Guest post by Chris Long.
“Hey Steve… I’ve got an idea.”
Most people know to shut their ears and run for the hills when I say I have an idea. When I approached Steve Bambury and suggested I host a class in the UK and have him port in via virtual reality, he quickly pointed out all the technical challenges, but didn’t say no… It should only be 10 minutes, sandwiched between other events. It’ll be easy!
It all started because I had been speaking to Dave Haynes of HTC. Dave had been finding great developers who make content that can be used in education. Initially he suggested one company ‘Insilico’ who could show a piece of content to a handful of engineering and construction staff, but this grew...Adding Make Real and Dual Good, we had a few companies that could make this more of an attraction for local schools and industry to come and experience the power and versatility of VR across many sectors.
It began getting a little crazy when David Whelan of Immersive VR Education dropped me an email to say he would be at FTN in London. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to meet the man himself behind Apollo 11, Titanic and the Engage platform: it’s worth noting, there is a reason why David has been so successful with Immersive. He has this positively active desire to take any opportunity and drive it on. So, there was me a random teacher from Langley, with an equally random idea, and David’s response was…
‘Let’s do it. I’ll come over with Mike, we will get the PR involved and I might know someone in the US who can make a special guest appearance.’
I was blown away. My little gathering was suddenly generating some real steam. The only little challenge…we had two weeks to put it all together. So, days were spent still completing my normal tasks, (I did still have students), evenings and nights writing and responding to emails, building the planning document and updating the relevant agencies of any developments. My greatest fear, even over the technology having a fault on the day, was for not enough people to turn up. Fortunately, that fear was unfounded, and I enjoyed seeing mayhem in the car park. When I asked visitors for feedback and received complaints of the lack of parking available, I saw that as a positive!
Dave and his team at HTC were fantastic. They managed to retrieve 5 x headsets for me to bolster the number on the day. They arrived on Monday, and we were just waiting for the extras I had managed to order along with the extra Graphics cards our IT department had got for me especially for the event. By Tuesday afternoon (the day before) all equipment was on site along with David and Mike from Immersive and Dave and a whole technical team from HTC. I was surrounded by sheer VR brilliance, and I couldn’t help but pinch myself. Here I was working (and tweeting photos) of such respected and talented VR professionals, in my classroom creating history.
At this point, I have to give a massive thank you to the brilliant IT department in Langley College, Robs and his team managed to acquire the extra kit, and in a space of just a few hours, build PC’s and a whole network, for us to build the VR classroom on.
Later in the day with the Immersive and HTC team we had a classroom. David and Mike worked tirelessly both cabling and getting the platform running, with Engage running in the Lecture theatre, before us was a real VR classroom. All there was to do now, was completely empty the other room and get it ready for the exhibitors tomorrow. Another night being kicked out by security, home to write emails, prepare printouts and grab a few hours’ sleep before getting in with the cleaning team to carry on preparations on the morning of the big day. David wanted to make some last-minute updates to the infrastructure behind the operation, the students were in and testing out the content. Exhibitors arriving and setting up. Windows being blanked out to minimise disruption during filming and finally… Visitors arriving.
With the place buzzing, we eventually ushered everyone into the lecture theatre for talks about the technology and the history of the companies before the main event.
The students made their way to their headsets and entered the Engage platform. We entered via the lecture theatre screens to see Steve Bambury introducing himself to the students, from his lounge in Dubai, but on the Moon. After a short presentation, Steve took them to Mars to search out previous space vehicles sent there, then back down to earth and to Avebury in Wiltshire where they were sent on a field trip.
It was at Avebury we suffered a teacher’s worst fear…a lost student! Although being in VR and with Steve in control of the laws of physics, he was able to send a flare followed by a giant Brontosaurus into the sky above the meeting point to guide the lost student in. While there Steve was joined by VR guru Chris Madsen, at home in the US, yet able to beam into the class field trip.
Field trip completed, with the students’ photographic evidence of their task securely saved on the computer. It was time to convene in the virtual lecture theatre where Loren Carpenter (Co-founder of Pixar and recently announced advisor to the Immersive VR team), from his home in California began a lecture on the birth of computer graphics, Pixar and Quantum Physics.
The virtual lesson lasted about 40 mins. But in 40 mins the students were able to travel to the Moon, Mars and Avebury. Complete field trips collecting photographic evidence of their work before sitting down for a lecture by the father of computer graphics.
Check out this reaction from VR Focus reporter Nina Salomons -
(There's a link to Nina's full write up at the end of this article)
Following the event, the students were beaming. Speaking at 100 miles an hour about their experience, the hills they climbed in Avebury, the feeling when your stood on the surface of Mars and what it was like having a private lecture by Loren Carpenter. This was more than just another lesson on another day. This was an experience that would stay as a deep memory like no other. This is why Virtual Reality is so powerful and can change so many students lives for the better. The departing visitors were overwhelmingly impressed. Now having experienced it themselves, they all understood the power and versatility of VR, and were ready to bring it in back at their workplace.
This brief story does not tell of the untold hours in organising such an event, I barely slept for two weeks, living off caffeine and chocolate brownies. But I can say this is one of my proudest achievements bringing together such brilliant people to make this happen. So, a massive thank you to everyone involved, there are so many that were involved with elements not spoken about in the story like the PR and marketing teams in different countries, logistics, catering, But I must make special mention to: Steve Bambury, Loren Carpenter, Chris Madsen, David and his team at Immersive VR Education, Dave and the team at HTC, Arnaud & Emanuel @ Insillico, Ben @ Make Real, Anna & Morgan @ Dual Good Health, Suhad @ JISC, Nina @ VR Focus and the Windsor Forrest College Group IT Support team. Thank you all so much.
Additional Coverage of the event:
Click here to read HTC's coverage of the event.
Click here to read VR Focus' piece about the event.
Click here to read Immersive VR Education's coverage.
Chris Long is a Game development lecturer at Windsor Forest College Group. Aside from his teaching, Chris researches the impact of technology on education and the industries the college is involved in. One of the primary and most powerful for education being Augmented and Virtual Reality.