#95: Lesley Klassen on VR for career exploration & evaluating job skills with a 3D spatial database & assessment engine

Lesley Klassen is the Chief Innovation Officer for The Campfire Union, which is an education-based, start-up based in Winnipeg.

Lesley-KlassenThe Campfire Union is taking one of the most innovative and sustainable approaches that I’ve seen to developing educational virtual reality experiences. They discovered that VR works really well within the context of career exploration, and received funding to develop a number of persuasive VR experiences in order to try out a career.

One experience is called Tower Crane where kids can explore what it’s like to operate a tower crane 125 feet above a virtual construction site. The other experience that they developed is called Tiny Plant, which is a tour of the engineering aspects of high-tech manufacturing jobs.

They also implemented a formal survey process at every public showing of one of their VR demos in order gather feedback and evidence of the efficacy of using VR for career exploration. They found that out of 220 kids that experienced the tower crane recruitment experience, they received 90% as the average player experience rating, 76% wanted to learn more using virtual reality, and 60% wanted to learn more about being a tower crane operator.

The other innovative approach that The Campfire Union is taking to VR is that they’re in the process of creating an assessment engine to be able to evaluate the demonstration of job skills. The best way to demonstrate competency is to demonstrate your skills, and VR can provide a simulated experience of how well someone knows something by measuring the order and speed in which they do certain tasks. They’re collaborating with some local academics to be able to use a 3D spatial database in order to derive meaning through VR analytics. They’re capturing 3D data from the sensors from head movements as well as the capturing the motion tracking. They want to be able to track whether someone is looking at something and see if they can isolate the moments when someone is making a judgment or decision. Sometimes the easiest way to determine if someone is competent is to watch them do the tasks, and so they’re also providing a visual recording for a reference as they decide which analytic data is or is not useful.

They’re also starting to develop multi-player educational experiences for team scenarios as well as having two people learning from each other. They’re also considering using virtual reality spaces for pre-briefs and de-briefs in order to process and integrate the social learning experiences and targeted training experiences.

Lesley emphasizes that we should not recreate a classroom in VR because you could have every day be a field trip. You should adapt the VR medium for what’s it’s best at.

Finally, he talks about some of his fears about VR and where’s it’s going ranging from the ability to live within a fantasy and the dangers of screen addiction. But at the same time, there’s amazing learning and educational experiences that can be created in VR, and he’s decided to change his entire career direction to be a part of it.

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:11.937] Lesley Klassen: My name is Leslie Clausen, and I'm the Chief Innovation Officer at the Campfire Union. We're a small four-person startup out of Winnipeg in Canada. And we have three DK2 tech demos. We're an education-based company, and I'm falling in love with VR. That's what I'm doing here. So, yeah.

[00:00:29.532] Kent Bye: I see. So what kind of experiences are you creating then, specifically?

[00:00:32.745] Lesley Klassen: We have one experience which is called Yana. It's a nine-minute virtual relaxation. There's music, there's animations. It's actually more like a machinima experience where you're kind of sitting around while animations occur. It's in a day-to-night cycle as well, so the sun sets and the moon rises. You know, seagulls and shooting stars and large moons and beautiful environment. The idea there is just to relax. We have a tower crane, which are 125 feet in the air. You can control the hook, you can pick up a load, drop it off, just to see what it's like to be in a tower crane. And we have this other thing called Party Sketch, which is like a Hydra Razor-based painting app. It's like, we call it the MS Paint for VR.

[00:01:13.990] Kent Bye: I see. And so how long can you spend relaxing in your relaxation experience?

[00:01:17.824] Lesley Klassen: It's actually designed to be a nine-minute experience so that you go in and you leave and it's timed to music so there's like cues that happen in particular elements of the music that cue or trigger animations. So nine minutes but we also are asking those who try it if they are interested in exploring other ways of relaxation to getting feedback from the community.

