Within has long been one of my top recommendations to educators looking to bring VR into the classroom. It has that trifecta of qualities that make it an excellent option for use in the classroom:
It’s free – which is crucial when schools are generally budget-conscious.
It works on absolutely any device – from a tablet to a cardboard to aVive.
It contains meaningful, engaging content which can be used across the curriculum
Within was launched in in 2014 by Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin. The company produces 360 films of a standard rarely attained by other companies in the field, covering impactful topics including refugees, climate change, war, politics and more.
It’s no surprise that they have partnered with the likes of the New York Times, the UN and Conservation International and been nominated for awards at Tribeca, Sundance and Cannes. Probably their best known piece is the stunning Clouds Over Sidra, which I have spoken about here on VirtualiTeach before. For those that haven’t had the chance to see the story of Sidra, a 12-year old girl in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, you can watch it in 360 below:
I’ve been planning a piece on using Within in the classroom for some time now and thought about many different approaches to it. In the end I decided to pull several ideas together and share advice, resources and ideas for harnessing this wonderful platform in your classroom.
Using Age-appropriate content from Within with students
One thing you must be aware of if looking to use Within is that the content can be quite mature. Even if you are using a particular video that you have vetted (always good practice), if you plan on deploying the app onto shared devices or devices that students have independent access to, you may end up giving them access to other content that is not appropriate. Ultimately this is no different to say giving them free access to YouTube, but when issues like sexuality, race and politics are potential themes, you should still be cautious. Recently some STEM teachers I work with wanted to use the film Hello, Robot featuring Boston Dynamics’ amazing robotics programme with some Year 7 students.
The problem was that we harness the student’s own phones in a BYOD capacity for VR. We would have had to ask them to download the app and considering that they are 11-12 years old, we decided that it was not appropriate to ask them to download it. Instead it was shared communally by the teacher on a class screen. Ideal? No of course not but it was the best choice. If the kids had been a little older, we would have probably gone the other way with the decision. My advice is to think carefully before using the app with students and consider how you deploy it. If you use an MDM, you could always deploy the app to school devices and then pull it back off again straight the session if you are worried about them accessing other content in it independently.
Using the animated content from Within with younger students
There are actually a few animated experiences in Within that would suit younger students. In particular there are a wonderful pair of films from BaoBab Studios and Madagascar director Eric Darnell – Invasion and Asteroids. My own daughters have loved these films. Here’s Invasion! For you to enjoy -
If you are worried about deploying Within to devices that are used by younger students you actually have two alternative options. You can watch the films in 360 on YouTube (though using this may pose the same issue for some educators) or opt for the standalone BaoBab app which is available on iOS or Android.
Using Within for comprehension activities
One concept I have played around with a lot this year is the idea of “VR comprehension” ie using a VR experience as the stimulus for a traditional comprehension style task where students answer a set of follow on questions. I’ve tried it with Within but also 360s from YouTube and even some of the Inspyro apps. VR comprehension has a bit on an Achilles’ heel in that students wearing a headset cannot interact with a sheet of questions easily until the experience is finished. Even using a traditional video clip for comprehension, the student could easily pause and answer but due to the logistics involved with using a headset, this is not always so simple for 360 films. Of course if the content can be paused and the headset us something simple like a headstrap-less cardboard, the problem is somewhat diminished. It’s still not as easy to do simple (but crucial) things like rewind the last 15 seconds to re-watch a clip or catch the line of dialogue you missed though.
It’s not impossible though – you just need to reconsider the approach. Here’s my suggested structure for using an app like Within for comprehension tasks:
Provide students with an overview of the film and the questions in advance and have them read through, either independently or as a group.
Check for understanding (hey look – we’re doing comprehension work already!)
Let them watch the film in full in the most immersive way possible i.e. using a VR headset and ideally headphones of some kind.
Have them re-read the questions and answer any that they feel confident with.
Have them watch the film again and answer the questions. This time, if the option is available. Have them switch to a 360 view and interact via touch screen/gyroscope. This will enable them to pause/rewind etc more readily and thus switch focus between the film and the question sheet.
