the visitor gets deeper into the house experience. These ‘bots are also designed for the intended learning activities: visitors will be able to ask them questions and the ‘bots will have a variety of subjects they can talk about to help children find out more about Roman life.


July 24, 2009

Good news. With lots of help from KVL, Nic has finished the HUD. The HUD is the device that delivers information to the visitor. It looks like an unobtrusive opaque tool box oin the corner of the screen with a few straightforward icons. The HUD knows where it is in the house so that when a visitor clicks on an object or the spinning disc in each room it will deliver relevant information. The information is personal, in that only that one visitor will see or hear the material, so other people won’t be disturbed. Information is delivered in two ways: audio or text and at three levels: one for general visitors or younger children, one for older students (with a particular eye to the GCSE Class. Civ. syllabus) and one for researchers. The HUD also delivers the relevant text from the official 1854 guidebook. The particularly useful thing about the HUD is that the visitor can skip between levels or ignore information at will. It’s pretty easy – even Gwendoline and I have managed to work it.


July 17, 2009

Redlands Yr7.11

In a welcome break from paper writing and presenting (welcome but illadvised – I’m supposed to be giving a paper in Oxford on Monday. Haven’t started yet….), we have spent the last couple of days judging the competition. You can find out more about the competition and the winners by visiting the ‘competition’ page on this site. The picture above is a close up from the winning group entry: Redland High’s collage of Pompeian life. It’s a great piece of work in its own right and presents a really interesting possibility for user generated content in our virtual world.

Thanks so much to everybody who took time to think about activities for the Model. We very much appreciated your efforts.


July 10, 2009

We’re still in a pretty intensive dissemination stage this week. We gave a paper at the Electronic Visualizations in the Arts conference in London on Monday. It was a great experience and really useful to see the state of play in this field in the art, museum, heritage and education sector. Good to see that our project seemed to plug into lots of different current issues and very useful to meet people working on marketing projects very similar to ours (I particularly enjoyed talking to other Humanities academics about the difficulty of getting this kind of work recognised as ‘proper’ research).

As ever, we both ended up with loads of ideas about developing the project in the future. It’s really important that we keep these plans on hold and don’t lose sight of our immediate target – the delivery of the JISC phase of the project. I think we’ll have some really valuable findings for our final report.


July 3, 2009

So the JISC Digitisation conference was our focus this week. It was a big event and some of the key note speakers were very inspiring. We were really disappointed with our presentation: we struggled with internet connection during the conference and were pushed for time, so we felt we rather undersold our project. It was good to attend another JISC event though to meet up with other project managers and to remind ourselves of how we can best fit JISC objectives.

And we did get a lead for possible future funding avenues for which we are very grateful.


June 26, 2009

This week Nic and I have been busy on our different aspects of the project: the HUD and bots issues Nic’s been wrestling with are coming together nicely and suddenly everything is really accelerating.

I was out and about doing more evaluation with schools. I’d like to thank everybody I met at Chantry High School, Ipswich and St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. At Ipswich, the students gave us loads of great ideas whilst Mrs Thorne told us how we could most integrate the model with the national curriculum by making sure we take on board key stage 3 PELTS objectives. Very exciting because if we can do this, Chantry may be able to use our model as an integrated part of their Humanities curriculum. This would be fantastic but needs a lot of planning towards.


June 15, 2009

Ok, so it’s only Monday but I know that the biggest event of the week has already occurred so best to do this week’s entry right now. This afternoon Nic and I spent the afternoon with around 120 students from Bristol Grammar School. We showed them the model and talked about our plans for learning activities. The students gave us loads of useful feedback, with inventive ideas and thoughtful comments that will certainly help us plan the rest of the project. We collected data in two ways: quantitative data was collected on the spot by using an electronic voting system to register the students’ responses to key questions throughout the session  and we are very lucky to be able to gather more detailed qualitative feedback because we were allowed to set them homework to design an activity in the model and to reflect on its usefulness. We would like to thank Mrs Nesbit and the other staff at BGS so much for inviting us and many, many thanks to all the students for their excellent ideas and encouraging response.


June 12, 2009

The model has really come on this week. And the strategies for presenting the metadata are shaping up rapidly. We’re going to try a few different things on a small scale so we can evaluate the options. Our main ideas are:

1. information boxes/audio clips opening when visitors click on an object

2. a HUD – a kind of tailored instruction manual that opens up in the space 

3. ‘bot avatars, which we have already discussed in our blog entries.

I continue to work on the metadata that will be delivered via these means.


