In this new series of guest posts, Dubai-based educator and VR pioneer Steve Bambury reflects on the journey to integrate the HTC Vive at JESS Dubai over the last three years. In this first post, Steve looks back at the early days of 2017 and the initial experiments with Vive in the classroom.
In September 2016 I stepped into a newly-created role at JESS Dubai – the Head of Digital Learning and Innovation. Reporting directly to the organisation’s Director Mark Steed, it was a role that involved both training staff in the effective use of technology and supporting them in its implementation. It was also a role that afforded me a great deal of autonomy and the freedom to innovate. One area I was becoming more and more passionate about was virtual reality. I’d actually experimented with VR since 2014 when I trialled my very first mobile VR headset with students (a project which was subsequently published by Apple as a part of their Lessons for the Classroom series.) The timing was perfect too since the first HTC Vive headset was due to be released in the UAE in late 2016 and I’d been saving up for one…
So in January 2017 I got my hands on a Vive for the first time. People often ask “what was the first thing you tried on it?” and interestingly, the first three apps I tried back then are still the first three that I use when demoing VR to people today. In order –
- The Blu – The whale encounter is short, no controllers are needed, no real movement is needed and it’s always a crowd-pleaser.
- Richie’s Plank Experience – This adds in a little interaction and movement and is still one of the best experiences to quickly demonstrate the immersive, visceral nature of true VR.)
- Tilt Brush – Honestly it was the trailer for Tilt Brush that made me want a Vive in the first place! A great way to users to experience the creative power of VR (usually as they scribble their name and some emojis!)
I only had the headset for about a week before I started looking for ways to integrate it in the classroom. Working with my colleague and fellow VR-enthusiast Ronan McNicholl, I began to look at ways we could test the Vive with students. We realized that we needed to consider several factors carefully –
- Which age groups of students could/should we use the hardware with? We decided that we would work with students from Year 5 and above. Whilst the Vive has no specific age-restriction, we felt that the size of the headset made it more suitable for kids above the age of 10.
- What apps would we use? We wanted to use experiences that were aligned to the curriculum and not just deploy something vaguely related to what the students were learning about. In early 2017 the range of educational experiences was naturally more limited, but we managed to find some good options.
- How would we coordinate the sessions when we only had access to a single Vive? The last thing we wanted was kids queuing to have a turn – that’s a terrible waste of learning time. In the end I coordinated the trials as enrichment events, with groups of students rotating out of other cross-curricular activities with their regular teachers, to come and use the Vive (and in some cases supplementary mobile VR headsets) with me.
There were three key trials that took place in those first couple of months:
The Blitz VR Experience
Hosted with Year 6 students as a part of their World War Two topic, this session used VR to allow them to travel in time and experience the devastating effects of The London Blitz first hand. This used the Timelooper app on mobile VR headsets and the excellent London Underground Blitz 360° video by Liquid Productions on the Vive as at that point no other relevant apps were available (NB in subsequent years I have used the Air Raid Over Britain VR experience instead). Students used the VR to immersive themselves in the time period and took notes to inform creative writing from the point of view of a child in London during The Blitz. You will hear feedback from some of the staff involved in the video below which highlights the impact that using VR had on this exercise as compared to the use of traditional media the year before.
The Titanic Experience
I couldn’t believe my luck when I wandered into Year 5 to find that they were starting a new topic on The Titanic as I’d just recently got my hands on the Titanic VR demo from Immersive VR Education. This fantastic piece places you on a small fishing boat as the Titanic sails past. What elevates the experience further is the use of authentic narration by one of the survivors of the disaster – something at Immersive use to great effect in other applications like Apollo 11 VR too. The students came out in small groups and had the opportunity to take this short trip before reflecting on it as part of their topic work. In subsequent years we also incorporated the use of the full Titanic VR experience once it was released.
The Psychology of The Plank
The more friends and colleagues that I got to try the VIVE, the more it became obvious that the infamous Plank Experience was quite unique in the terms of the reactions that it generated. I watched some incredibly smart and highly educated people fight against their own consciousness as their legs wobbled as if 100 stories high – even whilst I reminded them that it wasn’t real. I showed it to Dr Joe Bell, – a Psychology teacher at JESS at the time and he was fascinated by the way that the application tricked the mind. So we put a special session together with some Sixth Form students from his class. They took turns testing the experience and feeding back on it before Joe lead a deeper discussion into the psychology of what was going on.
Steve Bambury has worked in education for 18 years, ultimately taking on the role of Head of Digital Learning and Innovation across the JESS Dubai school group. Steve now works as an independent technology consultant, supporting schools and other organisations to integrate technology effectively. Steve is an Apple Distinguished Educator, a Microsoft Master Trainer, a two-time winner of the GESS Award for Best Use of ICT, winner of the 2018 BETT MEA Innovation Award and was named as the 2018 Education Trendsetter by EdTech Digest. In 2017, he became the first educator to host professional development sessions inside virtual reality and in 2018 he co-hosted the world’s first global lesson inside VR alongside Pixar co-founder Loren Carpenter.
Connect with Steve on Twitter via @steve_bambury