Have them re-read the questions and their answers to check for depth and precision.
To help you trial this in your own classroom, I’ve created a little template for use with the Within content. Here’s a sample:
Below is a link to a set of PDFs with questions sheets for five of the Within films including Clouds Over Sidra. There is also a copy of the blank template in Publisher format (sorry Mac folk) that can be edited or adapted as you need. You could easily make your own for any of the other films or rework my ones. I have tried to include a range of question types in my examples - hopefully they will help you get started and give you a few ideas. If you do create any that you are happy to share, please do send them my way and I will add them to the folder. I plan to add several more myself for some of the other Within films over the coming weeks.
Using Within to inspire curiosity and personal enquiry
Another way that you could harness an app like Within is to have students generate questions rather than answer them. Students watch a film and then collate questions based on the content. These could be things that they want to find out about the given theme or simply questions that they want to know about the content of the film itself. This is a great way to hook students at the start of a new area of study or as a lead-in to a personalised enquiry-based project.
You can encourage younger students to generate a range of questions by prompting them to use each question type: Who? What? Why? Where? When? How? This will help ensure that they are considering a range of ideas rather than focusing on one specific element. Another approach is to apply Sinek’s golden circle principle and “Start With The Why.” They then work outwards considering a How and a What that support the initial line of thought.
Using Within as an example of 360 film-making
If you have the capability to produce 360 video at your school, using Within as an example of how powerful the medium is when it’s done right is a great way to begin a project. Have students watch some of the films and analyse the composition and framing. Use them to prompt discussion about the logistics of filming in 360 – where the audience gets to choose how and where they focus their attention. It’s a unique artform and one that can be incredibly powerful when done right. I am currently working on a 360 film about Student Stress with some of our Sixth Form Psychology students which will be released during World Mental Health Week later this year. They really have had to review and revise their original plans to adapt to the logistics of 360!
Using Within across the curriculum
I could list every film on the Within platform but since new content is added regularly, the list would go out of date pretty quickly. The best thing to do is simply visit the Within website and browse through the Experiences for yourself. The documentary category will prove the most useful in schools but the Animations and Experimental pieces are also potentially relevant to various programmes of study. The Music section may of course also prove interesting to your Music staff and students.
For each film, there is a simple but useful overview listing the age recommendation, length and a short synopsis. It also details any awards that the piece has attained.
So here are 10 of my personal picks from the current Within lineup, that can be used in different areas of the curriculum:
The Click Effect - Free dive with two marine scientists, as they capture the secret “click” communication of dolphins and sperm whales.
Fistful of Stars - Explore the cosmos through the lens of the Hubble Telescope. Journey to the Orion Nebula and experience the birth, life, and death of a star.
My Africa - My Africa transports viewers to the untamed rangelands of Kenya as Lupita Nyong'o narrates the story of Naltwasha Leripe, a young Samburu woman.
Feast - Witness the beautiful expanse of Brazil’s ecologically valuable rainforest, threatened by loggers as massive trees are cleared to make way for sprawling industrial cattle ranches.
Kinoscope – An exploration of the history of cinema. Kinoscope takes you on a journey through some of the most famous scenes ever captured on film.
Giant - Trapped in their basement inside an active war zone, two parents struggle to distract their young daughter by inventing a fantastical tale as bomb blasts draw closer.
Sergeant James - It’s Leo’s bedtime, but he thinks there is something under his bed. Is it the imagination of a young boy, or something more sinister?
Step To The Line - Shot entirely on location in California maximum-security prisons, “Step to the Line” provides a new perspective on prisoners, the correctional system, and even yourself
Vice News VR - The first-ever VR news broadcast covers the Millions March in New York City, as 60,000 New Yorkers protest racial profiling by police.
Waves of Grace - The story of Decontee Davis, an Ebola survivor who uses her immunity to care for orphaned children in her Liberian village
Access Within on the web here
Download Within on iOS here
Download Within on Android here
Download Within on Steam VR here