Understanding how students want to interact with virtual worlds is a major goal of our study into VR and learning. VR prompts developers to re-think what it means to immerse someone, but we wanted to take it one step further. Do students see VR just as a way to experience content, or as a way to shape the virtual world around them?
The responses we saw above showed us that most students are interested in creating VR content, but for teachers, what does that look like in a practical classroom setting? What about teachers who have never created digital content before?
Having worked with a broad range of content, teachers, subjects and students, we have found that creating in VR is not as complicated or scary as it sounds. In fact, there are a variety of ways that one can do this that draw from a range of skills, some focused on artistry and creativity, and others more technically demanding. We have broken them out into four categories with some examples to help you figure out what type of content creation might work best for you.
Keep in mind, most of these tools do not require coding, thus opening the door for all students and teachers to be creators.
Category 1: Artistic Creation
The power of VR to teleport a user to a different world is what makes the technology so different in terms of content. However, to be brought to a blank canvas where you can create in ways that are impossible in the real world, takes this idea to the next level.
Content designed to encourage artistry is just beginning to tap into this idea. One of the most well-known pieces of content in this area is Tilt Brush (video above). The concept of painting in 3D is difficult to communicate by words, but is so intuitive and easy to pick up that it is a great creation experience for anyone, regardless of how much they have used technology in the past. In fact, we find that this is a great introductory experience for people of all ages into the idea of immersive technology.
Kodon and MakeVR take a different spin on this form of creation. Kodon places a user in front of a virtual slab of clay and allows them to sculpt, but with a number of new functions that are not available in the physical realm. MakeVR, on the other hand, is a form of computer assisted-design and drafting, which is inherently a digital activity. What VR brings to the table is the chance to see the scale of your creation, and manipulate things with virtual hands rather than a mouse and keyboard.
Artistic creations: Tilt Brush, Kodon, MakeVR, 3d Sunshine
Category 2: Modification
Modifying games and digital experiences is a concept that has been around for years. While it takes many different forms, and the skills needed to do it vary across software, the idea is that experiences can be changed and customized to better fit the needs of a specific user or group.
The tools for modifying VR experiences are still being explored, but some software focuses specifically on modification as the primary source of enjoyment and learning. A good example of this is Universe Sandbox 2 for VR sets. The basic concept of Universe Sandbox, in any medium, is to have the player manipulate the universe and then observe the effects.
Where modification comes into play is when a player tweaks the basic physics that govern the flow of matter in the universe, introduces new planets to long-existing systems, or creates asteroids with Earth-bound trajectories. In this way, the game becomes much more than just a moving diagram of the universe, as expansive and beautiful as it is. The game, through modification, becomes a playground to explore the relationships between physics and matter at the massive universal scale.
The beautiful part about working with any digital media is that this is a possibility in any experience, if only the creators open the tools to the players. Exploration through modification is present in many facets of what we do at foundry10, and we believe that there is huge potential for letting students customize VR experiences to explore new concepts, express their voice and ideas for VR, and share creations with other students.
Experiences you can modify: Climbing Wall, Fantastic Contraption, Universe Sandbox
Category 3: World Creation
World creation within VR, while similar in many ways to modding, gives players more agency and control over the experience. Wherein modding the user remains in the overall framework of the system, creating a world requires the player to build the framework themselves.
Earlier in this article, we discussed Tilt Brush as an artistic creation tool. Given a blank canvas, the user can create anything with the set of tools that Tilt Brush provides. There is no real framework or goal, it is up to the user to decide what the experience should be.
Mod-Box is very similar in that it presents users a set of tools and a blank room in which to work, but provides no context or support beyond that (except in tutorials). The user gets to decide what gets built, and can even create a standalone experience that can be enjoyed by other players. There are no existing rules aside from the uses of the tools, so the user is essentially building from scratch.
For students, this can be an immensely freeing experience, and can re-ignite the wonder that they felt when first putting on an HMD. Suddenly an immersive experience is no longer about what developers want to show the student, but rather about what the student wants to show the world.
World Creation: ModBox, Minecraft VR
Category 4: Experience creation
Students creating digital media is becoming an increasingly common practice as technology and coding-based jobs fill the market. Virtual reality is another vehicle to support student developers and challenge them to think in new and unique ways about what makes an engaging piece of content.
Many of the hurdles that student developers face when coding for VR have not been solved, and often there is a thrill of discovery when working with the medium. This brings up many interesting questions and opportunities to discuss many important and useful topics like user-centered-design, computational thinking, iterative methodology, and the future of digital media, to name a few.
Additionally, the knowledge communities online are vibrant and welcoming. Students can search for answers, talk with experts, and share experiences on a frontier of new media. This kind of opportunity is rare for students, but with more and more of the creation softwares (like Unity or Unreal Engine) becoming free, and the immense growth of online tutorials and other resources, the possibilities are far more accessible now than ever before.
The one consideration with this category of VR creation is that it is the most technically demanding. Obviously coding a VR experience is not appropriate for most classes and subjects, but for technology, game design, or other technical classes, working with VR presents a great opportunity to discuss new concepts and challenge students in ways that other forms of coding cannot.
Advanced engines: Unity/Unreal