Introducting Social VR to Kids

Brief

In my service role, as a BBC STEM ambassador, I take part in outreach activities in primary and secondary schools where I talk about my work as a scientist, researcher and/or engineer. The goal is to encourage students into STEM career paths by showing them how varied and interesting it can be to work in the field. Sometimes I do this by talking to them about my favourite projects or I talk to them about how I became what I am today.

At other times, I do it through allowing them to play with a technological concept that they would normally have not come across.

Although, (social) VR has become a household name, there are still some details that go unsung such as the ability to experience VR through a web browser on a mobile device as well as a headset – which is possible in Mozilla Hubs.

In collaboration with…

BBC R&D colleagues, BBC STEM & BBC Young Reporters

Design Focus & Scope

The program I created consisted of two parts designed to be delivered online:

  • An introductory presentation of Virtual Reality (VR) and Social VR using some of the pieces of content released by BBC VR Hub followed by a quick run through demonstration of Mozilla Hubs.
  • A guided try-it-yourself demonstration in a pre-made virtual room in which kids learned basic skills to use Mozilla Hubs.
    • Prior to the outreach activity, I sent the schools a guide in order to enable teachers to help students in class since I was handling the activity remotely.
    • I also made a copy of quite a sparse virtual room for each session which I then closed down at the end of the session.
Tasks

I organised each school of kids to be supervised by 2 colleagues from R&D in the virtual room. I gave a set of easy-to-understand mission to the kids, just before they were invited to go into the virtual room using their own personal devices. These were:

  • Get into the room, and you will be connected to the audio so you can talk to us and each other,
  • Change your name to your FIRST NAME ONLY,
  • Change your avatar,
  • Add an object to the room,
  • Position yourself in front of the camera – one of the team will take a group selfie of all your avatars.
The Virtual Room

In addition to the mission, there was a reference card where the kids could find instructions on how to navigate a virtual room in Mozilla Hubs.

Frequently used controls in Mozilla Hubs

Why?

STEM outreach activities are designed to inspire, engage and encourage kids (and others) who might be unfamiliar with the wonders of science, technology, engineering and mathemathics or the careers that could be built around them.

What?

Hubs by Mozilla is a VR chatroom is an open source project that enables just that. The platform comes equipped with tools that allow users to easily step inside an existing virtual rooms or build one from the ground up. This gave me an opportunity to build a room in Hubs and guide students through a playful interactive experience together using their own smart devices while presenting remotely.

Using social VR to engage kids in STEM outreach activities is especially relevant in current times. Kids know what VR is so showing them a space where they could start building their own social online space especially in the middle of a lockdown seemed very relevant.

Where?

As a remote activity, this was held on Mozilla Hubs with 4-5 schools in one sessions where each school brought a teacher with 4-5 kids from each school.

Who?

This activity was designed for 12-14 year old kids each with a mobile device to use during the practical part of the STEM session.

Summary & Reflection

Using social VR to talk about social VR with kids was a fun outreach activity for both myself and the kids. Mozilla Hubs on the kids’ personal devices, using the appropriate settings, was a convenient way to engage kids in a safe online space. The accessiblity of the platform was key to making it my choice for hosting the demo, however, this only works for up to ~20 people so it’s particularly suited for outreach sessions designed around small groups.

PS:

I have been in outreach activities with slides and videos but the outreach activities that really work are the ones that engage the audience using do it yourself demos and Q&A. Oh and remember to make sure all the co-hosts have instructions so that all kids can get a consistent experience even if they are in different virtual rooms!

Instructions to co-hosts