The Marvel of Virtual Reality: How VR Gives Students Superpowers

Guest writer Steve Bambury returns to write about superpowers and VR.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of presenting for the second year in a row alongside my good friend Paola Paulino as a part of the BETT MEA Conference in Abu Dhabi. Paola is the Founder and President of the VR/AR Association – Shenzhen Chapter, the Chief Innovation Director at XR Pioneer Ltd. And founder of #isnsVR where she launched one of world’s first virtual reality (VR) pilots in IB World Education. It’s always great to work with people who exude energy and passion for what they do and that is definitely Paola 

Steve Bambury Marvel article

This was a one-off presentation that won’t be repeated so Paola and I thought it would be nice to share some of the content and ideas from it here on VRFocus. We’re going to take a look at 10 Marvel superheroes, each with distinct powers, and correlate them to virtual reality experiences that modern students have access to. So let’s dive in… 

Captain Marvel

  • Power: Flight
  • App: Google Earth VR

STEVE: Pretty much every kid wishes they could fly and virtual reality can give them this experience. Using Google Earth VR students can fly around the planet and visit thousands of locations that they may never get the chance to visit in real life. The flight mechanic within Google Earth VR can take a little getting used to but students will quickly learn to swoop and soar across the Australian outback, the streets of Manhattan and any other location that draws their attention or relates to an area of study. If you’re looking for a jaw-dropping way to welcome learners to the world of VR, this is it!  

At JESS Dubai I recently used it as a part of an Explorers unit with Year 3 students. They had “flying lessons” first to acclimatise to the UI and then got to visit the destination of their choice. It was definitely an experience that they won’t forget in a hurry. 

Nightcrawler 

  • Power: Teleportation 
  • App: The Lab by Valve 

PAOLA: Beam me up Scotty! Imagine the capability to instantly transport from one location to another. In room scale VR, the most common locomotion is the superpower of Teleportation. Recently, we introduced students to room scale VR using The Lab by Valve at a recent visit to the American International School of Guangzhou in collaboration with our XR learning partners and tech innovation team – Diana BeaboutDave Navis and Robert Bauer. Students found the locomotion mechanic to teleport from location to location very intuitive. Students explored half a dozen mini-VR experiences teleporting around an Icelandic wilderness, a lava cave, and even a town square in Venice. Later we showed them Victory XR’s Frog Dissection Class, where the students could use teleportation to jump around the virtual science classroom. 

Dr Strange

  • Power: Time Manipulation
  • App: Timelooper

STEVE: Being able to manipulate space is pretty well established as key power that VR boasts but the manipulation of time is also incredibly exciting for educators. For the first time ever we have the technology to transport learners through time to engage with history in an authentic and engaging way. What better way to learn about Ancient Rome than to walk its streets and experience it first hand?  

The app I often use as a touchstone for this concept is the brilliant Timelooper which works on mobile VR devices. Cleverly blending CGI and re-enactment footage, Timelooper lets students step back in time to witness dozens of key events from US and European history play out around them. What makes this app particularly potent is its use of modern day 360 video footage at the start of experiences to contextualise the location before the world melts away to reveal the place’s significant moment in history. 

 In the clip below you can see some Year 2 students from JESS Dubai using Timelooper with me to kick off a topic on The Great Fire of London. 

Captain America

  • Power: Enhanced Strength
  • App: Blocks by Google

PAOLA: In the physical world sculpting takes some heavy lifting, but in Blocks by Google you can have superhuman strength! Students can easily move and sculpt material such as clay, to skyscrapers like the Burj Kalifa, or even planets. At one of our @XRpioneer learning partner schools – @ISNS_school, we collaborated with Visual Art students to explore Google Blocks in the preproduction process for an Art Exhibition. Students could lift, examine, and sculpt things to scale that helped them plan and model their pieces for the exhibition. Some students fully integrated VR in their final exhibition pieces, using both Google Blocks and Google Tilt Brush to create blended reality experiences. These students are #FutureReady 

Scarlet Witch

  • Power: Telekinesis
  • App: Engage

STEVE: I’ve been using Engage for my #CPDinVR events for almost two years now and I’ve seen the platform evolve immensely in that time. One constant though has been the integrated banks of 3D IFX assets which can be inserted in the space and puppeteered using the controllers. This functionality was originally only available to the session host but since the major update to the platform in June 2018, it can be granted to anyone within the space. Being able to control and manipulate assets – be that moving them or manipulating their size – provides learners with the opportunity to use them effectively as a part of demonstrations of learning. Using Engage’s lesson editor feature you can even create recorded sessions where object movements are mapped and triggered to create an immersive learning experience.  

In the clip below, you’ll see me demo some simple IFX manipulation… whilst dressed as Tony Stark! 

Storm

  • Power: Elemental Manipulation
  • App: Tilt Brush

PAOLA: What if you could change the environmental climate in a matter of seconds?  Or manipulate the elements? Google Tilt Brush centralizes the students’ imagination in a world where they can manipulate their environments in an instant — from a starry night to a bright snowy day. Students are presented with a variety of extraordinary virtual brushes that allow them to effectively design and manipulate the elements to recreate their dreams. In our first pilot year, XR Pioneer students used Tilt Brush across IB subjects such as MYP middle school Math, DP high school Visual Arts, Digital Media class, and DP Biology.  

