Friday, August 19, 2016

Pop Up Thinglab 12 Childrens DIY VR Workshop

Childrens DIY virtual reality workshop

Pop Up Thinglab 12 was a Childrens DIY virtual reality workshop with the with the Code Club members of Croydon Central Library and a follow on from Pop Up Thinglab 5: Children's Storytelling And Virtual Reality.

"The best way to understand reality and virtual reality is not just to experience it but to make it"

Pop Up Thinglab 12 is the first in an inspireNshare series of MAKE workshops intended to develop understanding by making things. Inspired by maker culture the emphasis is on DIY, informal, social, peer and shared learning motivated by fun, experimentation and self-fulfilment.

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

If a child can do it an adult should be able to!

The intention for this Thinglab was to engage the curiosity and creativity of children to develop practical understanding to de-mystify new technology.

Named for its fold-out cardboard viewer Google Cardboard is intended as a low-cost system to encourage interest and development in virtual reality. Google Cardboard is great low cost way to get into VR - you can use your smartphone with a VR Viewer that you can make yourself from low cost parts, a DIY kit or buy ready made.

Making a cardboard viewer from scratch is quite feasible but you have to be quite practical and patient and have a couple of hours to layout the template and cut the cardboard. For this first childrens DIY VR workshop we used a DIY kit - we save the time and practical difficulties of cutting the cardboard from the template but get the experience of assembling our own low cost VR viewer.

When given the chance children can have amazing conversations about the world they live in and the future. 

We gathered around a table and talked about virtual reality - I was amazed at how informed our conversation was. We talked about the range of VR equipment available and the differences between them - from smartphone based systems like Google cardboard and viewers like cardboard viewers like I am cardboard and View-Master, through Samsung Gear VR to the PC bound room based systems of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and the soon to be released Sony Playstation VR. Oculus and Facebook have done such a good job of publicising Rift - when asked about virtual reality its the one thing that most people (even young children) mention. Its a pity that the reality of the Rift hasn't yet lived up to its virtual reality!

We spoke about virtual reality and gaming - about Vive and the part of Valve  with its long history of game development and game distribution and community platform Steam. The code club children really seemed to understand the potential of VR and gaming when we spoke about Playstation VR - they imagined what it would be like to play some of the games they knew about in virtual reality. 

I spoke about my experience using Tiltbrush (a VR painting application) with the HTC Vive and how motion controllers and motion sensors improves the experience of virtual reality and what you can do with it. I spoke about how simply adding headphones increases the experience of immersion and we talked about how adding more senses and interfaces would make virtual reality seem more like reality. I told them about the KOR-FX haptic feedback vest I had seen on my visit to Barking Digilab and how this would let you "feel your game" and what it might be like to get shot in virtual reality and how this might affect how you play the game. One of the code club children talked about how the ultimate in virtual reality would be connecting directly into our nervous system like the Matrix and we spoke about how in the future it might become difficult to tell the difference between reality and virtual reality. We finished our conversation talking about how some people get addicted to games and how VR games might affect this - about how some people might end up like in the Matrix - with drip feeding because they don't want to come out of the virtual reality!

I think we could have talked for the whole session but this was a Thinglab rather than a Thinklab and it was time to get practical. 

I showed the children what the finished DIY Cardboard viewer would look like and gave a quick demonstration of how to put it together. As soon as I handed the out the kits the children opened them up and just got started straight away. There are no step by step instructions in the kit and I wanted to see how far the children could get on their own - working out the assembly themselves after a quick demonstration and seeing what the end result looked like. Some of the children managed to make their VR viewer with just a few bits of advice from me .. I thought this was pretty amazing. Others needed more help so I gave them guidance and support as needed - being careful to let everyone do as much of the assembly themselves as they could.

As each person completed their VR viewer they had a chance to try it out either with my phone or with their own. I always think that personal investment in something makes it more meaningful and after concentrating to make their VR viewers the children's excitement and enthusiasm at this stage was amazing. Some asked to watch VR media we had seen in Pop Up Thinglab 5: Children's Storytelling And Virtual Reality while others searched Youtube #360 for VR videos of things they were interested in.

While the children mostly worked on making their VR viewers by themselves when it came to using them there was a lot of co-operation and discussion - the children were showing each other what they were looking at and what they had found to watch.

In this first Childrens DIY VR workshop we made our own VR viewers - in the next one we will make our own DIY VR media!

For flat and 360\VR images of Pop Up Thinglab 12 visit our MAKE:VR 1 Flickr album

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspireNshare Thinglab visit

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