InstaVR Interviews: Meet the VR Practitioners
InstaVR Interviews is a blog series where we turn the spotlight on our customers. We find out why they create VR, how they use InstaVR, and what the future of VR will look like. To read more interviews, visit the InstaVR Interviews homepage.
Dr. Anna Catterson, Educational Technology Coordinator at Emporia State University
Emporia State University (ESU) is a public university located in Emporia, Kansas. Founded in 1863, the college offers over 80 courses of study to 5,700+ students per year. It is the third-oldest public university in the state of Kansas.
Dr. Anna Catterson is an Instructional Designer and Researcher at Emporia State University. Her research and teaching looks at how instructional design theories can be applied to new technologies, such as Virtual Reality. She also serves as the 2017 Colleague2Colleague Chair.
Dr. Catterson discusses how she first became interested in VR, how multiple departments at the school are already utilizing the technology, how InstaVR is crucial in making the technology feasible in the classroom, and how they’re now teaching VR at Kansas high schools. Thank you to Dr. Anna Catterson and Emporia State University!
Dr. Catterson first tries out Oculus Rift at KU Medical Center, breakthrough comes via turnkey solution of InstaVR + Google Cardboards
Question: Tell us about how you first became acquainted with virtual reality? How did you decide it was something you could use at the college?
Answer: I know VR has been around for a while, but I didn’t first experience it until we went to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. They had just purchased some VR equipment, an Oculus. It was probably a year and a half ago.
It was really exciting. I could immediately see the potential in it. But I did have some thoughts — it was heavy, it was cumbersome, I wasn’t sure how every student could have equal opportunity at the same time, it was expensive. There were a lot of negatives. But I thought there has to be a way we can approach this that can be a little bit more affordable and comfortable for people. It was cool, but I was mainly looking for a different resource that would be easier to use. I didn’t think the students or faculty would ever be able to use the Oculus Rift.
When I researched a little bit about InstaVR, that opened some new doors for us. It gave us that turnkey solution we were looking for. And with the Cardboard and 3D printed headsets (editor’s note: generic versions of Google Cardboard which schools can build themselves with a 3D printer), that was something we could afford and would be manageable. It’s easy to use.
We want it to be accessible for everybody. We want everyone to have the same learning experience in the classroom. So we were looking for a solution that would give us ease and flexibility. We’re really happy with InstaVR!
ESU launches VR pilot program, initially capturing History Professor Dr. Joyce Thierer’s history reenactments in 360
Question: What was your first use case for VR at the college?
Answer: We started with a history pilot. We have a professor named Dr. Joyce Thierer. She does history reenactments across the nation. She performs as Annie Oakley and Amelia Earhart, and other famous women in history.
So we actually started the VR pilot with her. We went to her farm and recorded her reenactment. It was called “Ride into History“.
She’s great. She’s in her 80s. I’ve never seen someone create as dynamic a learning environment that is History related. This was quite a feat to introduce her to the technology. It’s kind of fun to see her use InstaVR and VR in general at that age. It’s quite incredible.
She saw her work, loved it, and is implementing it for her class. She was a hard sell, but I needed a proof of concept. I needed to show her what VR is capable of.
Dr. Catterson discusses the importance of camera placement, 360 video length, linking VR content back to course outcomes
Question: What did you learn from that very first pilot VR app with Dr. Thierer?
Answer: We learned a few lessons along the way — like you’ve got to make sure you position your 360 camera in a good location where someone won’t be walking in front of it, or anywhere near it, since a 360 camera captures everything. And the amount of time. (Editor’s Note: The original 360 recording of “Ride Into History” was over an hour, which Dr. Catterson’s team dramatically cut down for the final VR app).
We’ve experimented with videos and still images. We’re learning there’s a time and a place for each of them. Sometimes they don’t work well together, but separately they have their purposes.
Sometimes when you talk about virtual reality, particularly when you talk to faculty who may be resistant to technology, they think it’s a little sci-fi or not really a thing. But when they actually see it, we’re starting to learn more about the practical use cases in education. There’s just so many opportunities in the educational realm that we’re learning about.
The key is to link VR content back to course outcomes. If you don’t do that, there’s no value. If you link it right back to the course content, that’s where you see the value.
ESU expands VR program, partnering with Kansas Bureau of Investigation to capture example crime scene for use by Forensic Science Students
Question: What other programs have adopted VR applications as part of their curriculum?