In Visual Art, students integrated Tilt Brush in their preproduction process to visualize their DP layouts on an exhibition focused on dreams. One student used Tilt brush to recreate a scene from their dream using a 3D spatial digital painting. A manifestation from dream to reality. The student used Tilt Brush and Blocks to construct the layout of the experience. To add a tactile component to the installation, a real physical chair was placed in the exhibition space. This chair was calibrated to match the position of a virtual chair. This provided physical and virtual means for guests to experience the student’s vision. Here, the chair could be felt in the physical world while seen in VR.   

It was the first time a student integrated “blended-reality” in an IBDP Visual Arts exhibition in Asia. Check out some behind the scenes of our Visual Art (XR Pioneer) student’s Tilt Brush reflections. 

Ant-Man

  • Power: Size Manipulation
  • App: Micro Cosmic Worlds

STEVE: Just as VR can be used to manipulate space by transporting users to distant lands, it can also be used to manipulate the virtual traveller themselves. Just like The Ant-Man himself Scott Lang, in VR we can shrink or grow to any size to view and interact with content in ways that have never been possible before. Apps like Sharecare VR and The Body VR let students shrink down and travel inside the human body, Fantastic Voyage-style whilst The Extraordinary Honey Bee lets you experience life from the perspective of a bee.   

Micro Cosmic Worlds is one of the best ways to demonstrate this virtual superpower though. It allows learners to move through a series of scenarios, getting progressively smaller – from the size of an ant to that of pollen, bacteria and ultimately you stand atop a vibrating molecule. It’s a stunning way to view the world and get a closer look at the world around us that we cannot see.  

Loki

  • Power: Shapeshifting
  • App: Mindshow

PAOLA: Every student has the power of becoming—now they can in VR too! In Mindshow developed by Name Mindshow Inc, a student can shapeshift into the body of different characters and craft a fully-animated performance. Using the VR headset and controllers, the student’s body position and arm gestures are tracked and re-targeted onto a virtual puppet.  

Students can take on production roles either on stage or behind-the-scenes.  Onstage, students can be actors and animators by becoming the characters and performing. Backstage, they can be production designers, designing environments and importing custom models that they have created and saved on Google Poly to use as props. Students can be a camera operator, filming the action with virtual hand-held cameras within Mindshow. Teachers at the International School of Nanshan (ISNS), a learning partner of XR Pioneer, have observed that even their shiest students come out of their shell and exude confidence as they embody their Mindshow roles from onstage to backstage.  

We also piloted a VR performance with ISNS’s Drama Department. Shout out to the @ISNS_school’s immersive tech integration, @MagicMrFernweh and MYP Drama teacher, @ms_wenn for the collaboration! 

The minds behind Mindshow understand the value of creators sharing their work, and they’ve streamlined the process by allowing users to upload their Mindshow movies directly onto social media platforms such as YouTube. In a similar sense, students will be able to share their stories and collaborate with others as they craft their VR films from beginning to end. Check-out our XR Pioneer students at @ISNS_School thoughts and reflections. 

Professor X

  • Power: Enhanced Empathy
  • App: Equal Reality

Much has been written about VR’s power to foster empathy and whilst I don’t think it is the silver empathy bullet implied by the infamous “Ultimate empathy machine moniker, studies have shown that the immersive, visceral nature of virtual reality really can help people to feel what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes for a little while which in turn can have a tremendous impact on their attitude and outlook in the real world. 

One app that looks to harness this power is Equal Reality which puts the user in the shoes of various groups that may experience prejudice – be it based on gender, race, age or disability. As workplace-based scenarios play out, the user has to identify moments where people are subjecting them to unconscious bias. It can even generate post-session reports and provides some telling diagnostics about both the way you were treated and the way you yourself acted (e.g. did you focus your attention on one character more than another.) 

Groot

  • Power: Being a tree!
  • App: Tree VR

PAOLA: Empathy is not limited to just the human form–in Tree VR, you can become a tree-like Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. Tree VR from New Reality Company shows off the potential of VR as a tool for empathy and education. In Tree VR, the lifecycle of a tree can be experienced, explored, and ultimately felt. The student’s arms become the branches as they grow taller and wherever they turn is Mother Nature herself. 

 In this immersive story, the students cannot alter their location or any objects outside of their tree self. The reason for this is clear–it prompts the student to feel the frustration of being rooted and unable to move. You could say, in this experience, the students get the opposite feeling of superpowers—that is a feeling of powerlessness.*Spoilers alert* This powerlessness feeling culminates in the end of Tree VR, as forest fires rage closer and closer to you and all the viewer can do is see it coming. Tree VR is a multi-sensory example of taking on another living thing’s perspective by experiencing life through a lens that is very different from their own. 

We introduced Tree VR to students when VIVE President of China, Alvin Graylin, visited us at our partner school ISNS where he invited XRpioneer students to enter the “My VR Dream” National Youth Creative Contest in China inspired by VR for Impact.  Check-out Steve Bambury’s playthrough of the entire Tree VR experience. 

We rounded out the presentation by discussing the potential impact of putting all this power in the hands of students. We don’t want our students becoming the Thanos of this narrative after all. It seemed logical therefore to end with the classic Uncle Ben quote from Spiderman – “With great power comes great responsibility.” VR is a hugely powerful medium for education but it needs to be harnessed carefully and moderated by well-informed educators. If we do that, it can genuinely bring some Marvel into the classroom.  

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