ou are home alone, and a stranger knocks on the door. What do you do? Yell for them to come in? Or ask who it is? The above is one of a handful of situations tackled by “Virtual Life Scenarios,” a series of instructional videos designed by EAST at Armorel High School and set entirely within a virtual 3D environment intended to help students in the school’s special education program develop transitional skills for independent living after they get out of school. The project won the 2017 National Service Project competition at EAST Conference and also contributed to Armorel’s Award of Excellence for project innovation and sophistication. The project was developed by a team of students, with seniors Payton Winberry and Asan Balazi tackling the most technically demanding virtual environment.
ARMOREL STUDENTS CREATE COMPUTERIZED 3D WORLDS TO HELP OTHERS WITH LIFE SKILLS
“We’d been working on this kind of stuff for a while,” said Payton, on his background and interest in Unreal Engine, the program in which all the 3D environments were built. “We created a 3D tour of our school for newer students last year, so this year we thought we could easily help out with creating some of these scenarios.”
it. The idea of the instructional videos was born, and the teachers started developing 10 to 15 scenarios in each of the three environments noted above, such as the one about safely answering the door or finding a manager when lost in a store or parking lot, that would fit into instruction on transition skills for independent living.
The scenarios take place in environments familiar to students, such as the home, grocery store or parking lot, with plans to expand to other environments. Given their experience, Payton and Asan developed the grocery store, as it was expected to be the most complex, and provided guidance and expertise to younger teams in other classes working on the other environments.
“Those are the most common scenarios that they felt would work for students,” said Bell. “Our teachers wanted to be confident that their students were getting those transitional skills, and these are places in which teachers knew they could have dialogue with their students, because students were going to these places.”
“For me, it was much easier than Blender,” said Asan. “It was much easier just starting off. By watching tutorials, you could get into Unreal, and you could learn it a lot quicker than you would any other 3D software.”
The task for Payton, Asan and their peers was to bring the environments to life.
“Usually you just start from scratch,” said Payton. “You visualize where you want things to go, and then you start placing them. If you realize something is not going to work, you just move it around and keep trying to find the best spots for things.”
Alicia Bell, EAST facilitator for Armorel High School, said the project started when the special education faculty told her they had a 3D projector and asked what EAST might develop for 8
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“The amount of resources you can put into this is so broad,” said Payton of why they worked in Unreal Engine.
“You can do basically anything in here, and now that we’d figured out the basic virtual reality aspect of it, it had a lot to offer, and we knew it would be the best pick for doing all the things we needed to do for this project.”
The actual creation process required building a world from nothing.