Answer: Our second pilot is more of a real world practical pilot. We contacted the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. They have a fairly new building in Topeka, Kansas that we went and toured. In their building, they have a crime lab simulation room. The walls have a texture that can be sprayed with water and there’s a drain on the floor, surrounded by glass.
You can actually set up a crime scene and then people can actually view what’s inside the room. Once the crime scene is set up, students can go through the act of discovery — the clues, the DNA, the evidence that was left in the room. Or they could learn more about terminology. If they hover over a specific weapon, we can use InstaVR to pop up a text box or message or image or video of course content.
We had it in our minds that we’d set up the crime scene, using a dummy on the floor and they gave us a tube of animal blood we sprayed on the walls. And we left footprints, and handprints, and set empty beer bottles on the desk, setting up the crime scene.
Dr. Catterson’s team creates the finished forensic app, augmenting images captured with the Gear 360 in InstaVR with informative hotspot overlays
Question: How did you record the simulated crime scene? And what was your process in InstaVR post media capture?
Answer: We set up a 360 camera — at the time, we used a Samsung Gear 360 camera — and we took still images and video of the room. We did both. It didn’t take very long. It was a smaller sized room, and probably took 15 minutes tops to set up. The hard part was getting our crime scene set up, our content, for how we want to proceed with the investigation.
The actual recording and taking the pictures in 360 was easy. We all left the room, and you can control it with your phone. Hit record, and you’re done! That part was a breeze.
Then we came back and have been using InstaVR. We’ve done applications with that so far. We did a Discovery Method, where students can look around a room and locate evidence. So if they find that evidence, they can hover over those objects, and a Hotspot would appear with more information on the crime. For example, what time the beer was drank. Or what time the gun went off. Those sort of clues to help them build a case in this art of discovery.
The second we’ve used it is to link it back to the course content. So we can apply terminology in course theories and state laws. We’ve built those on top of it, using InstaVR. It’s an additional learning opportunity that would maybe go towards a national certification. Or an assessment of some kind.
Those are two of the ways we’ve utilized the crime scene. We came back to our campus, and we have a couple crime scene rooms on our own campus. Now we’re experimenting with coming up with content, and additional crime scenes that we can record in 360 and investigate. A different type of crime scene, like a motor vehicle bay. We can bring a car into the scene, and they can go through the car looking for evidence.
ESU makes creative use of Hotspots and audio narration in InstaVR, with completed app taking less than an hour – “We could not have done this without it”
Question: For that crime scene application, can you discuss how you actually built the app using the InstaVR platform?
Answer: It’s really easy with the InstaVR application. We could not have done this without it. It’s really easy to create your Hotspots and your text boxes. We really like the feature of adding the multimedia (hotspots), the video where you can hover over, we like that as well.
And then adding the music and audio voices on the victim. I could upload an audio file on the victim so you could hear the victim’s voice, what he did prior to entering the room. Kind of a neat way to tell the story. We really really like that.
Once I got back from Topeka, I uploaded the video immediately. Just took the SD card out of the camera and popped it into the computer. It did take a little time to transfer over to the computer, but once I got it transferred, I was able to upload it to InstaVR in just a matter of minutes. It’s all stitched with the camera, and InstaVR really makes it easy.
From start to finish, I’ll bet I haven’t spent more than an hour uploading the content, doing the hotspots, and adding the audio. It’s really quite simple. We’re trying to educate our faculty on, that this is a technology that really anybody can use. The buttons and the options on the menu navigation are accessible. There’s a nice help menu built in. The time to actually build the app is not that intensive.
We do create a storyboard prior. We do have content, we do know the theme for the app. If we didn’t have that, it would take more time. We’d have to develop that as we go. Having the storyboard is helpful, it lets us copy and paste, and just build it because you have everything you need prior.
And I did take a Canon Rebel with us and took some still images with it while we were in the crime scene. I uploaded those to InstaVR, and I liked that ability too, that it doesn’t have to be just 360 video. Cause there’s some times you want to zoom in on a piece evidence. Having those still images was helpful.
All in all, I can’t imagine I spent more than an hour on each application.
ESU has now utilized InstaVR to publish cross-platform, depending on the audience, including Cardboard, Gear VR, Rift and Web
Question: How have you deployed the VR applications that you’ve built on our platform?
Answer: Our original pilot, “Ride Into History”, that was an application that she used for her class. She had 59 students for that one section. First we packaged it for the Samsung Gear VR headset, because we have a few of those on campus.