[00:01:36.252] Kent Bye: I see, so like do you have other techniques like binaural audio to be able to help relax people?

[00:01:40.933] Lesley Klassen: Well, audio is an area that definitely we need to focus on. Right now we have stereo tracks and we haven't gone into binaural audio yet, but we know that audio plays a huge role in the experience and not yet, but this is what we definitely need to add to our scenes and our experiences.

[00:02:00.920] Kent Bye: So the crane operator, you know, imagining this being up super high in the sky and then just looking down and operating a crane, is this something that was designed to be a training exercise or just to give you the feeling of what it's like to be a crane operator?

[00:02:13.628] Lesley Klassen: Well, we design it first as a way to get kids to experience what it's like to be in a tower crane. some kids want to do like jobs in the construction and the trades because that's their aptitude but you know not very many people can climb up a tower crane and see if they want to do it so we designed it to do that and we ran 220 kids through this at an expo and then we did some surveys with them to see what they thought of the experience And so we create those kinds of interactions where you can kind of try a career out before you do the career. And we're right now working with a company in Toronto to do another area of trying out a bunch of careers. So people are getting into this idea of trying out careers. So we're getting uptake on that.

[00:02:58.844] Kent Bye: How did that come about? Was there some crane operator, employer that was trying to recruit people? Or is, you know, how did this idea coalesce?

[00:03:06.915] Lesley Klassen: I've been working in adult education. I'm an education product developer. And one of my colleagues, she got a new job at a construction association. She says, we have some money. Do you want to make something cool? And I'm like, yes, we do. We want to make a tower crane. And she just completely supported us and gave us the initial cash to do the work. And so yeah, that's how it happened. And now that's actually been great because we've been demoing it to other groups and organizations. apprenticeship branches and other sector councils and all that kind of stuff. And we're finding that there's actually this market on just career exploration.

[00:03:42.899] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's an interesting aspect of getting funding to do these projects that are kind of off the wall. Maybe you would never actually do it on your own, but since the funding's there, you can still kind of do something cool. So I think the key thing that I'm curious about is that how do you measure how successful it was and sort of show that back to them?

[00:04:02.326] Lesley Klassen: Well, what we did is we did post-surveys. So we actually set up a series of post-survey stations. So after we had three VR stations, and we guided all these young adults, teens through this experience, and then we sent them to a little survey booth that we had, and every single person went through and did a survey. We had 220 kids that used it, and they rated the experience a 90 out of 100. and we asked other questions about how they'd like to learn in VR and if there's other things they'd like to learn using VR and so it just became a way of collecting some data. So we've now incorporated data collection as part of our process when we do anything public because it's still the Wild Wild West and we want to make sure that we are being smart about how people are experiencing it and what we can improve and what's working and what's not working.

[00:04:50.598] Kent Bye: And what were some of the lessons you learned from showing 220 kids and putting them through virtual reality?

[00:04:56.283] Lesley Klassen: Well, a lot less people got motion sickness than we thought. We actually made it a kind of a static moving experience. Tower cranes rotate, and they rotate really slowly, so that was solving that problem. Two, VR is going to be huge. We had lineups for the entire day just to experience VR. So what we learned is that there's a giant market and people want content. So that was a big takeaway. And then we also learned that it's really important that when we're developing these things we keep things playful and we keep things fun and we try to bring that like essence of play to what we create. So yeah, it was awesome.

[00:05:38.109] Kent Bye: And so what's next for you? What type of things are you working on now?

