VR, Time for a Thought Experiment

Educating others will always be a part of this world. Teachers, professors, mentors or simply anybody who chooses to spend some of their time helping to guide someone along their life is doing a crucial job in this world. As time progresses the methods used to teach can change but the motivations behind the change will always be the same: to make education easy to access and understand.

Virtual reality (VR) has been a part of the gaming industry, however it’s no stranger to the education field. A simple “Educational VR app” in the PlayStore or AppStore will yield in some interesting results. If you have some ideas for using VR to help teach others but don’t know where to start, here are some things to consider.

Say I want to create an application that teaches about the planets, stars, astroids, pretty much any large or small bodies (objects) floating around in space. This virtual app would allow the user to view the planet up close along with diving into it’s surface and core.

First lets create a user persona for a typical person who would likely be using this application.

User Persona

Name: Brian

Age: 13

Occupation: none

Quote: “Middle school, what am I in the middle of? I still have College and University.”

Description: Brian is in middle school and his father is an Astronomy Professor. Brian follows in his fathers footsteps and dreams to one day work for NASA and be part of a team that makes discoveries about planets and their materials. Young Brian recently heard about VR based on a YouTube ad, and and convinced his father to buy him a Google Cardboard because it’s inexpensive and simply requires a smartphone to get it started.

Experience with VR: none

Questions for Consideration

Next are some questions to consider for anybody wishing to create a VR application. These questions will help make a connection with someone like Brian or anybody that wants to learn about planets from a VR perspective.

How accessible would each VR platform be to your target student in terms of price? Take into account location, age, and income.

There are multiple platforms for VR such as the Oculus, HTC Vive, or Google Cardboard just to name a few. Using Brian as our persona, the Google cardboard seems like the best way for Brian to access VR content. As mentioned earlier it is inexpensive and requires a smartphone to get started with virtual reality.

The HTC Vive or Oculus aren’t impossible for Brian to posses, but because of price and no experience with virtual reality he might not be confident in saving or trying to convince his father to buy one.

How interactive does your lesson need to be? For example, do I need to pick things up or could I get away with just looking at objects?

For an application that educates, interactions are always a good idea! Here’s why, learning can get boring at times. By having buttons that bring up information about specific parts of the giant floating objects, or even making new animations come out is a great way to keep the viewer entertained and learning. Simple gaze clicking should be sufficient to begin with.

How realistic do your visuals need to be in order to teach? For example, could I use 2D images and videos in a 3D Environment or do you need high poly 3D models.

They say seeing is believing. When it comes to outer space, if any real space probes have captured pictures of planets, it’s a fantastic idea to throw those pictures inside the app. Along with that, a 3d enviornment using simple spheres should be enough to render most plantets, stars, and dwarfs. Low-polly and high-polly can be used for rendering astroids.

Does my student need to feel like a participant in the experience or can they be a passive viewer? Could they be both?

A mixture of both seems like the best option. For the intro or boot up of the application, a passive viewer would be best to allow the user to look around and be taken on their first virtual ride in outer space.

After the intro, clicking different planets to view or learn about is where the participation is needed. Perhaps they cant leave the planet until they finish a quiz about the information that was displayed about the planet?

Given the answers above, what are potential platforms you could use for your experience?

The best platform to reach many other middle school students like Brian would be Google Cardboard. The application will be limited by the phone’s CPU power, so graphics, lighting, animations, and interactions have to be well developed.