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Virtual Reality at the University of Cologne

Uni from your sofa

Virtual Reality (VR) is suddenly everywhere – on smartphones, computers and even VR glasses. But the technology has actually been around for a while. Although older equipment would now be considered somewhat clumsy, it has been possible to explore virtual worlds since more than a decade ago. Much has changed since then, especially the the ability to watch VR content almost anywhere on a smartphone which has pushed the technology into the mainstream.


by Jens Alvermann


Since the beginning of the year, the University of Cologne has been exploring how virtual reality, especially 360° videos can be used to create excellent research and teaching conditions – especially for international students and researchers. Visitors can explore the University of Cologne campus comfortably from the sofa without ever having to be present physically. And the great thing is, the sofa could be anywhere in the world – even in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Virtual campus tours with 360° videos have been made popular by universities in English-speaking countries such as Oxford, Berkeley or Stanford. The Communication and Marketing division at the University of Cologne is taking a step further by combining the 360° video format with an engaging narrative. The viewer can not only look around in all directions but is directly involved in the middle of a discussion, encounter or narrative in the lecture hall, the library or a high-tech laboratory.

These “UoC 360° Stories” are published on the UoC YouTube channel and can also be viewed in the UoC 360° app, which will be used to access all UoC VR content and is best viewed with UoC cardboard.
As it is always best to test new media services with prospective users, a joint project for reviewing the use of VR technology involving international students from the USA, Japan, China, South Korea, India, the UK and the Netherlands was initiated as part of the World Business Dialogue 2017. The students developed important application scenarios on the basis of which future strategies in the field of virtual reality at the University of Cologne should be developed. Among them were a virtual campus tour, interviews with researchers, teachers and students in their work environment at the university, and virtual scenarios for carrying out experiments. Distribution channels via social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter and university web sites were also identified. The proposals included a resource plan and schedule and were presented at the World Business Dialogue 2017 congress at the university by all project participants.

Screenshot taken of a VR recording based on storytelling in one of the university's lecture halls.

University with its own VR-Lab

While the university's main focus is on using 360° videos for digital marketing, the university's computer centre is exploring the possibilities of using the technology in research and teaching and developing relevant content. Some VR applications are already used at the university including virtual tours of archaeological excavations or a flight through virtual molecular structures. Such simulations can then be used for discussion in research groups and can also help students to better understand and learn complex material in lecture halls of the future.