Blog: Bright Ideas

Behind the major: Virtual Reality

You’ve probably heard about virtual reality. Maybe you’ve even had an opportunity to experiment with a VR viewer. As it becomes more accessible, virtual reality is less and less the stuff of science fiction. The fact that many of the most visible applications of VR are film or game-based is a testament to VR’s potential for storytelling. At Galileo Summer Quest, campers majoring in Virtual Reality do just that, tapping into the power of this innovative technology to create immersive stories in worlds of their own design. We talked to Lance Akiyama, Galileo's science curriculum manager, to learn more about one of Galileo Summer Quest’s newest major.

What do you think is appealing about a summer program that focuses on Virtual Reality? Both from a kid's perspective and a parent's?

The best part about VR for campers at Galileo is how interdisciplinary it is. They’ll explore 3D world-building, storytelling, programming, character creation, and more. The campers are shown a little bit of everything, then get to choose where they want to invest their time. Fortunately, all of the tools are really intuitive and easy to learn, even the programming. From a parent perspective, they'll appreciate that their kid will create a meaningful, story-based experience (versus just a fun VR game or movie).

Why is this a relevant theme/topic for a summer camp?

There's just nothing like this at school, or even in after-school extracurricular activities. There are classes for writing, drama, coding, maybe even 3D modeling, but only at camp can we combine all of these together to create a totally unique experience.

Are kids more open to learning technical skills when you add the creative, storytelling component to it?

Absolutely. I think storytelling is an innate feature of childhood. You’ve probably observed a child find a toy or something in the park or at school, and within moments that toy has a name and backstory. Storytelling is fun! When you combine that with the tools to make a dragon fly through the air, suddenly programming isn't just code—it's a means to tell your unique story.

What do you notice about the students you work with after teaching them these skills? Beyond the summer, how do you think this particular camp experience will benefit kids?

First, we noticed that it's hard to stop. Being the mastermind behind your own world and story, then putting on the VR headset and experiencing what you created as if you're right there is so satisfying and so much fun. Campers frequently want to keep leveraging those skills to create better and better versions of their work. More generally at Galileo, we often see campers start the week a little nervous or a little doubtful of their abilities to create a Go Kart or learn 3D modeling, but by the end, they've gained a new skillset, and more confidence in their capacity to handle new techniques and situations.

What will be the most exciting thing for campers? The most challenging?

The most exciting moment is when you first click "Play" and enter your world for the first time. All of the buildings, the props, the people you've been creating from a birds-eye view are now suddenly right there in front of you, and you can walk around and explore! And it just gets richer and more interesting as the week goes on.

At the same time, it's challenging to design a world that subtly points players in the right direction. If you create an open-world VR experience, how can you ensure that your players actually follow along with your story? We provide support for campers to create what's called wayfinding to direct their players, but it's still challenging to do this without just creating big signs that read "This way."

How will campers practice the Galileo Innovation Approach in this major?

Storytelling is subjective, but it's possible to prompt your audience to see and feel certain things. So for campers to know if their vision for their story is being communicated, they'll constantly cycle through the Innovator's Process. For example, there's a lot of opportunities built in for user testing and feedback, which will help campers redesign before testing their story again. It's also helpful to have a courageous and determined mindset to share their work and make changes, especially if they're worried about others evaluating their work, but we create a safe and structured environment to skillfully deliver and listen to feedback.

We can’t wait to see the worlds campers build and the stories they tell this summer. More than that, though, we’re excited to use VR as a tool to encourage kids to think and act like innovators who believe it’s their place to turn their visions into realities—virtual and otherwise.