Things have been a little quiet on the site for the last few weeks as I’ve been back in the UK visiting family over the summer (and avoiding the 50° temperatures in Dubai!) This year I also got the chance to meet with some of the great folk from Immersive VR Education on my travels – the team behind Titanic VR, Apollo 11 VR and of course the Engage platform I use for #CPDinVR. I first met with Chris Long in London and then later my wife and I flew from Edinburgh across to Ireland and drove down to Waterford where we visiting the IVRE offices and met Dave and Sandra Whelan, Mike Armstrong and the rest of their awesome team.
I should note that it 's both weird and exciting to meet people for real that you've spent so much time with inside VR. Here's a pic of me with Chris Long who I have probably logged more time with inside Engage than anyone and who has been at every #CPDinVR event since the very beginning!
Along the way I got to try out a couple of location-based VR experiences. For the educators who may not be familiar with this term, it simply means VR experiences that are not available to the home-consumer and are hosted at dedicated locations. The experiences were very different, and both had good and bad aspects. What really struck me on reflection was how the two ideas merged together could have produced something really outstanding – something that could produce an outstanding learning experiences for groups of students. Let me give a little breakdown of each experience first and then I’ll explain this cross-pollination idea a little more.
City Z - Anvio VR
Whilst in London, Chris Long and I visited Anvio VR to try the City Z experience. Anvio is a Russian startup that has now spread to various cities across Europe and offers wireless, cooperative VR experiences. They use Oculus Rift headsets along with trackers on your feet and hands and a rifle peripheral. The experience takes place inside a 200m² play space with the players wearing VR backpacks (ie you carry the laptop with you) to allow for untethered movement.
The tracking wasn’t flawless but it’s still great to be able to enter a shared virtual space with friends (in this case it was just Chris and I but Anvio can accommodate up to four people at a time), moving and communicating to work together and complete objectives. As with other LBVR experiences that use large room-scale tracking, the way the same physical space can become different places and scenes is excellent as the boundaries of the real-world breakdown and a single room becomes, in this case, a series of floors within a high-rise tower block.
For more information about City Z and the Anvio VR locations, visit their website here.
Kings of the Vikings VR
Last year whilst looking for Viking related experiences to use with the Year 4 students at JESS Dubai, I came across the King of Vikings VR and thought I was on to a winner. Sadly I soon came to realise that it was a location-based experience and not one I could deploy in class.
So when I traveled to Waterford to meet with the team at Immersive VR Education, it gave me the chance to try King of the Vikings for myself. Waterford has a rich Viking history and the experience is a part of several tourist attractions and exhibits on the theme. Hosted by an authentic historical actor, dressed in full Viking regalia, the experience takes place in an authentic recreation of a Viking long-house.
Up to ten visitors at a time can take part in each session, sat in rows along each side of the longhouse. The Viking host talks of using magical helmets (i.e. Oculus Rifts) to see ghosts from the past and learn the story of Viking Waterford and when the headset is put on and calibrated, you see the longhouse from the same point of view in VR. The experience uses a combination of photogrammetry to bring scans of actors to life as the ghostly narrators along with 3D scenes, objects and avatars to share key moments in the history. It’s a passive experience in that you don’t get to move or interact with anything but the scenes often use on-rails movement to bring you closer to the action. I really liked how they punctuated each scene with a recurring image of the map to introduce the next point in the timeline and highlight how the power struggle evolved.
For more information about The King of the Vikings experience in Waterford, visit the website here.
Next-level location-based VR for education
Both of these experiences were enjoyable and King of the Vikings was definitely educational. I ended up wishing that there was a combination of the two experiences available for educators. The key elements I would take from each would be:
Educational (King of the Vikings)
Authentic setting/host (King of the Vikings)
Multi-user (City Z)
Room-scale and interactive (City Z)
Communication and collaboration required (City Z)
Here’s my pitch (I’ll stick with the Viking theme but it really could be anything) -
A group of students are welcomed into a small ante-room, decked out as a Viking house, by an authentically dressed actor. Here they are set up with the requisite VR kit and trackers. As they step inside the virtual world, they find that they have become Viking avatars and are guided by the avatar of the host (looking the same as real life) into the main space. They then go hands-on with history, walking through a Viking village and being shown various artefacts (replicas fitted with trackers) like shields, horn-cups and helmets. They are set challenges by the host, who remains with them to guide the experience and ensure that the students are both focused and safe, using rune markings or similar to transport the group to new virtual spaces and continue the experience.
It would be immersive, engaging and collaborative – literally walking through history as a time-traveler. Crucially it would also be an active experience, making use of the extra-large room-scale tracking and interactivity. No matter how cheap headsets become, being able to facilitate something like this would still prove incredibly difficult if not impossible at a school due to limitations of space and tracking. A such I believe that this type of location-based VR experience could become incredibly popular in education.
It’d definitely give new meaning to the term "virtual field trip" wouldn't it?