[00:05:40.980] Lesley Klassen: Well, we just got the Leap Motion attachment for TK2, and we're exploring modifying our Yana meditation app to incorporate the ability to interact with the environment with your hands. So one thing that we're exploring right now is exploring the idea of can we incorporate something around astrology in the sky, or can we incorporate something like the ability to kind of interact and create little kind of particle effects with your hands or ways to create other engaging experiences. We're also right now currently working with a large manufacturing organization that represents manufacturers to do career exploration for the manufacturing sector in the kind of the technical aspects, the engineering aspects of manufacturing. So creating a tour of kind of high-tech jobs in manufacturing. And we're also just got some funding from our federal government to explore spatial databases, 3D spatial databases. And we're working on trying to derive meaning from interactions in VR through analytics, but particularly in the area of education. So how do you know if someone's demonstrated a skill for you in VR, how do you know that that is evidence that they've actually acquired the knowledge? Basically, how can you show that someone can demonstrate that they can do things? skills particularly, and then how can we ensure that if an instructor or a manager or someone who is in charge of certifying that skill believes that our analytics are showing that they can actually do the skill. So we're doing research on, essentially we're calling it an assessment engine and a way to assess skills in VR.

[00:07:20.338] Kent Bye: I see, and so just put someone in VR and have them do a task and be able to have that be equal replacement from actually doing the task.

[00:07:27.420] Lesley Klassen: Right, so like in adult ed, there's lots of ways of discerning if someone knows something. And you can orally communicate about it and do all sorts of tests and that kind of stuff. But the best way, and educators will tell you this, is if someone can demonstrate their skill to you. So if you're a photographer, if you can demonstrate how to use a camera and you make really great photographs, then that's a demonstration of your skill. VR lends itself extremely well to demonstrating skills. So we're working on ways to make sure that we can measure that and have an analytics engine so that when a client or someone comes to us and says, hey, we want to train somebody on a particular skill, that we have a way of showing that that skill can be measured.

[00:08:04.906] Kent Bye: And what is the visual spatial thing that you mentioned?

[00:08:07.540] Lesley Klassen: Okay, well, so basically that 3D spatial database is like a way of collecting all the data. So we have to collect head movements and hand movements and choices and timing and all those things in some sort of 3D spatial database because we want to be able to replay someone's demonstration to an instructor. And in order to do that, we've got to collect all the data. And then we're also analyzing that data to see if somebody, you know, moves a lever from point A to point B in relationship to something that we've timed in the experience that they're making a judgment or using critical thinking. And all that stuff has to be stored in a 3D spatial database. So we're working with two masters and PhD level students over eight months through a human interactive computing lab at the University of Manitoba to create this assessment engine. And it's just a minimum viable product early prototype. That's our goal. Who knows? You know, you have lofty goals to see what happens, right?

[00:09:00.778] Kent Bye: That's really interesting. And so is all that data being captured by like a 3D camera like the Kinect?

[00:09:05.643] Lesley Klassen: That data is being captured by all the sensors, so basically any of the sensors that we're using, so all the head movements and head tracking sensors, if we're using anything like the Hydra or the Leap Motion or any other third-party add-ons, we also want to be able to track all the motion tracking of things. So however we motion track and however we'd use the head-mounted display to track, All that stuff has to be captured. And then also, we have to be able to track if someone's looking at something. For example, our tower crane has a little computer that helps you understand where the hook needs to be, right? Well, our tower crane operator uses that to understand that the hook needs to go 30, 40 feet down. Well, you have to look at the computer display to see the numbers. Well, I want to know how long someone's been looking at that display so that I can actually flag in our assessment engine that, okay, yes, this person has looked at the display. Now, we don't know for sure what they were looking at yet, and that's a problem we have to solve. But those are the types of things that we're trying to track so that we can see, you know, how people have been interacting inside a virtual space.

[00:10:06.650] Kent Bye: I see. Yeah, I guess the other challenge there is that when you watch somebody do it, you can kind of get a sense from your intuitive gut, you can see the gestalt in the big picture, like, oh yeah, they got it. But yet, when you start to break it down to all the reductionistic parts and all the individual motions from here to there, it's kind of like a tricky, thorny problem to try to figure out from a computer's perspective whether or not they're actually doing it. So that's what it sounds like you're kind of trying to do.

