Sunday, February 19, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 23: MAKE:VR Children and Stories

Flat image from one of our 360 VR "selfies"
Pop Up Thinglab 23 was a children's virtual reality workshop and travel agency in Wanstead library. It was an opportunity for children to learn about and experience virtual reality with a hands on heads on introduction covering both theory and practice and an opportunity to see themselves in virtual reality and make and take away their own virtual reality viewers.

The workshop started "heads on" where we covered the development of virtual reality, a simple technical explanation of how it works and the current state of virtual reality with a description of products, platforms, prices and capabilities. The second part of the workshop was "hands on" where we made Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers and used them to take virtual reality trips.  We finished our hands on session by putting ourselves in the picture by taking and viewing virtual reality selfies - something that is great fun and really helps people understand virtual reality through the direct experience of making it.

Awareness of virtual reality has increased remarkably over the last year ... its not surprising given the amount of news and hype it has received even in the mainstream media let alone the technical media. Nearly all the children in workshop had heard about virtual reality before and more than half of them had already tried it while only a few of their parents had given it a go. None of the children had tried virtual reality at school, a few of them had tried it at home but most of them had tried it in shopping centres at public events like these -  "Samsung VR pop-up at Westfield attracts 125,000 visitors", "Westfield Shopping Centre Holding Tech Event Featuring VR" and Intu trials VR Christmas shopping experience - "where shoppers can step from a winter log cabin in the shopping centre to a virtual reality winter wonderland"

Mobile access to virtual capability has improved considerably over the last year - in this workshop almost all the children had a smartphone with them and almost all of the smartphones were capable of working with Cardboard virtual reality - having a Gyro and using Android 4.1+ or iOS 8.0+. 

I'm always amazed at the capability of children when given a chance. Making Google cardboard virtual reality viewers from a kit is tricky at first even for adults but all of our children managed to make and use a viewer - most needed a little help but some made them all on their own.

During the "heads on" theory part of the workshop we talked about Robert Barker's Rotunda of 1789 - one of the earliest examples of "immersive virtual reality" type experiences and comments that it "lulled viewers into lethargy, inhibiting their ability to imagine things for themselves". We were in a library and this started a fascinating conversation about reading, virtual reality and imagination. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words but it can also be said that a word is worth a thousand pictures as the best pictures are in your head. We spoke about how when reading a book we have to use our imaginations to see a scene but when using virtual reality there is nothing left to the imagination - a scene is shown to us and we can experience it as if it were real and look around as if we are there.

We spoke about the difference between standard "flat" media and virtual reality. With standard "flat media" photos and videos someone else (the director or cameraman) directs our attention and we see only what they want to us to see at any one time in a sort of "voyeuristic" second or third person perspective. With virtual reality photos and videos we can look around as if we are there and chose for ourselves which way we want to look and what we want to look at in an immersive first person perspective like real life.

While good writing can help us use our imaginations I can't imagine anyone saying they would sooner read about a holiday than go on holiday. However, I can imagine that many would sooner read about a dangerous experience than have a dangerous experience. Virtual reality offers a fascinating "half-way" house" where we can almost "have our cake and eat it" - we can get closer to experiencing things we wouldn't otherwise be able to - to go on fantastic voyages from the convenience and safety of a local library for example.

We all like stories and we are all natural storytellers - ask any child. The best stories are personal experiences which connect with us in some way and with its first person perspective virtual reality puts us into a story in a personal way - just listen to the five year old in the clip below describe his experience of being in a story at Pop Up Thinglab 23

For more images of Pop Up Thinglab 23 visit: Pop Up Thinglab 23 (Flickr album)

To find out more about inspireNshare Thinglab visit

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about virtual reality visit

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