Mindscape Commons | Reference eReviews

Mindscape Commons provides interactive virtual reality mental health content for students learning clinical skills and empathy in fields like counseling, psychology, and social work. It exhibits normal growing pains as a new product, but it’s an intriguing resource with potential to shake up the library streaming media market.

Mindscape Commons



Mindscape Commons is built upon a compelling promise: Virtual reality (VR) can help equip learners with the clinical and mental toolkits to flourish as therapists or social workers. Curating free online videos and licensed exclusive content, Mindscape provides approximately 200 immersive experiences for students to develop clinical skills and empathy in fields such as counseling, therapy, and social work, in a safe setting. Content ranges from four-minute case studies to longer interactive simulations with built-in assessments. Over half of the videos are available only via Mindscape Commons—the first library streaming-video platform to make virtual reality its chief medium. Mindscape is a product of Coherent Digital, a start-up company whose slogan is “We tame wild content” and whose founders launched it after selling Alexander Street (which they created in 2000) to ProQuest in 2019.

Mindscape’s videos are compelling experiences. Patrons can experience the disorientation of a person with dementia walking through a supermarket, the empathy of a therapist listening to a patient recounting anxieties, or the concerns of a social worker conducting home visits, all with the heightened immediacy of 3-D. Entirely in English, the videos come from more than 90 producers, ranging from educational institutions such as BBC Scotland and Emory University, to businesses that sell primarily to clinicians (e.g., Accenture, Psious). Many videos are original content, developed through Coherent Digital’s partnership with experts at Pennsylvania State University and Mercer University. Content is current, with most videos created in 2015 or later. Optimized for students of psychotherapy and clinical mental health counseling, Mindscape Commons also should benefit social workers, criminal justice trainees, caregivers, and even patients. Videos on marriage and family therapy and school counseling would further broaden Mindscape’s appeal.

Accompanying each video are a few sentences of description, and citations in APA and MLA formats. Many videos come with supplemental materials, such as introductory videos, lesson plans, instructor guides, open-access journal articles, and searchable transcripts in HTML and PDF formats. Other resources include a bibliography of scholarship documenting the use of virtual reality to improve learning outcomes. Subscribing libraries receive MARC catalogue records, institutional branding, and COUNTER-compliant usage reports. Library patrons can authenticate via Internet Protocol (IP) addresses or via single sign-on through Shibboleth or WAYFless URLs.

Mindscape Commons grants access via free personal registration and institutional subscriptions (“memberships,” as the vendor calls them). Individual registered users can search the website and view the metadata but cannot access licensed materials. Individuals can also contribute up to five VR works to the Mindscape Directory, a free, searchable index with persistent identifiers and subject tags. The goal of this directory is to make open-access VR experiences more citable and discoverable, capturing videos not typically indexed by scholarly databases. Subscribers receive free hosting and technical support for VR videos they contribute to Mindscape Commons. For preservation purposes, Coherent Digital will give libraries the content on disc and will put the files into escrow, to be delivered to purchasers if Coherent Digital were to shut down.



Despite the videos’ compelling content, Mindscape’s virtual reality experience is mixed. Patrons can view the videos on their desktop or laptop computers and can view all Mindscape-licensed videos in their web browsers. Patrons can view third-party videos in 3-D on YouTube or on each video’s native streaming platform. However, for Mindscape’s exclusive or licensed videos, the best way to view them in 3-D is via Uptale, a third-party app for Android and Apple smartphones and other mobile devices. While the VR viewing experience is richest with Uptale, this method requires patrons first to download the third-party app and then to download the specific videos they want to view to their own devices. To download and watch a video, the patron must first enter a video-specific code from Mindscape into Uptale. Cumulatively, this process presents a real barrier for students with slower network connections or limited data or storage. Students will also need Google Cardboard, Oculus, or other specialized viewing devices to get the most from the VR experience. To a degree, such challenges are inherent to VR in the classroom, but the multistep process might frustrate even students on the privileged side of the digital divide.

Notwithstanding these concerns, Mindscape Commons is easy to navigate, browse, and search. The homepage consists of a basic search box above two rows of featured videos and browsing options. The uncluttered top navigation lets patrons browse by title, subject, collection, or immersion factors, and explore community resources, including “help” and “about” pages and a form to contribute videos to Mindscape Commons. While Mindscape offers no advanced search functionality, patrons can filter search results by subject (e.g., “home assessment” or “phobias”), publisher, access type (open access, commercially produced but free to view, or subscription-only), and release year (1999–present). VR filters include scenery type (ranging from “computer-generated 360° animation” to “serious game”), target platforms (mobile and desktop devices, operating systems, or VR devices), immersion factor (monoscopic or stereoscopic), interactivity factor (e.g., presence of clickable buttons or “hotspots” within the video), and demographics (users can request to see videos with clients or counselors by gender and race/ethnicity). Patrons can select multiple filters concurrently, view results as a grid or a list, and sort results by title, publisher, or relevance.

As a website, Mindscape Commons performs well on laptop and desktop computers but does not always adjust seamlessly to smaller screen sizes. Experienced on the reviewer’s iPhone XR, the site’s menus spill over onto other content. Login pages and Uptale launch codes pop up in new browser tabs. To avoid disrupting user experience, all activity should happen in the same tab.



Prices are scaled to library type and FTE. A one-year membership ranges from $3,500 (for two-year and bachelor-level institutions with FTE under 10,000), to $10,000 (for the largest doctoral sites). There are also special Founding Member discounts, including a one-time purchase option.



Although VR can seem gimmicky, Mindscape Commons positioned itself for real impact. The community building and open-access curation elements of Mindscape are promising, and its prospects are strong for expanding beyond therapy and social work into subjects such as engineering, anatomy, or fine arts. Even though it exhibits the growing pains normal for a new product from a start-up, Mindscape Commons is an intriguing virtual reality resource with potential to shake up the library streaming media market.

Michael Rodriguez is Collections Strategist, University of Connecticut, Storrs.

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Charles Chadwyck-Healey

Mindscape Commons is just one of the resources from Coherent Digital that will enable librarians and researchers to identify and access texts on the internet which are otherwise so hard to locate, and retain in their original form over time.

Posted : Mar 06, 2021 04:02



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