[00:10:32.712] Lesley Klassen: That's what we're trying to do. And so the way I look at it, as long as we also provide a recording of what people are doing from another perspective, and we take that visual recording and apply the additional data that comes out of it, there might be only a small percentage of that data that can actually drive meaningful assessment and so what we have to figure out is like what's the chaff and what's the wheat you know what's really worth keeping as analytical data for assessment and what's really so like derived that it doesn't really like it's so disconnected that you can't really derive anything from it and then that stuff he's got to get rid of and so that's the testing process the exploring process and and And so the goal for us is to create some sort of meaningful analytics. Oh, wow.

[00:11:17.030] Kent Bye: So I mean, I guess in some levels, either they're able to do it or they're not. There's like that level of success criteria. But then it sounds like you're going to be able to get into a lot more nuance, like how efficient are they doing it in the best way and how well do they really know how to do it.

[00:11:29.283] Lesley Klassen: Right. So the order they do it, how fast they're doing it. So for example, if let's say there's a weather disaster that happens while you're in the tower crane and they have to learn to shut down that tower crane and get out of there. Well, you know, how are they making the judgment that this weather is dangerous enough to shut down the tower crane? So what are the visual cues, the auditory cues that help the learner make the choice? that this is an emergency and I have to shut it down. Well, those are things that we can design into the training scenarios, and then we'd work with experts to say, okay, this is when we shut it down, and we'd create those little triggers, and then we're judging if the operator is going to, are they actually following through? Are they, oh, there's lightning that happened way back in the distance. Okay, what does that mean for me as the tower crane operator? We want to be able to create those kinds of scenarios where we can assess someone's ability to make a judgment. And those are also like kind of higher level education assessments as well. So it's a very lofty idea, but our whole idea is we're going to just kind of just really chip away at it. And we're going to use our education knowledge. I mean, that's what we really have that experience as an education company. And on top of that, we don't want to just stick around in education. We want to also explore all sorts of other areas of VR because we're falling in love with VR.

[00:12:47.921] Kent Bye: Yeah, is there any other big open problems that you feel like are on the horizon that you're starting to address?

[00:12:55.103] Lesley Klassen: Multiplayer. Multiplayer. We really feel like, especially for learning and education, the ability to have more than one people, and actually up to five, six, ten people, whole teams in VR, where you can run real scenarios together. And I think that is really good. Also, something in education that you do a lot of is you do something called pre-briefs and debriefs. So I was talking to the guy at VRChat yesterday, just while eating pizza, and was like, you know, the VRChat tools could be used as good pre-briefing experiences for learners, and then also good debriefing experiences for learners. So how can we integrate these kind of social learning experiences inside of, you know, really targeted training experiences. So I'm not really into the idea of like creating a virtual classroom where people are sitting in the classroom and they're like learning from a teacher, which is good in its way. But really what's really cool is like, well, actually, when you're in class and then you sit in class, then you have this teacher comes and says, hey, we should do a field trip, right? Because we're going to learn something in this field trip. Well, it's like those field trips are really the most rich learning experiences. So why would you put people back into a classroom in VR when you could continually give them field trips? So my idea is, let's say, let's use the virtual chat and the social stuff to set up the learning experience. It's called the pre-brief, right? So what are we going to learn today? And then throw people into the field trip. and let people interact socially in that field trip, and then do the debrief. That is a richer learning experience. And so I think a lot of people are still translating real life to virtual life, one-to-one, when it's like translating a desktop browser experience to a mobile experience and not adapting to it. You have to adapt to what the medium is telling you. And the medium is telling us that you can simulate anything, so why would you simulate the thing that you don't want to be in, which is the classroom? So I don't mean to be disparaging to other educational developers that are exploring classroom stuff. I think there's value there too, but you don't have to be in the classroom. So that's the only thing that we're working on is how do we do debriefing, how do we do pre-briefing, and how do we make sure that we're creating these really cool field trips or training scenarios or whatever they are. And we're still figuring that too. So we have like lots of lofty ideas and we're having a lot of fun developing it. And our tower crane is the first thing that we're moving into the training side where we're going to actually have two people learning from each other. So part of our next eight month technology plan is that we got multiplayer happening with two people and that's, we're spending four months on that. And then we're spending four months on capturing that data and doing some basic analysis.

