Beyond the Screen

VR Day at CSULB provides a look into the future of interactive education

Story and photos By Ariana Gonzalez Contributor

Cal State Long Beach hosted its first Virtual Reality Day on March 16, debuting graduate students’ creations and Long Beach’s resources and providing new opportunities for VR creators.

In the anthropology department, Dr. Scott Wilson is working with VR to tell stories through interactive documentaries, subjective experiences, simulations and games. Wilson is trying to make this material as immersive as possible. Three of Wilson’s graduate students worked on projects incorporating VR.

Student Katherine Scully created a video for people protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, explaining what they can do when encountering U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement . Scully worked with the Dream Success Center to have a permanent installation video so all students can see it and be informed.

“I just felt like this could be my part against hopeless media, so people can know what to do,” Scully said.

Classmates Jazzy Harvey and Breauna Waterford created a project depicting South Central Los Angeles’ sideshows, gatherings for gearheads to bond over their culture of creating and driving classic cars. Waterford and Harvey claim that the sideshows often end when police arrive to shut down these gatherings, although none of their actions are illegal.

The last project, created by Bryce Leisy, is applying rephotography of Long Beach using VR. Leisy contacted the Historical Society of Long Beach to find photos of what the city used to look like and then compares it to what the city looks like today.

Another opportunity citizens of Long Beach have today to get involved in VR is the Innovation Lab at the Long Beach Public Library. Studio Guide’s David Hedden and Robert Gunderson demonstrated the two systems, HTC Vive and Occulus Rift, that citizens can use to work on VR for free at the library. These systems can give experiences like 3-D modeling and printing, experiencing a space walk, building lightsabers and designing anything else you can imagine.

Domingo Sainz and Skyler Fido are two electrical engineering students familiar with the Oculus Rift video game system. The two work with Heather Barker, a professor of design, as part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program and demonstrated some games on the system so that students may test it out themselves.

Speaking of media, virtual reality is introducing interactive video series too. Producer Natalie Mathe creates solely VR content and presented UTURN at the event, a video with its narrative entirely up to the viewer. While wearing the HoloLenses that interacts with the Samsung phone, you can watch a 360 degree video with two different movies stitched together. On the left, you see the story of a woman trying to gain recognition for her work in a company while the right tells the story of a higher-up male co-worker and how their two work lives differ.

To get an idea of how VR can be created, I spoke with Hannah Kum-Biocca, a faculty member of design and creator of the Holominds team Long Beach Media Interface and Network Design Lab. She explained the two demonstrations of video mapping and augmented reality. Video mapping combines two images and engages the user in VR. AR, used by her HoloLenses, were three kinds of activities the viewers could use, like changing the scale of size on a Tyrannosaurus rex, rotating planet Earth, and moving a hat and being able to place it anywhere.

As a student that knew nothing about VR (I Googled what VR was before VR Day started), it was an incredible experience to have been exposed to. Usually when thinking of computer science, you think of algorithms or coding. What I saw were technology pioneers doing their best to be immersive and inclusive when telling the stories of others. The world of VR is new and, now knowing the great intentions and purposes it has, I look forward to what our students can do with this tool next.