The closing of schools and universities and social distancing rules are playing havoc with post-graduate students and researchers needing to gather primary data for their research projects. With many students unable to reach out to people during the pandemic, one student decided to turn to the virtual world to recruit participants for his study and the response has been overwhelming. Could the future recruitment of research participants lie in the metaverse?
Like many master’s psychology students across the country Keith Kenyon had just started planning his research project when the Corona virus broke out. Faced with strict rules of social distancing he was finding it very difficult to recruit participants to take part in his study and was having limited success via social media channels. A few months prior to the outbreak Keith had been researching how virtual reality & augmented reality (VR/AR) is being used to support Positive Ageing and several studies focusing on the use of virtual social environments led him to Altspace VR.
Researchers appreciate the need to recruit an adequate number of participants and logistical issues often thwart the recruitment of potential participants. Moreover, it is important to ensure a diversity of population, rather than simply making use of convenience sampling of fellow students.
Altspace VR is a virtual world, which provides a platform for anyone over the age of 14 to interact in a wide range of standard and user-created environments. The demographics of users is wide and there are many established communities in Altspace focusing on different aspects of society. For example, there is a VR Church, various self-help communities for dealing with anything from weight-loss to addiction, there are groups which promote live music and other entertainment performances, there are groups who meet to play games, groups which discuss philosophy and politics and many more. Altspace VR has a very wide appeal and attracts users from all over the world of all age brackets. It is therefore a perfect platform for researchers to recruit participants.
Whilst carrying out research within the Altspace community Keith, who is working towards becoming an educational psychologist, came across Educators in VR – a global community of educators, researchers, and trainers exploring and collaborating with and in virtual and augmented reality. Educators in VR hosted their first international VR summit earlier this year, which saw over 150 delegates from across the world presenting their research and latest innovations in VR/AR technologies and pedagogical approaches.
Following the conference Keith and VR friend and fellow master’s student Evelien Ydo from the University of Twente in the Netherlands came up with the innovative idea of using the Educators in VR platform to assist researchers who are currently struggling to recruit participants. Together they tried out many different methods of collecting data in VR including the use of Qualtrics surveys and Google Forms, all of which work seamlessly within the Altspace VR platform. The ability to create private rooms for carrying out interviews and focus groups is another major advantage of using Altspace. This method of qualitative data collection is less intrusive than phone and video calling and considerably more immersive. There is already much research demonstrating the benefits of using VR to conduct controlled experiments within such safe and immersive environments.
“Researchers don’t have access to their labs, subjects, or even their computers. Many have their research projects, even their graduations, postponed as the world continues to deal with the current and future challenges of the pandemic of COVID-19/coronavirus. For the few given permission to continue their research, they are often challenged by the inability to collect enough information. Educators in VR is stepping up to help.” – Lorelle Van Fossen, co-founder of Educators in VR, who this month launched the VR Research Help Wanted Campaign to assist researchers in finding participants.
Within only a few days of the campaign launch, Keith has received an amazing response from people from all over the world interested in taking part in his research. The wide range of respondents also means that his study can now take a more cross-sectional format than had originally been envisaged and this will of course improve the validity and generalisability of the study.
Further details of the VR Research Help Wanted Campaign and Keith Kenyon’s study looking into the efficacy of Virtual Social Environments in reducing feelings of loneliness and social anxiety during periods of social isolation due to COVID-19 can be found on the Educators in VR website: https://educatorsinvr.com/