Virtual Reality, 3D Spatial Environments, and Environmental Education

This is the first post documenting work on the Stanley Park virtual reality, 3D spatial environment project. For more information on our work see Open Geography and this article from BCcampus.

A little background

In 2016, my colleagues at UBC and I embarked on a project to create 3D spatial environment destinations for virtual reality (VR) and education. The reasoning behind this project is well-described in this article by BCcampus (who co-funded our team’s work via their OER grants program). In brief, we wanted to explore how to lower barriers to accessing field locations and VR seemed like it held some unexplored potential for highly immersive and interactive content – indeed, it even has the potential to enhance learning in ways that are impossible in the field. While the potential of using VR for education has been touted for years and there are some innovative projects funded by major corporations, there has been very little work on best practices for linking pedagogically founded learning goals to VR resources. Much of the VR experience has been (rightly) about how amazing it is to simply be in a simulated environment and other work emphasizes as yet uncertain educational benefits (e.g., VR as the ultimate empathy machine). So, we conceived of our work at UBC Geography and UBC Studios as an experimental educational project in which we would document the best practices for creating, using, and sharing VR resources in educational contexts.

We decided to work on an environmental history field trip to Stanley Park. Constantly voted one of the top parks in the world, Stanley Park is not only considered one of the jewels of Vancouver, the West Coast, and Canada. While it is often considered an ideal recreation destination with educational resources for learning about the forest and marine environment, the park has a deeply controversial and fascinating development history that provides insights into urban political ecologies, settler colonialism, and the experiences of marginalized groups in Western Canada. For more see Stanley Park, the official history of Stanley ParkInventing Stanley Park, an unnatural history of Stanley Park,

We are also deeply committed to open education practices. So the project was also framed as an open pedagogy (or “OER-enabled pedagogy”) and open science project. What does this mean? it means that students would be involved as creators (effective learning strategies), our workflow and code will be shared with the public, we focus on openly licensed materials both using and creating open education resources, and we create content that has meaning for learners in our community. We were lucky to have dozens of undergraduate students working on this project. Geography students researched and wrote content, while students from UBC’s AMS Game Development Association literally wrote the code in Unity and designed 3D assets in Blender from scratch.

During this process, we continue to benefit from the collaboration of a great amount of people from both academia, the community, and private industry. We’re lucky to be in Vancouver which has a vibrant VR community innovating in this space.

The most important industry collaborators on our project have been Andrew and Peter from MetanautVR. In early 2017, they set up a project management workflow for VR projects, implemented an Agile development framework, did photogrammetry research, and mentored our student creators on VR industry best practices. This project would not be anywhere near as advanced without their professional expertise and leadership.

More about our work with the students and MetanautVR will be published in both peer-review and grey literature over the coming year. I will, however, post updates and links to our OER resources (3D assets, models, etc.) and lessons learned on this website and on our official Open Geography website.

I am using Sketchfab.com to embed the interactive content below. Sketchfab is a pretty amazing repository of 3D models that allows authors to apply a CC license to their work. The website interface supports VR if you have Google Cardboard or WebVR enabled in your browser. One drawback, is that these are lower resolution examples of our work (as Sketchfab has upload limits). All our resource are CC licensed on Sketchfab. Below is our first experiment, but all of the models will be uploaded under the Stanley Park collection here.


Experiment 01. This was our first experiment at making a 3D model using photogrammetry, created using 12 pictures taken by Nexus 5 and processed by Autodesk ReMake. This was a simple proof of concept and shows how easy it can be to create solitary 3D assets versus creating landscape level 3D assets.

 

Original published: 9 July 2016

Updated: 11 May 2017

2 thoughts on “Virtual Reality, 3D Spatial Environments, and Environmental Education

  1. Dorothy Loftin

    It’s nice to see that others are delving into this world as well! I too would be considered a “greenhorn” as it relates to this area. I do really enjoy it though. I’d love to trade notes/sketchfab projects with you! I’m not going to self-promote but you can find me through my sketchfab links….

    Reply
    1. Prof Green Post author

      Definitely, let’s stay in touch. I followed you on Sketchfab to see more of your models. Are you thinking of doing larger, landscape models? We are just now starting to both improve and import our objects into Destinations Workshop Toolkit for VIVE. Hopefully it will work! 🙂

      Reply

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