Last week, I had another exciting opportunity working with virtual reality (VR). I had the daunting task of teaching teens at Tech Kids Unlimited (TKU) how to edit and produce 360-degree video content, create a 360 video player in Unity, and build the Android Unity app for Google Cardboard to their phones—all in 20 hours. The kids did a fantastic job!
Tech Kids Unlimited (TKU) is a not-for-profit technology-based educational organization for kids ages 7 to 19 with special needs. Founded by Beth Rosenberg, the program’s mission is to teach technology to kids who learn differently, many of whom are on the autism spectrum.
This summer, TKU partnered with the New York Transit Museum for a week-long program. My task was to create a curriculum using technology for the Transit Museum’s Subway Sleuths program, “an after-school program that uses a shared interest in trains among kids on the autism spectrum as a means to encourage peer-to-peer interaction and develop social skills and confidence over 10 goal-oriented sessions.” As part of the Subway Sleuths program, the kids participate in a Travel Training program, which helps them learn the basic steps and social rules of riding the subway using the MTA’s Courtesy Counts campaign (e.g. “The subway is not a dining car” and “Don’t be a pole hog”).
The goal was to supplement the museum’s Travel Training program using technology. During a planning session, we discussed using VR/360-degree video as a medium to teach travel training. What if those in the museum’s Travel Training program could put on an immersive VR headset and be immersed in an actual subway experience, complete with passengers ignoring (or following) the social rules? And what if the Tech Kids teens could be the ones to create this 360-degree experience?
We all agreed those were great “what-ifs” to explore, so I designed a five day curriculum around them. Here’s a recap of our week:
The students and I took a tour of the Transit Museum. A representative from the Travel Training program met us and introduced herself as our “client.” She explained what she needed the students to produce.
To tackle the task, the students worked in groups. I assigned each group a different rule from the MTA’s Courtesy Counts campaign. Each group would produce a training video for their assigned rule using 360-degree video. Each student in the group had a role: Producer, Director, Actor, Videographer, etc. When their group wasn’t filming, they became Extras.
Students completed storyboards and scripted narration for social scenarios best illustrating their rule. It was a great opportunity for them to practice using body language and expressions to communicate ideas and feelings.
Once the planning stage was completed, we used the Transit Museum as our home base for filming, choosing the most modern subway car to make the video as realistic as possible. The students rehearsed, practiced using the 360-degree Ricoh Theta S. camera, and then filmed.
Once filming was completed, students learned how to edit their footage in Premiere Pro, using the new VR Editing Tools. They edited their audio narration in Audacity before importing it into Premiere. We practiced searching for sound effects and adding multiple audio tracks to the Premiere sequence.
At the end of the week, students brought their edited 360-degree video clips into Unity, and we used the Google Software Development Kit and Easy Movie Texture plugin to build an Android app in Unity that would allow the students to replay the experience on their phones and share it with others on Google Cardboard. As a final professional touch for our “client,” each group created app launcher icons for their app using Android Asset Studio.
I was incredibly proud to see that every group had a unique 360-degree video experience to present to the Transit Museum by the end of the week. They did an amazing job presenting their 360-degree/VR experiences, and we hope the Transit Museum’s Subway Sleuths enjoy learning through this innovative, student-created technology!