Introduction: Futuring With Virtual Reality

About: Future Voices is an initiative out of Carnegie Mellon University School of Design that explores opportunities to bring design futuring to kids in a range of educational settings. We experiment with technology …

Following our experiments with projection as a futuring tool, we set out to find something that would better fit the constraints of a classroom, but still provide a clear sense of scale and impact. Furthermore, we needed a solution that would be easy to setup.

Though at first it might sound like a surprising choice, we landed on virtual reality as an accessible futuring tool. We piloted the next iteration of our curriculum with a group of 6th — 8th grade students attending an after school STEM program. The two-hour workshop started with a discussion around futuring, framed specifically around utopias, dystopias and why we might imagine futures in these two different ways.

Required Materials:

To run the workshop each student, or each group of students needs access to the following tools:

  • Laptop
  • Smartphone
  • VR headset

Download the lesson plan pdf below:

Step 1: CoSpaces Tutorial

The workshop centered around CoSpaces a free browser-based application that allows you to build 3D spaces. After building a space in the browser, it can be experienced in virtual reality through the mobile application on a headset like Google Cardboard or in augmented reality directly from a mobile phone. The software comes with a large library of pre-designed objects (e.g. cars, rocket ships, mountains, clouds, etc.) that can be dragged-and-dropped onto a “VR canvas.” Additionally, the software is browser-based, which means there’s no software to download, install or configure. The students were given a brief tutorial on CoSpaces which is integrated into the application.

Step 2: Build a Block

Next the students were asked to imagine the future for the street that their afterschool program is located on. To ensure that the exercise remained place-based, we had students work from a template that we created which modeled the Assemble block. Additionally, to help guide their thinking, each student was given a prompt. Example prompts included “imagine the Assemble block if kids ruled the world”, “if we grew our own food” and “if it flooded all the time.” Students could either create a utopia or a dystopia, however, they had to share why they chose to do one or the other.

Step 3: Experience a Block

When the students were finished, they were given a chance to view their future worlds in virtual reality. They also had the opportunity to explore the worlds of their classmates.

Step 4: Activity Debrief

The session concluded with a brief reflection period. The goal here being to encourage students to critically think about their decisions and also help them think through how their ideas may or may not fit into a real world context. This debriefing process included questions like: What is it like to walk around in a world someone else has designed? If “X” happened, how would you have done things differently? How would you go about working together to make a future that you both enjoy?