Learn how both UWCSEA campuses are working together to create powerful learning experiences within Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR). As a pilot project to explore the potential of VR/AR technologies in the school context, the UWCSEA libraries have been facilitating the development of an East-Dover VR Portal, a VR “Ready Player One” book club and encouraging students to develop skills as active creators and developers for and within VR/AR.
The recent growth of VR/AR technologies is rapidly altering the global information landscape. These changes offer incredible learning opportunities for students right now, while enabling them to develop the information literacy skills they will need to engage with this technology ethically and effectively in the future.
Introduction video: Here we are in the UWCSEA Dover East Portal. Welcome to our first VR book club. So this is a model of the East campus. This particular portal is using the Engage platform. Dancing Man was actually my first animation and it's one of the only ones that currently works in its default form. Gaming is stereotyped and they say boys can only do it and then I wanted to make up just for girls. We want to invite you to join us. We are here in this room right now if you'd like to register with Engage.
Philip Williams: Welcome, everyone. My name is Philip Williams, head of Library Services here at UWCSEA East Campus,
Kurt Wittig: and I'm Kurt Wittig. I'm the head of libraries at UWCSEA Dover Campus. We're going to give you today the overview of what we've been doing to engage with VR at both campuses.
Philip Williams: So adoption of VR technologies across many industries has been growing rapidly globally, and this includes fields such as health care, workforce development, manufacturing, automotive industries, marketing, transportation, retail, real estate, tourism, and the list goes on. Facebook itself has rebranded itself as Meta with the goal of driving their expansion to create what they're calling what they've used the term the Metaverse. However, the reality is far more interesting and far more diverse than Facebook.
Kurt Wittig: So you've probably heard of the Metaverse quite a bit and where we stand on this is we know this is coming, we want to give our students access to this, and we want to use the Metaverse and VR technology in general to to improve learning here at UWCSEA.
Philip Williams: We have a great opportunity for students to be well prepared to understand and to utilise and manage this kind of technology as it emerges and grows.
So one of the really defining aspects of VR is this idea of immersion. This is what makes VR so unique in more traditional technologies such as with monitors and tablets and smartphones. There is a kind of a physical distance between the user and the content. VR changes this and it removes that feeling of looking at a device and places the users right in the midst of the experience and this affords this really sort of deeply embodied experience in ways that is not really offered by any other technology. And particularly then also adding that ability to gesture and interact with objects within that environment further just increases that sense of embodiment.
Kurt Wittig: It's absolutely amazing when you're able to sit in a room with someone and actually get to experience their body movements and not just look at them through a 2D environment like we do with Zoom and Hangouts currently.
Philip Williams: We don't see that it would replace some of those more regular technologies, but it is something that certainly does change when the students get in, then you see them starting to interact differently and respond and have conversations and collaborate in different ways in the virtual reality space. You can see that it is quite a different experience and it does certainly offer some unique opportunities for us and our students.
Kurt Wittig: So one of the big questions is why the library? Why do we have augmented and virtual reality in the library? This is a student who has been using Blender to make 3D objects, and he is using a programme called Merge Edu that we subscribe to take those objects and to put them into the augmented reality space so that he can interact with them and he can see them, whether it be on the merge cube that he has in his hand there, or he can actually put it there in the in the room with him. And the reason that this is perfect for the library is libraries have been the centre of incubation since the beginning, really. If you look at the first pieces they were offered in school libraries, maker spaces which are rife throughout schools, you know, they started as a corner in the library. So it's really the library that needs to host these disruptive technologies to be able to see whether or not they will be useful for education and learning. And in particular, the reason the library works so well is because we give access to the community, whether it be through ideas or resources. And that's really what the libraries are geared to do. And that's what it's what we focus on providing access to these technologies.
Philip Williams: The library is a really public kind of space where anyone from the community can come in and access the whole range of resources that we have in the spaces that we have. And VR is now just another virtual space that visitors can enjoy and explore, as well as the libraries being a centre for the development of information literacy skills and so that is supported through our physical spaces, the virtual spaces, information resources, of course, the stories that we host and the staff that we have that are constantly curating and looking after these spaces that we have that we make available for our community.
So from the outset this has been a process of enquiry where this VR technology is emerging and rapidly changing technology. So this has meant that a process of exploring what we can do with VR has been very much a process of inquiry and exploring what the possibilities are available for us through VR and AR technologies. And then this then enables us to make well-informed decisions about the future of the implementation of VR in education. So where did we begin?
Kurt Wittig: We started with a total of five headsets on each campus.On each campus we have four Meta Quest 2 headsets and those are the headsets that let you move around and they're not tethered with the cord. And you can see in the HTC Vive Pro headset, which is tethered by a cord and it is connected to the Steam VR store. So you actually need a PC to be able to run that particular headset.
