VR in Education - thoughts and experiences



Last year I took my HTC Vive into our local First School and led a group of 5 - 7 year olds on an expedition up to Everest Basecamp and on to the summit, as part of their topic of studying Explorers.

I wrote about the experience here on Medium.

Credits to Solfar Studios, the team behind the Everest VR Concept for HTC Vive.

Next week I’m taking a group of 4-5 year olds to the bottom of the ocean… write up to follow, if they let me out alive.

This topic is for the discussion of the role of Immersive Experiences, delivered by Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

To me it’s an incredibly exciting topic.

I’ve already seen first hand the power of this technology in generating an emotional response and real engagement towards the curriculum, that would be otherwise hard to achieve.

What I love, is that it sets a tangible context for everything that would follow, if a child was able to drop into an immersive, high fidelity, high quality virtualisation of a location, a period of history, a learning environment free of physical constraints relating to safety or geographic proximity.

If every new topic starts with an “experience” rather than an explanation. An emotional journey, rather than a dry and formal presentation.

I think that schools, with the right guidance, support and training, could really embrace and benefit from room scale virtual reality systems embedded into the classroom.

What do you think?


As promised, we took those awesome little dudes and dudettes to the bottom of the ocean.


I’ve decided to start conceptualising our first Education VR Experience…

The Topic I’ve selected is: The Great Fire of London (GFOL)

Every year our local first school dedicates some time to this topic and it was wonderful to see how my own sons embraced it, in particular, my eldest Rudi who at 6 years old really took to understanding the history and timeline of events.

The Great Fire of London, from a parent perspective, is a good one - there were homework pieces on Fire Safety and awareness and I think that’s so important (as someone who more than once nearly burnt down my parents house as a child).

From the kids perspective too - dressing up as little 1600’s street urchins, the visit from the Fire Brigade (I heard the Mum’s appreciated that) and getting to squirt the hose!

Well, what better way to learn and experience the historically momentous event in our history, than by teleporting into Pudding Lane itself.

We will start in the Bakery of Thomas Farriner, the source of the Great Fire, which started on 2nd September 1666. The Children will acclimatise to the VR environment and interact with objects around the scene. They will undertake a Fire Risk Assessment challenge, highlighting and pointing out possible fire risk factors in the kitchen.

From here, the fire will start - there’s no preventing it, unfortunately - and we take to the street in our Pudding Lane level scene where, equipped with a firehose, our children will do their best to put out the flames and stop it spreading - it’s sure to raise the heart rate, cause a few beads of sweat and get them very excited!

Just watch out for the AI driven passers by getting in the way!!

Finally, despite our best efforts, and true to history - London is doomed and burns to ashes. But out of the ashes we are reborn and London is to grow and prosper. As master Architects, our children can design their own London - like building in Minecraft - deciding how to construct their new vision with a pallet of building materials and supplies to assist them in the virtual space.

They can take virtual photos of their new London, print and share them with their teachers and classmates.


Prototyping the Firehose

We’re going to prototype the firefighting level, one of the key experience and interactions in the experience.

We are going to need…

:white_check_mark: Basic Pudding Lane Environment in UE4 level

:white_check_mark: UE4 Level setup for VR ready with motion controller pawn, Nav Mesh etc.

:white_check_mark: Fire Hose Asset

:white_check_mark: Fire Hose Controller Asset

:white_check_mark: Water effect particle system

:white_check_mark: Fire / smoke effects particle system

:white_check_mark: Water / Fire interactions

:white_check_mark: Randomised spawn Fire at location

:white_check_mark: Destroy Fire at location


Here’s an initial look at the prototype of our Level 2 Scene in UE4.

We’ve achieved all things we set out in the previous post, at a prototypical level. Sure there will be lots of improvements, but a great feasibility test.

The Pudding Lane scene was initially sketched out in Maya, it’s the same one you would have seen in earlier posts on this topic, and was brought into Unreal Engine 4 within a project setup bootstrapped for VR mode.

A Nav Mesh was applied to the scene to enable us to move freely in the scene whilst being used as a positional layer for our fire spawn co-ordinates.

We decided to limit the movement for now to the chaperone zone of our room setup, which would encourage physical movement in a smaller space.

We first researched suitable fire effects and settled on using theInfinity Blade effects.

I think these turned out very well and immediately add a fantastic atmosphere to the level.

For the water effect, we decided to use the Nvidia PhysX Flex tools. You can see why from the Nvidia demo video.

Overall the water effect from the hose is great. There’s work to be done on the material, colouring and lighting and tweaking the viscosity as well as the pooling effect in production, but I’m very happy with it as a solution.

The final validation was the interaction between the water and the fire, in terms of the player extinguishing the fires with the hose. This also works well.


Thought we’d work a little on the storyboarding and conceptualisation of the first iterations of the experience.

  • For intro scene I thought we may start with video of modern day London skyline (awesome, everyone loves that)
  • Settling into modern day pudding lane - inauspicious looking everyday London street
  • Kind of makes me think Harry Potter vibe
  • Gradually zooms into the plaque on the wall that describes the events that unfolded near to this location
  • Then pans across to the pudding land sign
  • Which then morphs to the old 1666 sign we have in our level scene, as we are transported back in time
  • And we arrive in our level
  • It’s a quiet, eerie, kind of tense London night, there’s ambient sounds of the medieval city, jostling noise from the nearby taverns (edited)
  • We hone in on Thomas Farriners bakery
  • And our adventure begins…

Level 1 - Bakery. It’s underneath Thomas Farriner’s house in a kind of cellar environment

  • We can move around and explore lot’s of artefacts and objects - bakery foods, cooking tools etc.
  • When ready, our eye is drawn to a visual cue of a hotspot on the floor
  • Which activates a 3 minute Fire Hazard identification exercise
  • We use the Vive controller with a pointer to identify fire hazards, click the trigger to select
  • A simple HUD shows us if we were correct
  • And a core counter and timer is visible
  • At the end of the exercise, our result is shown
  • Then automated scene, some embers are left burning on the floor
  • They catch some nearby straw and cloth alight and the fire takes hold
  • As we transition out into the street, the fire has spread to nearby buildings

And we start Level 2

  • We have to first get some pressure into the pump
  • 2 hands on the handles of the pump, we have to move it up and down to build up pressure, little HUD shows us when ready
  • Then we have to pick up the hose and squirt water at the flames in the buildings around us
  • We cannot teleport
  • We can only move within our room environment
  • Encouraging physical movement
    -Fires are 360 degrees
    -Around us, high, low, we can fire at distance if we have enough pressure, but as pressure deteriorates, we lose this ability. Perhaps we can also pick up buckets of water and throw them, but they are ineffective, only helping as a short range alternative (edited)
  • They respawn after extinguished in a game of wack-a-mole
  • Buildings deteriorate and crumble - like the ice falling from the cliffs in the Everest VR (edited)
  • Animated people run from buildings and gather in the streets
  • The sound effects of the fire, the panic chatter of the crowds
  • It’s intense
  • The exercise lasts 4-5 minutes, continuously switching between the fires and the pump
    at the end we switch to video / flyover scene showing how the wind caused embers to carry, and due to the dry buildings and timbers, caused fires to pop up in different locations over the city
  • And eventually take a grip on the city
  • We show the effect of the fire, and talk about how long it lasted, the extent of the damage and the lives lost.
  • and with that, we end the first version of our experience