Environmental communication and virtual reality

Environmental communication and virtual reality

Picture of VR brills on gras. Photo.

Climate change is one of the most crucial global threats for our generation and for those to come. Temperatures and precipitations in Norway are expected to increase and sea levels will rise. Increasing incidences of extreme weather events such as floods and landslides are affecting the natural physical environment and climate change adaptation strategies concerning risk management are needed for disaster preparedness.

However, there is a gap between experts’ judgements of risks and people’s perception of risk; sometimes we are not aware of a risk just because we do not see it.

About the village

In this village students will have the opportunity to give their contribution towards reducing this gap by collaborating with World of Wild Waters (WoWW). WoWW is one of the nine multidisciplinary projects of NTNU’s initiative Digital Transformation, aiming to be the future tool for analysing and communicating causes and effects of potential natural hazards through gamified virtual experiences which can be used as a basis for preventive and emergency measures to save lives and cut costs.

When dealing with natural hazards, the role of risk perception emerges in decision-making processes, influencing how individuals and groups prepare and how they respond to hazard warnings. Therefore a focus will be on the human perspective and on the factors that influence risk perception, being risk perception one of the strongest triggers of coping and adaptation behaviours. 

But why virtual reality?

There is a vast amount of information regarding environmental problems and certainly the lack of knowledge is not what is preventing concern and action. In fact, part of individuals’ risk underestimation can be explained by psychological distance from the hazard. Climate change is widely perceived as a distant problem, both temporally and spatially, and, hence, people typically expect negative consequences for the future, but believe to remain unaffected in the short term. 

However, direct experience with extreme weather events may make them seem more concrete and less psychologically distant. This is where VR (virtual reality) becomes useful.

VR allows individuals to feel digital stimuli as if they were in the real physical world. It is, therefore, a powerful tool to create knowledge, emotional responses, awareness, and drive action. 

VR, in fact, offers the opportunity to reduce the temporal distance between the causes and the effects of individual behaviour by learning through simulations that have no actual costs. For example, people may become more aware of the risks by directly virtually experiencing the extreme losses resulting from failing to adapt and taking action toward the impacts of climate change.

How is this useful to society? 

Students will contribute to the design of WoWW in terms of development of better environmental communication strategies and people’s preparedness for future crises; it is essential to increase societal preparedness for a wetter and wilder climate. Moreover, a small number of studies have evaluated how games can have an effect on natural hazards’ risk perception and protection behavior. Being an emerging field of research, this is an opportunity for the students to give an important contribution to science and to society. 

Why is the village theme well suited for interdisciplinarity?

Addressing these issues requires an interdisciplinary approach to create methods that realistically connect the different factors influencing the causes, the development and the potential consequences of Natural Hazards. Students will have the opportunity to collaborate with the WoWW fellows who make up a multidisciplinary team per se, focusing on a multitude of aspects from meteorological, hydrological and geotechnical conditions to the effect of human activity influenced by or influencing the development of an event.

Relevant competency

Creativity and personal commitment are the most important prerequisites for participation. 
Students from social sciences, psychology, communication technology, education, and media studies may find this village exciting having the opportunity provide theory for effective environmental communication and/or have a salient role in planning experimental designs for testing on the public if the implemented elements in the virtual environment encourage attitude change or even decision-making.

Computer scientists will find their knowledge to be fruitful for designing and developing the visualization of the virtual tool. Knowledge in using the Unity development platform will be considered advantageous. This applies not only to students of information technology but also to students that privately enjoy exploring visualization and are interested in developing digital storytelling targeting natural hazards.

Students with experience in data analysis and experimental design will definitely have a main role when testing the output of the group work.

Students with an engineering background can provide information about certain climate hazards and technologies (e.g., hydraulic engineers when dealing with floods) and students from the department of mathematical sciences can offer their contribution by modelling the spatial and temporal distributions of weather extremes. Nevertheless, this village is open to a multitude of disciplines such as art, architecture, graphic design, game design, educational science and related disciplines and all professional (and personal) skills are welcomed.

Students should keep in mind that the purpose of the course is to stimulate multi-disciplinary group work and collaborations, therefore the topic of the course might not be directly related to their field of study, therefore we suggest to engage in the course with an open mind and with a flexible and adaptable approach towards possible challenges.  

What students can contribute to with their projects

  • Developing scenarios or identifying which factors should be included in the immersive and participatory user experience for deeper understanding of natural hazards such as floods and landslides
  • Exploring how the designed factors may affect the virtual experiences of natural hazards and how, in turn, they may affect risk perception by developing experimental designs
  • Using gamification for understanding and learning the impact of human influence on natural hazards events.

Fakta om landsbyen - PSY3811

Course code: PSY3811
Village: Environmental communication and virtual reality
Type: Intensive
Language: English
Village supervisors: Amanda E. Lai
Semester: Spring 2021
Location: Trondheim

Important information about EiT:

Important information about EiT:

  • The focus on teamwork skills and group processes is the unique feature of Experts in Teamwork (EiT).
  • EiT's teaching methods depend on the contribution and presence of every participant throughout the semester. For this reason, attendance is compulsory on every village day.
  • In contrast to many courses, the first few days are especially important in EiT. During this period, the team members get to know each other and discuss what each individual can contribute. You will also draw up the compulsory cooperation agreement and start preparing a shared research question.
  • For additional information about Experts in Teamwork, see the page for students.