TTU Professor to Study Interactive Media and Virtual Reality in Taiwan

Jan 8, 2020

The use of interactive media and virtual reality is on the rise, and one Texas Tech professor is traveling to Taiwan next semester on a Fulbright Scholarship to study how these technologies will affect the world. He hopes to broaden the understanding of these technologies to help people understand how best to use it.

A Fulbright scholar from Texas Tech will travel to the other side of the world this month to research new ways of using interactive media.

Nick Bowman, an associate professor of Journalism and Creative Media at Texas Tech’s College of Media and Communications, has been studying interactive media for the past fifteen years. He earned his Fulbright last year.

“This program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and is designed broadly to sort of broaden the footprint of scholarship abroad and to, in a way demonstrate the U.S.’s leadership in higher education in both teaching and research.”

Traveling abroad to Taiwan to research virtual and interactive reality at the National Chengchi University, Bowman will dive deeper into what virtual reality, known as VR, is and what can be accomplished with this new technology that most don’t know all that much about.

“That’s where we’re at with VR. We know how to make the headset, we know how to show you an apple in 3D, or watch a 360-degree news video, but we don’t know anything else past that. So it’s a neat technical demonstration, but that’s kind of where it falls flat.”

Many homes now-a-days have VR headsets that play video games, but the technology’s capability is limited due to society's lack of understanding.

“Video games, virtual reality, augmented reality, social media; if you can touch the story and change it, there’s something going on there. We don’t know much about it in part because I think at a cultural level, this is a toy. And I think we don’t know much about it from a research level because we might still be applying a lot of our older or traditional views of mass media that don’t account for interactivity.”

Bowman grew up with a strong interest in interactive media which shapes his research now. His Fulbright work will last through June in Taiwan where he will conduct research and teach courses. The opportunity to research in one of the world’s stand out technology hubs will benefit Texas Tech in more ways than one.

I’m going to be doing research on virtual reality and persuasion. And all of that comes back into our labs here. We’re hoping it might lead to a long-term partnership. You know, if this university really is sort of leading the way in technology research, you think about creative media, and virtual reality is certainly a level of creative media that we’re just now scratching the surface on. We have the technology, we just don’t know what to do with it.”

His plans include a deep dive into how virtual reality grabs the attention of more than one of your senses. He hopes to find ways that VR could be used to persuade.

“The study I proposed was the extent to which we could understand the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social demands of virtual reality, so that we can understand what combination of those leads to the best persuasive outcomes.”

Interactive media can be utilized inside the comfort of users’ homes. What can make it difficult to fully enjoy is what Bowman will be exploring through his research. He is hopeful to answer how other researchers can get the most out of VR technology.

“The opportunity to study a technology in, where I would call its home, which would be Taiwan. To study it on people who are using it and maybe not being studied themselves, and a chance to personally maybe experience some of my own heritage. Those three things were just a complete slam dunk.”

With a father born in Taiwan, Bowman is eager to learn more about his father’s homeland and to study the yet to be understood aspects of VR. As an educator and researcher, one of his main career goals has been to do a Fulbright.

“Interactive media is harder to consume than passive media because you have to develop a skill set. The things that you learn and don’t even realize. Your attention gets focused in different ways that you may not be used to. The emotional reactions you have to the content tend to be a little deeper because you’re invested. The physical requirements of literally pushing buttons and corresponding those taps with something on screen. And then even the social requirements, whether it’s you and your avatar, your character, or you and other people, or you and people online. So all of these cognitive and emotional and physical and social demands, you can’t do all four. We only have so much capacity to process information and so what I’m wondering now is whether or not we actually understand that as designers and as storytellers and as media producers, or are we just like throwing things at people and they’ll figure it out?”