Philip Williams: Yes so the Meta Quest is great for just an introductory consumer kind of device. It's mobile, easy to use, but it is a little bit more constrained by what's available within the Meta content. But then the HTC Vive Pro is much better for content development and as a developer device and also provides a wider range of experience as well. So it was good to have two different types of devices for us to explore.
Kurt Wittig: So our starting point was to create a Dover-East VR portal where we could have teams meeting across campus and rather than then tell you about it, we'd like to take you there and we'd like to show it to you.
Philip Williams: So let's pop on our headsets and we're going to enter this portal and we'll actually have a look and see how it works together. And we'll see you there.
Kurt Wittig: Here we are in the UWCSEA Dover-East Portal. This was the first Metaverse that we began experimenting with. We created a space so that we could meet across campus. We could bring teachers in here to meet, we could bring leadership in here to meet, and more importantly, we could bring students in here to meet.
Philip Williams: And we also then started to experiment with how we could design and bring different props into this space to facilitate conversation and actually, one of the things that we really enjoyed playing around with was students creating some models and then bringing them into the VR space.
Kurt Wittig: So we had students creating models using Blender and using Tinkercad, and we were able to import them into the space and the students get to experience in a fully immersive environment where they can stand next to their object, they can stand on their object they can change the size of their object and location as well.
Philip Williams: This became - whoops sorry - this is a very powerful experience for students to be able to see their creations come from a flat screen and come into a 3D space and start to interact with them. Should we go and have a look at some other aspects of this space?
Kurt Wittig: Yes, that sounds good.
Now the story of VR at UWCSEA began in April with our proposal. Then by July we were all set up. We had everything ready for the start of the school year, and that's when we started to bring in both teachers, school leaders and students into VR so that they could begin experiencing it. In the primary school we use a programme called Merge Edu that is augmented reality, and students were using augmented reality to deepen their conceptual understanding of their units of study.
Philip Williams: So this is just an example of one space that we set up to host a discussion around digital and information literacy at the school, we were able to bring in some images and some documents to prompt discussion and then the group that met here could move around the space to have a discussion.
Kurt Wittig: Now let's go and have a look at what a book club in VR might look like.
Philip Williams: Welcome to our first VR book club. We chose this book here, which is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which is a book that's set characters spend most of their time in VR. We thought, this is a perfect book to have a book club around.
Kurt Wittig: So Philip created this space collaboration from students and what we did is we had a group of students at Dover and a group of students at East read the book. Then they met here during lunchtime to actually engage in this world.
Philip Williams: We had three keys and the student's task was to go and find those keys and when they found the keys, help other students to find them. Then they were able to then teleport into a whole new world where they could add experimenting with world building and world creating themselves.
Kurt Wittig: That's right. Just like what happened to the protagonist at the end of the Oasis. They took over control of the oasis, which we take them to a new oasis, so they can take control over.
Philip Williams: The logical next question is what would be the next book that we could have a discussion around in VR? So that's integrated lots of discussion amongst the students about what that might look like and how we might build out that world. And then I also have the opportunity to start building and adding into that world themselves.
Kurt Wittig: It's been a lot of fun bringing the students here and having them meet across campus like this and this environment.
Philip Williams: So this is a model of the East Campus created by Matthew with a design tech teacher. He was playing around with creating this model in architecture software, and then our challenge was we thought, well, is it possible to bring that into VR so that we can actually walk around this model ourselves in VR and so this was our first attempt. You can say it's a little bit glitchy, it's an incomplete model, that this is showing that this is possible. Then you can even see in the middle of the plaza is something that we can imagine a whole new structure that we couldn't even consider in the physical world.
Kurt Wittig: And this is tremendously exciting because if for some reason we were to need to build another campus, we would actually be able to collaborate on design with students in a virtual world where we would be able to walk amongst the building before any ground is broken at all, which gives us incredible opportunities for discussion and improvement and creation.
Philip Williams: So just building off just as a core and basic model, we can and the students can start to imagine whole new worlds, whole new ways of being and challenging our perception and our understanding of the environment that we live in in different ways.
So one of the great things about VR is that our VR portal between the campuses can be anything we can imagine. This particular portal is using the Engage platform. We previously were in Altspace and this platform gives us additional kinds of features to be able to construct meetings and we can create a whole environment and literally take a different perspective on the world around us.
Kurt Wittig: Yeah. So here we are on the moon, but we could just as easily be on a yacht or a rooftop or in the Sistine Chapel. We can literally be anywhere we want it to be.
