Dr Olinkha Gustafson-Pearce



Room: TA033
Brunel University London
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)1895 267228
Email: olinkha.gustafson-pearce@brunel.ac.uk


Olinkha Gustafson-Pearce is module leader and lecturer in Graphic Communication. She studied Graphic Information Design at Westminster University, and completed her doctoral research work in Information Architecture at Brunel. The focus of her research work is Information Architecture, with an emphasis on structure and navigation in Virtual Learning Environments, primarily virtual worlds. She is project leader of Virtual Brunel, which is the Brunel University London Web 3D site. As such, she has conducted research into how to build effective virtual spaces for both education and public engagement. She is a founding member and fellow at the Human Centred Design Institute. Olinkha presented ‘Will the Virtual World Be Better than the Real One?’ at the prestigious Public Lecture series Exploring Digital Lives, Identities and Environments.

Professional qualifications

  • PhD, Brunel University London.
  • BA(Hons), (Graphic Information Design) Westminster University
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, Brunel University London, UK

Research and Teaching

Research Interests

Keywords: Information Architecture; information design; Virtual Learning Environments; virtual worlds; education + virtual worlds; building + virtual worlds; navigation + virtual worlds; digital tools + virtual worlds; wayfinding + virtual worlds.

Olinkhas’ main focus is Virtual Brunel which is the Brunel University London Web 3D platform. It is a fully immersive 3D world in which students, staff and visitors meet and interact in a simulated virtual campus.. Virtual 3D worlds are digital, computer based worlds that enable their users to ‘immerse’ into a generated three-dimensional reality, through the use of advanced computer graphics. In these worlds they can experience events and interact with other individuals in ‘real’ time. Even though Virtual Worlds are often seen as 3D Games, these worlds are places where communities are born. Each person who belongs to these kinds of communities can find like-minded people to talk to, whether this is to share information, or just to meet new people and experience new things. The use of Web 3D virtual worlds for educational institutions is becoming more widespread, with hundreds of universities globally, using this platform. Many leading universities now have a significant ‘presence’ in the virtual world of Second Life. The main uses of this technology have been for the delivery of ‘distance learning’ as well as marketing and promoting the university, and the courses and research, that is carried out by them. Olinkha has designed and built virtual Brunel which now consists of 5 sims and is collaborating with Schools and Departments across the university to enable students and staff to meet and interact in the virtual environment. There are a number of projects ongoing to discover the best ways to use this environment at Brunel.

Current Research

Developing and studying student engagement in a virtual learning and social environment for Distance Learners.

Students who study at a distance are separated both from their tutors and their peers. This poses general problems to all learners and significant problems to some. Social interaction - the sharing of ideas, discoveries, successes and failures and general social support - are often missing from the distance learning environment. Students frequently feel isolated, start to lose motivation, experience frustration or anger (Wheeler 2007), and a host of other unwelcome emotions which may lead to dropping out of their course (Martz and Shepherd 2007).This study considers these issues in relation to distance learners on the AMEE programme and seeks to develop methods through the virtual world environment, to overcome them. (£5973.00 from L&T Innovation fund)

Previous Research

Virtual Brunel has been an ongoing project since 2007 and during that time a number of research projects have been conducted. Funding has been raised from various Schools and Departments within Brunel University London.


Module Leader for:

  • DM1611 Graphic Communication
  • DM3615 Graphic Communication
  • DM2554 Pre Placement Module
  • DM2555 Placement Module

Major Project supervisor for Level 3 students

Research Supervision

Olinkha is currently first supervisor to two PhD and three MA students.

Current Postgraduate Research Projects


An investigative approach to the Visual semiotics in Advertising Billboards. In this study consideration is given to the visual semiotics and placing of advertising billboards in a Middle Eastern environment.

Developing a methodology for the development of urban spaces within cultural contexts. In this study the focus will be on introducing new concepts for dealing with urban conceptual designs to allow residents to reclaim their cultural space, thereby amplifying the cognitive sense of place.


Information overload in broadsheets newspapers in UK. To propose a newspaper index concept with colour and signs coding system which helps readers to navigate information easier.

Improving the reading experience of the Chinese mid-class office workers. Investigation of the reading habits of Chinese office workers and developing concepts to encourage reading in this community.

Developing an aid to understanding for medical family health history (genetic) information. In this project an understanding of the user requirements for dissemination of family health history is considered.


Peer esteem

  • Member of the Pedagogic team for the Brunel University London VLE upgrade
  • Member of Student Engagement Review Group
  • External member for the Approval Panel for the School of Arts Programme committee
  • DRHA Programme committee member since 2008
  • The Design Journal Referee
  • PhD examiner

Professional affiliations

  • Founding member and Fellow of the HCDI
  • Fellow of the High Education Academy
  • Member of Creative Research Network
  • Member of the IET



Journal Papers

(2009) Gustafson-Pearce, O., Billett, E. and Cecelja, F., Testing the effectiveness of a tactile signal to deliver navigation information while the participant's attention is otherwise engaged, British Journal of Visual Impairment 27 (2) : 147- 157

(2007) Gustafson-Pearce, O., Billett, E. and Cecelja, F., Comparison between audio and tactile systems for delivering simple navigational information to visually impaired pedestrians, British Journal of Visual Impairment 25 (3) : 255- 265 Download publication

(2005) Gustafson-Pearce, O., Tugs: I feel what you see, Access Journal 20 14- 15 Download publication

(2005) Gustafson-Pearce, O., Billett, E. and Cecelja, F., Perceptual impact of environmental factors in sighted and visually impaired individuals, British Journal of Visual Impairment 23 (1) : 25- 30 Download publication

Conference Papers

(2010) Gustafson-Pearce, O., Wayfinding and navigation devices in virtual worlds, Digital Resources for the Humanities and Arts

(2010) Gustafson-Pearce, O. and Stephenson, J., Virtual worlds for learning: Introduction to Second Life in higher education, 11th Annual Symposium on Learning and Teaching

(2009) Stephenson, J. and Gustafson-Pearce, O., Technology zone: The use of the virtual world Second Life around the real world, 10th Annual Symposium on Learning and Teaching

(2009) Gustafson-Pearce, O., The assignment brief, World Conference on Educational Sciences, Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences (1) : 2584- 2588 Download publication

(2005) Gustafson-Pearce, O., Billett, E. and Cecelja, F., TUGS - the tactile user guidance system: a novel interface for digital information transference, Include 2005: International Conference on Inclusive Design 2005 Download publication

Page last updated: Friday 29 August 2014