Virtually POSSIBLE By Spencer Watson
“It’s a lot of trial and error,” added Asan. Those errors included random bugs that would, for example, keep walls from lining up — particularly when part of the challenge was figuring out how to make things to scale. You can’t exactly go measure every aisle and sign with a tape measure at the grocery store. But the most frustrating aspect, both students said, was losing time to things like software updates. “One thing that might not seem like a big problem but was for us was when Unreal Engine would update, because it would take a whole class period. And that’s pretty much a whole day wasted because you’re not working,” said Asan. Another learning experience, said Payton, was the recording process. While the computers he was working on were powerful, they weren’t quite
enough to render and record while moving around inside the virtual 3D world with a consistently smooth point of view. So he had to figure out how to slow the camera down so that it would not be choppy. Another learning opportunity: in making the videos and testing them with special education students, EAST students realized they needed to add an audio component because some students they were serving struggle with reading text on the screen. “Once we’d gotten into it, we weren’t even thinking about things like that. Whereas that was the most basic thing we should have thought about,” said Bell. “So practicing with students was really one of the best ways to test it, come back, make changes and test again.” In the end though, the struggles were worth it. While winning National Service Project award — a competition among all EAST schools, this year encouraging projects that furthered
education — was not the original goal, it was gratifying, students said, because often they faced a kind of stigma with their work. To the outside world, it looked like they were just making a video game. But the project had real meaning, both for them and the students they served through it. “It feels really good,” said Payton of seeing their work in action, “because you know that when someone is struggling with something and you’re able to help them with it, it makes you feel good. You’re making something easier for them. When you’re able to grasp what it is they’re not understanding, then display that and help them through it, that feels good inside.” “I’m in awe, honestly,” said Asan. “If you saw us working, you might think we aren’t doing anything, just placing blocks on a canvass. But we’re actually helping people learn to be independent and successful.”
SPRING 2017 | EAST QUARTERLY
The quarterly magazine of the EAST Initiative.