[00:15:34.531] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you see as the ultimate potential for virtual reality and what it can provide?

[00:15:39.957] Lesley Klassen: I am actually kind of scared about where virtual reality is going because I really as I'm seeing the new technologies and just checking out the Crescent Bay demo and just kind of seeing how really amazing it is. I've heard the term hyper-reality. I think it's just a drug. It's this crazy, weird, transportive experience that is like a drug. And I think we're going to lose... Real life is just going to be functional and interesting and practical, but it's not going to be a fantasy. And we're developing the ability to live in a fantasy. And if anything like screen addiction is telling us is that we're more and more glued to our screens, I think the human brain is just carving new pathways that, you know, and our dopamine is flowing and our human behavior is changing. And I think that that's a big deal. And I don't know where that's going to go. And I think it's kind of scary at the same time. If you take all that technology and all those kind of human behavioral changes and you look at them from the perspective of kind of how you could leverage that for good things and positive things, there could be amazing learning opportunities and experiential opportunities and entertainment opportunities and lots of cool things that could come out of it. But it's like it all depends because, you know what, we do have free will as people and free will can lead us down some pretty interesting, possibly nasty paths, but I'm still excited about it.

[00:17:04.235] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's a weird place to be on in all the dystopian possibilities, but yet all of the utopian ones all happening at the same time.

[00:17:10.376] Lesley Klassen: Yeah, yeah. So I think the weird thing is that you have the bulk of the population that still really doesn't know what's going on. And as developers, we've been working on this for a year now, or a little bit over a year. It's like, they don't know what's going to happen. This technology is going to be unleashed. And I have no doubt that it's going to have huge uptake, because the technical glitches, people can complain, and this and that's going to be solved. And so when it does happen, we're in another weird technical revolution that we're going to be a part of. So, yeah.

[00:17:41.124] Kent Bye: Yeah, when I think of the ultimate potential, it's also like this potential for hyper learning or accelerated learning or becoming more human within virtual reality, which I think is an interesting thing to think about. You're not just socially isolated, but you're actually becoming more social and more of your core essence of who you are.

[00:17:58.082] Lesley Klassen: Someone said something to me that I never really thought about yesterday It was basically it's like okay, so when we got mobile phones and cell phones and the internet Communication really became asynchronous, and it didn't become personal it became like removed right I'm just isolating at some ways Then you got social media and all these different things that try to bring us together But we're still feeling isolated and then you get things like second life that we're trying to bring us together But really you're still isolated and you put the VR helmet on and you actually get that idea of presence where you feel like you're transported somewhere and you see a a friend that's sitting across the table from you or sitting on a couch, and now you're having a conversation. It's kind of like the telephone's next evolution where it's like, okay, now we're not talking to each other live, we're seeing and talking to each other live. And we can still leave asynchronous notes on the wall or whatever that we do for each other, but it just actually could bring a sense of being more connected than disconnected because now I get to spend 15 minutes with you and I get to see your body language and I get to see the little quirks and quirks that I, you know, if we were friends, for example, that I would know. So there's that line again, is it a utopian or is it dystopian? I'm not sure. You know, people might say that's a dystopian view of things, but that could be a utopian view because maybe we're more connected now and I can actually read your body language and express, you know, so I don't know. But I've decided this is an adventure that I want to be on. This is too much fun to like miss it. And I totally changed career direction because of it. And it's awesome. Yeah. And this is an awesome conference. So yeah, loving it. Great. Well, thank you. Thanks for the interview. Yeah. Appreciate that. Yeah.

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