June 7, 2009
CP Festival May 2009 016
Crystal Palace Festival of Arts, June 6th 2009
On Saturday the Pompeian Court returned to the site of the Crystal Palace for one day only as part of the opening events of the Crystal Palace Festival of Arts. The photo above shows some visitors to our stall. Although the bad weather kept people away, I had a great day, met loads of people and gathered some very useful and supportive feedback as well as leads to images of the Court that I’ve never seen before.  I’d like to say thanks so much to people who took the time to say hello, especially the teachers from Woodside School and to John and Alastair for inviting us. Hopefully, next year we can be there with our completed project. I really hope we’ll be able to work further with everybody.


May 29, 2009

Well, it looks like the architectural modelling is at last done – after grappling with the roof for some weeks. This was much more difficult than we’d anticipated. Although the focus of the model is the interior oif the Court, the roof has to work because, in Second Life, the avatars’ flying function means that many people’s first impressions of our house will be from the air.  As well as the technical and mathematical difficulties Nic had in fixing the roof firmly on the walls, we had the added difficulty that there aren’t any very clear images of the roof. Whilst it’s easy to guess the atrium part, which mimics Pompeian roofs quite closely, the central part defies the logic of ancient building entirely, making it harder to second guess what was going on.

Now that this is finished we can really speed on with adding the paintings, the real focus of the archive. Great news as we move into an evaluation phase with community groups and schools in the course of June.


May 22, 2009

 What a relief – we got the EVA paper off in time. Took some excellent pics of the Court with an interesting juxtaposition of avatars in modern and Victorian dress.

Victorian and Modern Avatars in Atrium

Was going to relax a little but Nic just reminded me we’re supposed to have done our synopsis for the JISC Digital Content Conference 2009. Getting on to that now, Ben!


May 15, 2009

Over the next couple of weeks, Nic and I will be a bit quiet: we have a big deadline on May 22 for submission of the paper we are giving at EVA 2009 in London. We had incredibly supportive reviews of our abstract from the organisers. They seem to be principally interested in the ways we are interwining Victorian and modern approaches to visualisation and in our methods of evaluating the project.

On that score, we have several school visits lined up in the next month or so. We’re particularly pleased to be working with our neighbours, Bristol Grammar School. We’ll be visiting them in a fortnight’s time to introduce the model and gather feedback on our ideas and output so far and then we’ll be back in September to get some final reaction to the finished product. Thanks so much to Judy Nesbit for organising this.


May 7, 2009

Back from the States and out of the blog habit! It’s good to come back to see how much the model has developed. It’s looking really solid and the texture maps are at last starting to appear. Our plans for learning activities are also becoming more solid, as we clarify exactly what we want to/can do with the avatar ‘bots.

For me, though, the most exciting thing is the response to the competition that has finally been launched. It’s great to hear from teachers with whom I’ve worked in the past on other projects that school students are already devising exhibits and games for the model. We’re so grateful for all this input and there’s no doubt that this generated content will enhance the collection and, hopefully, increase the feeling of ownership and inclusion we want to engender in our users.


April 10, 2009

The main thing to report this week is the very interesting meeting I had with Silvana and Luis of Beta Technologies. The meeting was about exploring how technically feasible our ideas are for using bot technology within the project and to explore whether or not they would be able to help us implement them. We are essentially interested in three types of bots which are (a) a virtual tour guide, (b) animated Victorians bots as a backdrop and (c) chat bots, e.g. that welcome participants and hand them guidebooks and reveal information during game-like activities.

Both Luis and Silvana seemed very knowledgeable not only in the technical matters I was consulting them about but also relevant aspects of history. It seems our ideas for using bots are indeed technically possible and Luis and Silvana were very interested to work with us to implement them. However, it is apparent that there is a lot of work involved and we are likely to be restricted by the relatively small amount of funding we have available for external consultancy. When Shelley is back from the States, I will send a prioritised breakdown of what we need so they can cost each part separately and we can see what can be achieved. Time will also be a factor as they do not anticipate being able to have anything ready (i.e. fully tested) by August 2009. Saying that, some parts might be available earlier, e.g. bots dressed as Victorians standing about the model as a backdrop.

The meeting was also an interesting add-on to my experiences of last week’s workshop in the sense that it took place within Secondly Life using text-based communication. I found it quiet strange participating in a more formal meeting in Second Life. Communication seemed very slow and I often missed their messages when writing a long message of my own. I also made endless typos compared with Silvana and Luis who are obviously far more used to communicating in this way. Still, the meeting was both productive and very enjoyable.