A trip to the amazing Kinokuniya bookstore in Dubai Mall today paid off as I was able to grab myself a couple of interesting VR related books - “Dawn of the New Everything” by Jaron Lanier (the guy who actually coined the term “virtual reality”) and the recently released “All About Virtual Reality” by DK Books. This one is a reference book for children produced in conjunction with acclaimed AR/VR studio Curiscope – developers of such fantastic experiences as the VirtualiTee and Operation Apex. Being a children’s book and thus far shorter than Lanier’s tome, I dug into this one straight away upon arriving home.
DK Books have an outstanding pedigree in creating high-quality information books for kids and their VR offering is no different. Well, it is a little different since this is not just a book. In fact the book comes with a complete cardboard VR kit and detailed instructions for how to put this together. Rather than steal all the fun for myself, I enlisted the help of my five year old daughter to help with the assembly of the headset.
It was a pretty simple process and the headset is made of thick, robust card. Upon completion I was able to put my iPhone X inside it without removing its case and it fit just fine. The book also has several pages of stickers to decorate the headset with. In the end ours looked like this:
The extras don’t just stop there though as the book comes with an accompanying app, produced in association with Curiscope themselves, that allows access to five distinct VR experiences. The app is available on both iOS and Android devices.
Before I dig into the VR experiences that the app offers, let’s take a look at the actual book. After the pages detailing the construction of the headset, the bulk of the book alternates between information pages and pages dedicated to each of the five VR experiences. The information pages are a typical mixture of text, labelled diagrams and images and are set out in a clear way for younger readers to access the information readily.
The content is excellent, covering the basics of VR by answering the key questions kids might ask, including:
How do we see in 3D?
How is a VR world created?
How does VR work on a smartphone?
Who uses VR?
In terms of reading level, it’s appropriate for any Key Stage 2 students but I would imagine that some higher Key Stage 1 kids would be fascinated by it too (they may just need more support with the text, especially with regards to the technical vocabulary.) The content really is cool though and it explains some pretty tricky concepts in a genuinely child-friendly way. It will help students develop a better understanding of the technology, something that is incredibly important since it is more than likely that they will be growing up in a world where VR increasingly pervades their lives.
The pages related to each of the VR experiences provide more information about each topic and in some cases a little detail about how the VR experience was developed (e.g. how the feeling of being miniaturised was accomplished in the pond scene.) These are a great addition as they allow educators to focus on one topic and deliver an activity that incorporates both text and VR.
Each of these pages has a blue emblem on it which acts as a trigger image within the app to load each experience. The experiences are made up of still but highly detailed 3D scenes complete with sound effects and multiple interaction points which can be clicked to trigger text/audio information about an element of the scene. The focus of the scenes are quite diverse and cover a range of curriculum areas. They are: a T-Rex, a volcano, the gladiatorial fights in the Colosseum, the International Space Station and a the various creatures living in and around a pond.
Here's a short clip from the gladiator experience.
(Apologies but the sound has gone slightly out of sync in the screencast for some reason.)
To round off, I want to take a moment to recognise what great vale for money this book represents to educators. The book cost me 60aed here in Dubai and retails in the UK for £9.99. Now consider the fact that the cheapest cardboard headset will retail in the UK for around £5 and you realise that this is a great deal. You get the book AND the app as well as the headset (which students could assemble themselves) for little more than what you’d pay for a cheap cardboard headset! Definitely worth a look for primary school teachers wanting to dip their toes in the VR pond. It’d definitely make a brilliant choice for a guided reading group session – and the students could then try the VR experiences afterwards as the reward for their efforts!
You can order the book directly from DK/Amazon/Waterstones here.