February 13, 2017
Though impressive, the first Virtual Reality offerings in education primarily consisted of pre-created experiences where students could explore famous landmarks, geographic regions and unique locations. For instance, thoughtfully developed tools such as Google Expeditions and Nearpod VR allow teachers to guide their students through powerful pre-created immersive virtual reality environments. While their approach allows students to consume and experience virtual reality, there are a host of tools now emerging that let users create virtual reality content. What’s more, creating virtual reality environments is no longer limited to those with an advanced skill set or access to advanced creation platforms. Now anyone with a smartphone and access to a laptop can create and share VR experiences.
Virtual Reality Creation Tool: StorySpheres
StorySpheres is a powerful web-based platform to create Virtual Reality environments. A project developed by Grumpy Sailor and Google, Storyspheres takes a unique approach to VR by allowing users to add audio to their 360° sphere images. Further, multiple 360 Storyspheres VR environments can be linked together, allowing the viewer to experience multiple VR environments with embedded audio. The creation process with Storyspheres is exceptionally straight forward and the platform is easy to build with.
Here are 4 steps in the StorySpheres creation process:
Step 1: Create and upload 360 sphere images to Storyspheres. 360 sphere images can be created with most modern smart phones. One strategy is to capture the images with a smartphone, upload the image to a cloud storage platform (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc..), download to a laptop and then upload to Storyspheres.
Step 2: Once the 360 sphere image is uploaded to Storysphere, creators can add audio (mp3 files) to the image. Uploaded audio can play as a loop within the VR experience, or the audio can be initiated by clicking on the audio icon when inside the VR environment.
Step 3: Place the audio files in specific locations within the 360 sphere image & link to other Storyspheres.
If the viewer needs to navigate back and forth between Storyspheres, be sure to link spheres together in both directions.
Step 4: Publish and share either the web link or the VR Cardboard link.
Virtual Reality in the Classroom
While the first steps to start using virtual reality in the classroom will likely be through pre-created content such as Google Expeditions and the numerous immersive environments to choose from, ultimately the transformative power of virtual reality in education lies in the ability of students to become virtual reality storytellers.
Virtual Reality Poetry:
Consider the student writer in an English class that can now bring their poem to life in the very environment where they envision the reader experiencing their words. To add another layer of experience, the music or background score can also be experienced by the view.
Virtual Reality Historical Research:
Imagine students in a history class exploring a historic site where they can capture immersive 360° photos of the location and can later embed their own insights, experiences and perspective on the meaning and significance of the location.
Virtual Reality Art Installation:
Consider the student in an arts class, capturing a 360° photo of their work on display in a gallery setting. While the gallery event may only last for a short time, the Storyspheres created during the event can last as a shareable archive of the artist’s work, with embedded audio in the experience with the artist explaining their work, process and inspiration.
Virtual Reality Science:
Consider the student in a science class capturing a physical environment or habitat in a 360° photo that can be transformed into an immersive virtual reality audio report. Instead of simply writing about a location and explaining their perspective through text, their voice can become part of the environment and their ideas, connections and insights can be experienced directly in the environment being explored. Further, the sounds of the environment, animals, water and wind can be captured and embedded as background looping audio to further assist the viewer in understanding the environment and location.
Impact of Virtual Reality as a Storytelling Tool
But what are the implications for education? The New York Times has recently adopted journalism in VR, even sending out thousands of Google Cardboard sets to their subscribers. The New York Post even recently documented New York Fashion week using Storyspheres to create immersive fashion-week experiences with audio from artists involved. The NBA provides one game per week in virtual reality and Facebook plans on a significant financial investment in VR. While the future of virtual reality in the consumer and social market appears to be moving forward, we are only at the infancy of virtual reality in education. As a storytelling platform in education, virtual reality presents significant opportunity for students to creatively share their experience and understanding. Yet, the entire field and technology is so new that even professional cinematographers are just beginning to explore the impact of virtual reality on their craft. Consider the upcoming piece from PBS, My Brother’s Keeper, groundbreaking in its use of 360° virtual reality and at the cutting edge of cinematic VR. With professional cinematographers just beginning to explore and understand the implications of virtual reality beyond pure novelty, our hope is that virtual reality in education will to move beyond pure novelty and into a legitimate and recognized storytelling platform.