Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pop Up Thinglab 14: Childrens DIY VR Workshop

Virtual reality works best when it's surrounded

Pop Up Thinglab 14 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 12 Childrens DIY VR Workshop and Pop Up Thinglab 5: Children's Storytelling And Virtual Reality.

Pop Up Thinglab 14 is the second 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.

In the previous Childrens DIY VR workshop we made our own VR viewers - in this one we made our own DIY VR media!

I wanted to emphasise the difference between flat and linear traditional media and 360 non-linear virtual reality so I started the session with a traditional flat and linear "classroom" type arrangement with students arranged in rows and me "the teacher" at the front.

"The children's definition of virtual reality is the best I have come across"

This week we had a new code club member along with his mum so I asked the children to describe and explain what we had been doing and what virtual reality is. The children defined virtual reality as "a pair of goggles that projects into your eyes as if you are there". The children's definition of virtual reality is the best I have come across - its simple, about experience rather than technology and it's easily understood by children and adults alike. It's a useful definition and the one I use all the time now for both adults and children.

 "in virtual reality you can look around as if you are there"

So .. now I say 

"if you want to understand it yourself have a six year old explain it to you"

We started to talk about the difference between "normal" films and photos and virtual reality films and photos ... the children had to think quite a bit about this until one of the children nailed it by saying - "in virtual reality you can look around".  Albert Einstein  once said "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself" ... I say .. "if you want to understand it yourself have a six year old explain it to you".  Children have valuable, fresh and remarkable points of view and insights into things - this is one reason why I am very interested in peer and flip learning - where children teach adults and students teach teachers - see our inspireNshare projects in education for example. 

We spoke some more about the differences between "flat" media and immersive 360\VR media. I mentioned how one director has described making a flat video as being like hunting - where you are behind the camera and where the camera is like a gun that you look through and "shoot" things. The same director describes how making VR is like making a trap - that with VR everything is in shot so you have to take the whole environment into consideration. VR works best when the camera is surrounded so we moved our chairs into a circle and surrounded the VR camera.

A circle is a better arrangement to talk about and make virtual reality but I also wanted to explore the difference between rows and circles in terms of pedagogy. 

"the advantages of losing control and unpresentating in education"

Way back in March 2010 I attended Educamp London - an education un-conference that made quite an impression on me (see "The Meaning of London Educamp One") Some of the methods used at the Educamp London Unconference are very relevant to the type of unstructured and non-linear education as art approach necessary for Pop Up Thinglab to happen. Diane Brewster's unstructured non-linear unpresentation about Sussex university's "Creativity Zoneusing conversation and objects had stayed with me all these years as did the session by Lucy Renton from Kingston university on "losing control" where we took time to form a proper circle of chairs so that everyone was equal around a circle. Lucy's session was so captivating that I was late for my session on "cultural identity" - the participants started without me and I joined them as a participant ... an unintentional but super practical example of the advantages of losing control and unpresentating in education!

Unprepared, Unpresented and uncontrolled - I broke all the rules of education and it was good

I deliberately unprepared for today's session - I didn't want it to be like school and formal education - I wanted to encourage spontaneity, creativity and fresh ideas.

We started MAKE:VR with 360\VR stills. We didn't have our VR viewers with us but I remember one of the children in Pop Up Thinglab 5 getting excited and running around with his hands as a VR viewer - I thought this might work well with the children so suggested we make funny faces and face masks with our hands.

I passed the camera remote control to the children and childhood imagination and creativity came into play as they explored the 360 point of view of a VR camera as virtual reality actors and producers at the same time.

Exploring a 360 point of view

We moved on to making VR video - I was deliberately unprepared so asked for ideas for a video that would demonstrate the 360 point of view of a virtual reality camera. Code club volunteer Saleha Salahudin suggested we try a Mexican wave around the camera and we shot several versions of a 360 Mexican wave. 

A 360 Mexican Wave

We finished MAKE:VR watching the VR media we had made - watching ourselves in-situ in virtual reality. The VR selfie is the strangest selfie yet and in-situ it often confuses adults - many reach out to touch things and can't resist moving around -  they are where they are but its in virtual reality - it's really weird. Unlike adults the MAKE:VR children weren't confused at all and treated their in-situ VR selfies like any other selfie - they were already accustomed to virtual reality and took it in their stride as just another bit of technology in their daily lives.

libraries have come to the rescue of the general public by providing open access to information and information technology. 

Some of the parents asked about VR cameras but expressed concerns about the cost of buying one themselves. Over the years we have had the same concern about access to books, videos, computers and the internet and libraries have come to the rescue of the general public by providing open access to information and information technology. 

libraries are vital in providing access to information and information technologies for the general public in the information age.

Today is the most active and exciting time I have known in digital technology and the signs are that the rate of development is only going to become faster. For better or for worse this is just the start of the digital revolution and the information age and open public learning venues like libraries are vital in providing access to information and information technologies for the general public in the information age.  

For more images and videos of Pop Up Thinglab 14 visit:
Thinglab 14 videos (Youtube playlist)
Thinglab 14 images (Flickr album)

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspireNshare Thinglab visit

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