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 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.

In this village students will have the amazing 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. WoWW is the future tool for analysing and communicating causes and effects of potential natural hazards through gamified virtual experiences. Stakeholders, city planners, decision-makers and emergency agencies, will use WoWW as a basis for preventive and emergency measures to save lives and cut costs (click on the link to find out more about WoWW). 

Students from all disciplines are invited to gather together and join forces and creativity to design projects that will feed into WoWW.

Relevant competency

We are looking for fun, creative, engaged students from all disciplines to an exciting village. Any academic background is appropriate and all professional (and personal) skills are welcomed. Creativity and personal commitment are the most important prerequisites for participation.

E.g., students from information technology can contribute to the design and development of the virtual tool and/or using digital storytelling targeting natural hazards; psychologists and social scientists can provide theory for effective environmental communication and/or ensure that the design of the gamification elements fosters decision-making. Engineers can provide information about certain climate hazards and technologies (e.g., hydraulic engineers regarding floods). From the department of mathematical sciences students can model the spatial and temporal distributions of weather extremes and so on; nevertheless there is space for a multitude of disciplines such as art, architecture, graphic design, game design, educational science and related disciplines.

About the village

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. E.g., people think that there will be more climate hazards in the world rather than where they live. 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.

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

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 experience their contribution toward natural hazards as a result of failing to preserve, and the loss of lives and costs may be experienced as a result of failing to adapt and taking action toward the impacts of climate change.

How is this useful to society?

Students will contribute to the development of better environmental communication strategies, in terms of risk management, policy response and people’s preparedness for future crises; increasing societal preparedness for a wetter and wilder climate, bringing together knowledge on physical and statistical behaviour of natural hazards with knowledge on digital storytelling and human behaviour.

Why is this 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.

Some of the possible objectives and research interests students can contribute to with their projects

  • Creating an immersive and participatory user experience for deeper understanding of natural hazards
  • Exploring how virtual experiences of natural hazards affect risk perception
  • Developing a training system to handle critical situations and psychological stress factors
  • Using gamification for understanding and learning the impact of human influence on natural hazards events
  • Developing environmental communication using gamified virtual experiences in order to trigger mitigation.

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 your opportunity to give an important contribution to science and to society. Sign up!


Fakta om landsbyen - PSY3811

Course code: PSY3811
Village: Environmental communication and virtual reality
Type: Intensive
Language: English
Village supervisors: Amanda E. Lai
Semester: Spring 2020

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.