Philip Williams: That's right. Yeah. And students can be part of learning how to build these environments for themselves so that they can be really part of creating whole new worlds for us to enjoy and to collaborate in and learn within. And I just quickly show you in here, we can just add new models into this world. So, you know, if we wanted to add something like an earthmoving vehicle where we can see this Apollo Land Rover over here, we can bring any kind of models in. And a whole range of models in here either student created ones or ones that we can bring in that other people have created. So if we go outside, I can show you some of the student created ones. Yeah, this is a really exciting thing. So let's teleport outside and have a look at what they've done.
Kurt Wittig: Good thing we have the spacesuits on so we can breathe properly.
Philip Williams: You know, I was a little bit worried there.
Kurt Wittig: So these products here are what students created in a VR design hackathon that was led by Girls In STEM on the Dover campus. The students were given some stimulus material by Claudia Criado-Perez. Her work in Invisible Women is all about how we live in a world designed for men by men, and what the task of the students were given was to design things as if they were being designed for women. So that was the stimulus material. They didn't necessarily have to take that stimulus. They could design something on their own and we had all different ranges. We had students from fifth grade to 12th grade. Some had previous modelling experience, some had no experience at all. They were just showing up and giving it a try for the first time. But by the end of the 3 hours it was really cool because we're able to pull in the objects and the students were able to experience their objects in full immersion, which was really special for them.
Philip Williams: Yeah, and this is just the beginning, right? This is just these students just starting to get this idea of being able to create 3D models just on their laptops and then being able to bring them into a virtual environment.And this gives us the perfect place to start to kind of build, you know, from here to being able to create a whole new world like this.
Kurt Wittig: No, no. Yes. So pleased with this is this is a full volumetric recording. Please go round and take a close look at the objects to see how they're made. And we hope that you find some inspiration as well.
Philip Williams: Fantastic.
Joaquin: Hi, and these are my blender animations. Sorry, not animations, models. I have other ones, but I'm ready for FVX. I'm still working on this plane, but it'll look pretty cool when it's finished. And this dancing man was actually my first animation, and it's one of the only ones that currently works in its default form.
Philip Williams: Okay. And what about the shophouse?
Kurt Wittig: Oh, yeah, the shophouse. I made this for the hackathon, the AR VR design. I don't know why it was the idea, I just felt like doing it. My coloured version has some glitches to the FVX so I haven't been able to give you the best version, but this is the prototype of the shophouse. My second one's more detailed.
Kurt Wittig: And how did you get into this? What did you make these things with?
Joaquin: Blender. It's completely free.
Rei: I don't really like how it turned out, but I worked hard on it and I used Blender to make it and the model of this was a plushie brought by my friend to the hackathon. I think I got inspired by all the animators on Blender and it made me use blender for creating this model.
Kurt Wittig: Okay, so Lauren, how did you get the idea to make this?
Lauren: So usually gaming is stereotyped and they say boys can only do it. And then I wanted to make up just for girls.
Kurt Wittig: Nice, and that's why you have the girls rule there, right?
Lauren: Yeah, yeah.
Kurt Wittig: Now that's cool. And how did you make this?
Lauren: I used Tinkercad.
Kurt Wittig: Is there anything that you would, or are there any other questions you have or things you want to make now that you've been able to do that?
Lauren: Yeah, I want to move from Tinkercad to Blender so I can make more detailed models.
Philip Williams: So thank you for joining us for this presentation. The question now is what next for VR at UWCSEA? We're just at the beginning. We're just exploring the possibilities and you can see, well I hope you can see from this presentation that there is so much for us to explore and we've really only just scratched the surface.
Kurt Wittig: That's right. And we want to thank you for watching our presentation today. And we also want to invite you to join us. We are here in this room right now. If you'd like to register with Engage, then download it to the same device that you're watching this presentation with. Or if you have a set of VR goggles yourself, you're welcome to come find us here. The room that we are in is LPrQW, and that is case sensitive, so we would love to hear your questions. We'd love to meet you. We'd love for you to be here. Thank you.
Philip Williams: We can try and describe VR but the best thing is to get into it yourself and experience that for yourself. So take the opportunity to join us here in Engage, but also to come and visit us in the library to experience VR for yourselves. Thanks, Kurt.
Kurt Wittig: Thank you, Philip. Happy 50th anniversary.
Philip Williams: Bye!
Kurt Wittig: Did I just shoot a laser beam from here?
Philip Williams: I think you might have. Yeah.
Kurt Wittig: That's funny. I was trying to do a thumbs up! I was trying to do a thumbs up.
Philip Williams: Yeah, I'm not sure how to do it.
Kurt Wittig: Oh, look at that. We got little laser sticks.