I'm just going to cut straight to an incredible occurrence from today's first use of the Oculus Rift at Jackson School.
I was about 5 minutes into my session with a class of Early Year's students (~8 years old) when our school had a fire-drill! This is always a disruptive event in any setting and made even worse when you have students with different disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD). Throw something unpredictable that means a complete and immediate change in plans/routine then add the horrible sounds of alarms from the whole school's PA system, coupled with having to swiftly move to the school's evacuation point and you've got some excellent triggers for kids like mine.
After going through the necessary processes I eventually got my students back into class with about 25 minutes of the session to spare. I began allowing my students to take turns on the Oculus Rift voluntarily using the SDK demo app and BlueMarble, an incredible space travel app that is what I've dubbed 'digital meditation'.
I only had 1 student test the Rift before I realised that one of my other students was clearly unsettled. This student in particular would be considered low-functioning on the Autism Spectrum and has very minimal verbal communication skills. He was physically and audibly quite active (moving around, singing incoherent words) but his classmates were quite used to this so they managed to stay on task very well. I invited him over to my comfortable chair where I had my MacBook and the Rift setup. I indicated through actions as best as I could what I wanted to do with him and he very calmly engaged. The program I got him to use was BlueMarble and you can see it in action here (not my class). What ensued during and after its use was nothing more than amazing!
The student was immediately engaged and was calmly, yet actively exploring the world he became immersed in. He was no longer physically 'acting-out' and I noticed that his whole body became more relaxed. As the student flowed through the 3 minute experience he also came out of it very calmly and without coercion. I helped him remove the headphones and Rift goggles and checked that he was OK. He was not disoriented, expressed in his own manner that he was good and most amazingly, he was calm and settled. I asked him to take a seat on another couch and he moved promptly, without issue. I observed him for the next minute or so to see that he was definitely OK. The student continued to sit very calmly and contently in ways that are often a rarity for him. There were no visible signs of discomfort and when I asked him if he was still OK, he nodded his head positively. After about 2 minutes my education support teacher asked if he'd like to use an iPad and he once again calmly said OK and went on his way to another activity.
That was just one example from the first day. I need some more time to digest the whole experience and get some more well collected thoughts.
Here are some standout points that I will discuss further from the first day at a later point:
- Staff love it as much as kids!
- Kids don't seem to experience the 'VR sickness' like adults do
- Educational programs are highly engaging!