But we ended up actually using Google Cardboard. And there’s a lot of reasons why, but mainly the Cardboard is very affordable, with the Bookstore selling them at a very affordable price for the students to purchase there. It makes it feasible, unlike the others that are more permanent headsets.
We also have an Oculus Rift too. We thought we’d be designing for that at first. It’s a pretty expensive computer and headset, and we’ve learned it’s really cumbersome to take with us when want to show something off.
The value and the quality of the Google Cardboard is good. I think we use an off-brand of the Cardboard, and we’ve even made our own. We don’t even purchase them anymore. So you can actually make your own, which we found on Makerspace is really easy to do. Instead of using some of the expensive things we’ve purchased, we’re using the free things which are much more manageable for us.
We also package for the Web. We do that quite a bit, just to get the students invested in it. And then we can bring the Gear in as well.
That whole process doesn’t take very long. We’ve tried to streamline it for the faculty, so those that are a little resistant, or not knowing about VR, we didn’t want to take up their whole class session. We wanted to be brief — 10 – 15 minutes just to introduce them to the concept.
Business Students start to use 360 media apps to assist local businesses in featuring their products and services
Questions: You mentioned to me your Business School is rolling out VR now, specifically to help local community businesses market themselves. Can you discuss that project?
Answer: The pilots have been so popular, we have decided to implement it with a business class. We’ve taken a different approach. I’ve been working with a faculty member, Dr. Joyce Zhou. I’ve probably spent more time on this than any other project.
Instead of us creating the VR apps, she teaches a marketing class. She’s assigned a Capstone project, so instead of us creating them, she’s having her students create InstaVR applications. So each student has selected a business in town. These are the businesses: Flinthills Mall, a non-profit organization called Kansas Free for Arts, Sweet Granada (a chocolate store), Ellen Plumb’s Bookstore, and Emporia Presbyterian Manor Nursing Home.
The students are actually taking the 360 camera to each of these businesses. And then after building their marketing campaigns, they’re coming into InstaVR with the content, and building a tour of each of these businesses. That has been very interesting. We’ve trained students and worked one-on-one with them. One student logs in at a time on InstaVR — they’re working in teams.
It’s really neat to see the student’s perspective, and how they’re developing it. And in return, how the businesses are receiving it. This is a small, rural, 4 year college in the northern part of Kansas. VR just is not something our community has experienced. So I’ve enjoyed watching these students work with these businesses to build virtual reality apps. They’re packaging them for Web, and then taking the Cardboard to the client and letting them view it themselves.
We’re doing a presentation November 28th for our Provost office, where our students are going to show their VR apps to the President, and the Provost, and the Administration. So that should be fun. We should have some real results there on that interaction. We’ve come full cycle — we started on our faculty, now we’ve moved onto our students. Because of the ease of InstaVR, there’s really no end to the possibilities of what you can use it for.
A lot of our businesses didn’t have the money to invest, or didn’t know VR was an affordable option. They think it’s something that’s going to take months and months to develop. They think of a programmer who’s doing that. They don’t think of InstaVR as a web-based application that has imagery and a user interface that is easy to navigate. They think these applications take an enormous amount of time, and they don’t. It’s really easy.
The education of our community… “Hey there’s this technology that is viable, and it’s ready, and it’s available, and it’s quick and easy!” It’s kind of fun to see that process.
ESU takes InstaVR + headsets to high schools throughout Kansas, introducing teachers and students to the benefits of VR
Question: Any other use cases for InstaVR? Thoughts on the platform going forward?
Answer: We are doing these Makerspace sessions around the state, at different K-12 schools. We take our headsets with us, and we educate them on InstaVR, and what you can do with it. We’re kinda like travelling salesmen for InstaVR sometimes. We visited Olathe school district a few weeks ago, did a Makerspace workshop for them, we’re going back in November.
Our team does their in-service, their professional development. One of the sessions we do is InstaVR and virtual reality, and also included a little augmented reality. We’ve talked about the versatility of this, even in the K-12 environment. We’re bridging that at all kinds of levels.
We have a whole long list of applications we want to develop. So we started with one license, and have a proposal together to purchase additional licenses. Our department has written it into future grants and budgets as well. We expect that we’ll definitely increase our licenses over the next year or two. With as many applications as we’re doing, we’ll definitely want to increase that.
It speaks volumes about InstaVR, and how it is used for anybody at any age, any demographic. It has a diversity and inclusion plan built into it. Anybody can use it. Which is part of our strategic plan — we don’t use it unless it can be diverse, and accessible for everybody.