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Place probe

The ‘Place Probe’ incorporates a range of stimuli and techniques aimed at articulating a person’s sense of place. It has been developed, used and revised. Drawing on the experiences of the previous empirical studies it was decided to include the following instruments within the probe.

The Visitors Book. Research undertaken by Turner and Turner (2003) has highlighted the written reports contained in visitor’s books as a source of rich data about place. Indeed such reports have the advantage that they are often ask open-ended questions e.g. ‘Please tell us about your experience’ rather than ‘Tell us about the lighting’, hence they do not prompt people to provide answers on specific topics. Sketch Maps. Sketch maps provide information on the layout and key features of a location. In this case accuracy of the map is not of prime concern, rather it is the depiction of those aspects of the place that people remember; for example a tree, building or seating area.

They can also be used to provide additional information such as where people are standing or their paths through the environment. Salient Features. This section of the probe asks for participants to rate the three most salient features of the environment.

The aim of this is establish the most important characteristics of the place in order to help advise the designers of a virtual place and to evaluate how effective the virtual scene is. The Probe asks “Pick 3 features of the environment that you remember and rank them in order of importance”. Semantic Differentials. In this instrument participants were asked to rate various features of the environment

This part of the probe combined Osgood’s semantic differentials (Osgood, et al., 1953) and Relph’s (Relph, 1976) three aspects of place (physical features, activities afforded and affect engendered). Participants are asked to rate the environment on the scale. Very Quite Neither Quite Very Attractive Ugly Big Small Colourful Colourless Noisy Quiet Temporary Permanent Available Unavailable Versatile Limited Interactive Passive Pleasant Unpleasant Interesting Boring Stressful Relaxing Table 2: Semantic differentials Select a Photograph. A set of photographs is taken of the real world location.

These were then given to the participants in the study who were asked to select the one which best represented their experience of the location they had or were visiting. Six Words.

The final part of the probe asked people to write down six words which best described their experience of being in a particular place. Work with the Place Probe version 1 indicated that there was clearly some ‘mileage’ in the approach at least from the perspective of gathering some rich, contextual data that could be used to critique virtual representations of real places.

However, the second purpose of the probe, namely to communicate between evaluators, designers and engineers, had not been successful. The data from the Place Probe was too vague. Also, it was felt that there were important aspects of places that were not being captured. The Place Probe version 3 demonstrates a number of developments over version 1. One key aspect that was only implicit in version 1 of the Place Probe was sound. As the project progressed it became increasingly clear that the soundscape that accompanied any visual representation was a key component of the sense of place. Accordingly a separate section of the Place Probe was devoted to sound.

The other main finding from version 1 was that the semantic differentials provided an effective and quick method of data collection and analysis. The aim of the probe was to provide data, which would be of use to the designers of virtual environments, which sought to capture particular aspects of the real world. An explicit intention of the probe was to find out what was missing from the experience of a virtual environment when compared to its real world counterpart, rather than simply provide a quantitative score for place or presence. It is contended that such an approach when combined with traditional questionnaire methods such as ITC-SOPI and ITQ and MEC will provide a greater insight into level of presence experienced by people, and how this is affected by their sense of place.

The method is qualitative in nature and that of course introduces a series of issues with data interpretation, capture and reporting. However it is believed that by using appropriate methods of inter-rater reliability and that the multiple sources of data within the probe overcome these issues.

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Reported by

Napier University
EH10 1DJ Edinburgh
United Kingdom
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