Virtual Reality (VR) has continuously gained a lot of traction in different sectors. The ability to be able to immerse oneself in an environment and interact with it provides a lot of possibilities. Now that VR headsets are more accessible to the general public, it is certainly a new type of media to begin to explore. There are a whole range of games that are extremely engaging and provide an amazing experience. However, the real potential of VR is still being researched and developed. As outlined in this Wired article and in this blog post, there are a lot of sectors where there is a huge potential, however, Education is really a space where VR can play a big role in teaching specific skills and/or providing a space for students where they can safely experiment. An obvious example could be a game where medical students can practice their surgical skills under more “realistic” conditions. As one can imagine, there are myriads of examples in History, Political Science, Religion where a student can walk around ancient cities and “interact” with “objects” which could be people, structures and learn in a completely immersive environment.
Given that VR has a huge potential especially in education, it also provides a great opportunity to closely align this experience with learning objectives. It is easy to get carried away with adding fun graphics and animations to the game before really thinking through what it is that students will do in this new space. However, we cannot really stress how important actually developing a script can be. The script should generally go through multiple iterations so that the focus can still be on the learner, the learning experience and the objective. Once this is accomplished, then there is actually building the game or simulation.
The following is a summary of how we built a Gear VR game to realistically allow law students to learn and practice skills required to apply the rules governing the admissibility of character evidence in an actual trial. The original game was a web based game developed with Law Professor Tanina Rostain was funded by the Initiative for Technology Enhanced Learning (ITEL). The Serendipity Day at CNDLS provided a good opportunity to get familiar with Unity, which is the platform we used for developing the game. Before we started, we looked for a prefab courtroom scene instead of also trying to delve into 3D modeling. We first started by implementing the game as a desktop game. There was a steep learning curve here which involved learning and understanding how to create objects and make them interact in very specific ways. Once we began to get a better understanding of how everything came together, we decided to switch over to the VR ready version pretty early on in the process. This was a key decision that we made at the correct time, it seems in hindsight. If we hadn’t gone down this road, there is probably a higher cost to convert the regular desktop game to a VR ready game.
As simple as VR-ready sounds, it was actually a bit of a process to make sure we had the necessary libraries for the different headsets. Even though we started with the idea of implementing this for the Oculus, we switched to Gear VR so that it would be easy to have students try it out. If you’re interested in exploring here’s the list of libraries that we used:
Once we were able to get some of the core pieces necessary for the game play working, we started to tweak the user experience. For instance, we had to ensure that when a student was looking at the different scenarios, the text on the paper on the desk was legible from a distance. While building something like this, it is easy to skip over minor details such as this but these are some of things that make or break a good educational VR experience.
We are close to completing the Evidence Game within the next few weeks and are looking forward to having a small group of law students try it out!