ODL Developing 3D/VR Prototype for Forensics Group
It’s no secret that the act of learning happens everywhere, not just inside of a classroom. This important realization has facilitated a major shift in how we present students with their content. Recently, our team has been exploring ways to offer students immersive virtual reality (VR) as part of their online course experience. In an effort to further explore these endeavors, we’ve started working with the Forensics group at Penn State to develop a VR Crime Scene prototype.
The prototype uses A-Frame (a VR framework originally created by Mozilla) and web components to leverage HTML in the modern web browser. Using these frameworks, we are able to build interactive virtual scenes (rooms) with inspectable 3D objects (evidence) for students to explore. Typically, VR is experienced through head-gear and hand-controls. In an educational setting, requiring expensive equipment for each student can be a difficult logistical barrier to overcome. A-Frame, however, offers a unique hybrid solution allowing users to participate using only their web browser when select equipment is not available. The results produce unique environments which can be experienced through most common devices (computers, phones, tablets, etc.).
The individual scenes of the prototype application are built using a 360 camera to capture an image or video. The image or video is then placed inside of A-Frame using an <a-sky> HTML tag which accesses the A-Frame library and lets the browser know that it’s going to be displaying an A-Frame element. We met up with Katie Mantz (Course / Curriculum Developer - Forensic Science) and her team to gather several 360 images and videos at the cottages (designated buildings that Penn State uses to stage crime-scenarios for students in the Forensics program).
Katie shares her thoughts on the experience:
Once we secured the 360 images/videos, we then overlaid select items contained within the 360 image or video with clickable hotspots. Once ‘clicked’, the hotspots trigger interactions where students can granularly explore 3D models for more details while recording their thoughts. In the example above, we can see that the skull-object located on the bookshelf was fitted with a clickable hotspot. After being 'clicked', a dialog window opened revealing a detailed 3D skull model which could be rotated and further explored. On the right, we can see an area reserved for writing down observations. While this application is still just a prototype, it clearly demonstrates the potential for VR as an educational tool.
Where are we going from here?
We plan to work with Katie and the Forensics team to storyboard and finalize a realistic crime scene scenario. From there, we will continue building out the application to include additional features and functionality; we have some great ideas moving forward, so we're excited to see how the project evolves.
Contact us if you have an idea you want to try!