The Australian Museum is currently hosting two David Attenborough Virtual Reality experiences - one on the Great Barrier Reef and one on prehistoric life in oceans.
It used a Gear VR headset and headphones to provide this experience. Inside the headset was a Samsung device which provided the audiovisual stimulus. This operated very similarly to the cheaper models you can buy on Ebay (see a previous post - Google Cardboard - bringing virtual reality to your classroom) however this more sophisticated set fits to your face without having to hold it, has padding around the eyes and the head phones are quite good quality. This is clearly a more superior virtual reality experience than the Google Cardboard, but I think that is to be expected given the obvious price difference.
The two experiences were relatively short, but were successful in giving the viewer a feeling of being immersed, particularly the First Life presentation which had slightly longer continuous sections in full 360 view. The experiences were part documentary, part virtual reality immersion experience. The Great Barrier Reef experience began with the viewer flying out to part of the reef on a helicopter. By moving your head to the left you could see the back rotor blades and by looking up you could see top rotor blades. The view in front and below was of the reef from above. The footage included of the Great Barrier Reef demonstrated the scale of some of the reef structures and the diversity and number of organisms. The experience has some documentary-style sections where coral polyps and reef building are explained. This provides a short, but effective session aimed to develop the awareness of the viewer about the reef and ends with a call to action for us to act on climate change and protection of the reef.
The First Life session was in the style of computer rendered animations. At first I was aware of the difference between this style as compared with the previous 360 video style of the Great Barrier Reef session, but after a short time I forgot about it. This session has longer periods of the 360 immersive experience and it works quite well. You actually get the sensations of feeling like you are moving and some of the quick movements of the species are very effective in making you feel like you are present in the experience.
As I have discussed in a previous post, this is an emerging technology that still has a long way to go before it is truly valuable to educational outcomes, other than just purely addressing engagement. The sessions were very good, but require greater length and detail to be really useful in an educational setting. Regardless, I think this is a really powerful technique, and these particular sessions give us a real idea of what the future of documentary making is going to be. If get the chance - go and have a look.
Deputy Principal at a Sydney high school. Coordinating author of the new Geoactive book series.
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