Virtual and Mixed Reality platforms are widely recognized for their entertainment value—video games, multi-sensory experiences, experimental art and filmmaking—and have created a cultural zeitgeist that even Facebook bought into early on. As the platforms start to permeate other industries outside the entertainment world—for example physical therapy and architectural prototyping—we considered how they could serve a practical purpose in the modern classroom. Ultimately, we created Peer to bring a Mixed Reality experience into the education space to aid in teaching complex concepts and lessons.
In order for a new piece of technology to reach critical mass and change society in the same way, say, the smartphone has, it has to be the perfect blend of utility and recreation. For example, early mobile phones were an extremely practical utility for making calls, but not much else. Today’s smartphones, thanks to their perfect blend of utility and recreation, have so much functionality that they elevate the device into ubiquity. Currently, VR and AR technology sit pretty in the recreation sphere, but educators would have a hard time making the case to their superiors that they need a VR set-up in the classroom. Because Moment has previously designed products for smartphones, vehicle systems, and Google Glass as soon as the technologies hit the market, we were particularly excited to take on a new challenge like VR.
“Depending on whom you ask, virtual reality is either a world-changing force for empathy, the best videogame platform ever, or a weird thing you put on your face.”
—The New Yorker Radio Hour
In order to better define and create a useful VR tool, we had to first find out what educators wanted and research how today’s VR technology might fit into the classroom. To better understand how complex subjects are typically taught, we worked with several maker education centers and teachers who embrace methodologies like S.T.E.A.M. (Science Technology Engineering Art and Math). We learned that in order for teachers to adopt new tech in the classroom, it has to prove essential in teaching a particular topic and that it’s not just another distraction in the classroom.
“I read about Peer yesterday and was inspired by the concept. It feels too rare that we view technology, particularly experiential technology like VR, as a tool that goes alongside a human experience, rather than an immersive experience in and of itself. Kudos for the good work.”
— Jess Brown, Director of UX, Vice
For the next phase of the project, we defined a reality spectrum which helped to determine the level of reality of the tool we were building. After exploring the spectrum and understanding the limitations and advantages of each technology, we utilized user journeys to pinpoint the bottlenecks in traditional learning and classrooms. From there, we concepted ideas and experiences that would improve engagement during different stages of learning. We prototyped, tested, and got more advice from educators to inform how we could create a tool for teaching complex lessons with overlapping subject matter—for example, teaching ecology by way of alternative energy sources (i.e. wind power).
By combining Mixed Reality headsets with Internet-enabled sensors we created the perfect multimedia mix to aid hands-on learning in the classroom.
Abstract concepts become tangible, visible, and easier to understand, getting kids past the “Why am I learning this?” question. Rather than limiting a lesson about pollution to its negative effects, the class lesson can involve proactive, interactive modeling of different sustainable and renewable energy sources to show how to offset carbon emissions.
Lessons can be structured around a common goal where each student contributes a piece of the project. Peer then helps students observe their collective effort and success.
Peer reduces normal feedback loops and allows students to quickly iterate on designs, allowing them to rapidly innovate.
Peer is a useful classroom tool leveraging accessible, cutting edge technology. The instructor has full control over the type of lesson they want to teach using Peer. The Mixed Reality solution brings students together in an engaging way and has the potential to change the classroom experience forever.
Peer is the winner of a 2017 Interaction Award and a 2017 AIGA (Re)Design Award. The project has also received Honorable Mention in the Experimental and Student categories of the Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards 2017.