We're delighted to announce that we have been successful in gaining Phase 2 development funding for our “Virtual Field Trips as a Service” initiative from Innovate UK, the UK's Innovation Agency, in Phase 2 of the Design for Impact Competition.
Launched in May 2014, Design for Impact aimed to identify and then support innovative technology that had been proven in pilot projects in education but had yet to have a national impact. Working with The Open University (OU) and Birmingham based Design Thinkers UK we submitted a proposal for Virtual Field Trips as a Service, taking the concepts developed as part of the Virtual Skiddaw project that developed for the OU in 2013, and looking at how this could be scaled up to a national service for schools and universities.
We were one of 15 projects (out of around 200) selected in September 2014 for Phase 1 funding. From Nov 14 to Apr 15 we worked with teachers and students at Washwood Heath Academy in Birmingham, virtual world educators in Second Life, university lecturers at a Royal Geological Society workshop and a range of other stakeholders to understand the potential, challenges and key features of any virtual field trip service.
Innovate UK has now announced that ours is one of the projects selected to receive Phase 2 "development" funding. For Phase 2 we will be working with our existing partners, the Open University and Design Thinkers UK, and we're delighted to be joined by new partner the Field Studies Council. Phase 2 will see the development of a prototype system, and a full trial and assessment with both universities and schools, the latter facilitated by working closely with one of the Field Studies Council’s own field study centres.
We are really proud to be one of the project chosen for Stage 2 Funding. There was some stiff competition and we were up against some other very innovative and exciting ideas. This project gives us the opportunity to develop an immersive 3D environment that is optimised for educational use, yet flexible enough to let educators create and customise content. Almost everyone we’ve spoken to has not only seen how virtual field trips can be a natural complement for physical field trips, but also how the technology could be used to provide a wide range of virtual experiences in support of other subjects from history to languages.
The service is intended to support, not replace, physical field trips. It will help students and staff prepare better for a field trip, can provide additional context during the field trip, and gives a focus for post-field trip data analysis, revision, virtual visits to comparative sites, and provides a catch-up for those who may have missed the physical trip.
At the end of the 12 month project we should be in a position to start taking the service to market. Whilst the project is focussed on UK education there are also obvious opportunities overseas – particularly letting students have virtual “exchange” field trips. As well as looking at desktop and mobile delivery the project will also be looking at using the latest generation of virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.
You can read a bit more about the project on the project page, but we will be revamping that shortly for Phase 2, and we're also looking at producing a separate micro-site or social media site to support the project. More news in due course.