Monday, July 18, 2016

Pop Up Thinglab 5: Children's Storytelling And Virtual Reality

"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself" ~ Albert Einstein

Pop Up Thinglab 5 was was a children's virtual reality workshop with the Code Club members of Croydon Central Library.

Previous Virtual reality Thinglabs have been with adults but I always struggled to explain and describe virtual reality.  Albert Einstein once said "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself" so I was keen to have children explain virtual reality to me!.

Consumer Virtual reality is very new and VR viewer manufacturers have very different recommendations for minimum ages - Oculus (Rift and Samsung Gear) say 13+ , Sony Playstation say 12+, Mattel say 7+. HTC say the Vive wasn’t designed for ‘young’ children but don't specify a minimum age and Google doesn't specify a minimum age and have been very active in children's education from primary schools up with their Expeditions program. 

For a children's virtual reality Thinglab I had to use appropriate viewers, content and method.

Children's Virtual Reality Viewers
The Google Cardboard VR ecosystem is used widely with children and the Mattel View-Master VR viewer is designed specifically for children 7+ so we chose to use the Google Cardboard VR ecosystem - specifically a View-Master VR viewer and two I Am Cardboard viewers.

Children's Virtual Reality Content
The group ranged from  seven year olds through to 12 year olds so I had to choose content that was appropriare yet interesting for this age range. While I had the Viewmaster space, wildlife and destinations "Edu-tainment packs ready - these are OK but they just didn't seem exciting enough at the time for a group that were excited about having a go at virtual reality so I chose to use "Disney" style mainstream content suitable for the age range and available to anyone free to use on their Smartphone.

Within focus on Virtual Reality to tell stories and have a wide ranging portfolio of "extraordinary stories in virtual reality" available for free on your smartphone. From the Within portfolio I chose the Invasion and The Evolution of Vrse. One of the best experiences to try with Virtual Reality are Roller Coaster rides so from the general VR experiences available for smartphone and suitable for children I added in VR Cosmic Roller Coaster App.

Invasion - "Aliens come to take over Earth. It’s up to two adorable little white bunnies to save the planet - and you are one of them! 

The Evolution of Vrse - A wonderfully relaxing musical and scenic experience where you get to rise up and meet a giant baby ... wither that or you have become very small :)

Cosmic Roller Coaster - A roller coaster ride through space where you pass space stations, planets and other cosmic objects.

Children's Storytelling With Virtual Reality
People experiencing virtual reality get quite immersed in the experience and apart from short utterances like "WOW" there is little communication from people experiencing virtual reality with people in the real world.

Its the Immersive experience that makes virtual reality so interesting but this immersion (at least for now) is individual and not shared - from the real world we cannot experience what you are experiencing in the virtual world - we cannot see what you see and we have to be patient while waiting our turn to have a go.

For a group of 10 people with a shared VR viewer I wondered how to make the experience interesting for everyone ... especially for those waiting their turn to have a go with a shared viewer- especially for a group of children who could easily get bored waiting their turn.

My idea for a group session with a shared VR viewer was for the virtual reality adventurer to describe in real time what they were seeing and encouraging questions from the group to the adventurer about what they were seeing. I was aiming to develop people's real time descriptive skills, questioning skills and to keep the whole group engaged and interested in real time.

Children's Storytelling And Virtual Reality: Impressions
This was the first time I had done this and quite an experiment - I had no idea if it would work or not.

I was amazed at how easily the children accepted technology. There were plenty of questions and excitement about virtual reality and a 3D printer I had with me for a later Thinglab - the children were so eager to learn and so keen to have a go. I kept wondering why this might be ... at first I kept thinking it was because of an association between technology, toys and play and that in general children have very positive experiences with technology and thus have a positive view on technology. However, looking across to the other side of the library at the pleasure toddlers were taking in their new found ability to walk around and explore all by themselves I could see how the joy of learning is so natural for children and that the "frictionless" experience they have with technology is just part of their natural joy of learning. 

I was amazed at how easily and how well the children were able to describe what they were seeing in virtual reality and how engaging the activity was for the rest of the group. The method created a group dynamic and engaging social experience - its certainly a method I will use and develop again ... I look forward to trying this with small adult groups to compare. 

One thing I noticed was that virtual reality seemed to level the playing field between for the shy ones in the group - once they had the virtual reality viewer on they described what they were seeing as well as the more extrovert children in the group. I wonder if this is similar to the other effects where technology mediation overcomes social inhibitions - perhaps similar to the way shy members of a class may not raise their hands to ask a question or make a comment but might contribute to a social media backchannel.  

Now ... as for children explaining virtual reality to me - Croydon Library Code Club members excelled  - here is there description of virtual reality

"Virtual reality projects into your eyes as if you are there"

In my opinion this certainly beats how NASA describe it

“Virtual reality is the use of computer technology to create the effect of an interactive three-dimensional world in which the objects have a sense of spatial presence.”  ~ NASA

Or some attempts by adults to describe it for children such as

“Virtual reality is a computer made world which you can go into using special goggles.”


"Virtual reality is a hypothetical three-dimensional visual world created by a computer; user wears special goggles and fiber optic gloves etc., and can enter and move about in this world and interact with objects as if inside it" ~

Well done Croydon Library Code Club!

For more information about inspireNshare Thinglabs visit

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