From the moment we’re birthed, we begin to move. We move by virtue of our legs, our bodies, the motion of our arms and hands, the intricate articulation of all of our fingers. Each of these movements correlates with synaptic connections in the brain and provides the rich landscape required for exponential neuronal growth. We as a species are constantly engaged in the process of using our bodies to interface with this world.
Why then in school, beginning in our first years of elementary school, do we allow this integral part of our development to get shut down? Why don’t we leverage the full potential of the human body to engage in discovering, experiencing, and embodying knowledge?
What does moving and gesturing with ourselves and the environment and with other people do for the learning process? This is a fascinating question. What we’ve seen in the entertainment industry, since the advent of the Wii, is a lot of new breakthrough motion technologies that interface with the movements of the body and engage the player at a whole other level of interaction.
This potential is what lies behind our recent work with GeoMoto and our vision for educational VR. As developers, we must ask how we can leverage motion interactions to actually understand the world around us in a more profound, more immediate, more personal, and more embodied way.
Learning through motion
At GameDesk, we’ve embarked on a variety of different experiments in kinesthetic learning. We’ve even experimented with low-tech interactions where students scatter into an open field and become cosmic dust, simulating how elements in the cosmos accrete and form object in space and eventual planets.
Accretion is a difficult concept to get your head around. Space-time from a human perspective is very slow; however, simulations allow us to speed up time in a way that the mind can truly capture and attune to what is actually happening (as best as we can simulate it). When the body is actually moving within the simulation, you become a piece of the story, and are playing out a larger narrative within this scientific concept.
In this scenario, students aren’t just attuning to the concept through their own motion, but their own motion in relation to other kids moving in the space. They’re having a collective experience because the accretion of particles is a collective experience. All those particles in space are all interacting in a symphony of motions and interactions. As people, we can do the same.
Education and motion technology
When it comes to using motion technologies, we’ve worked with and developed a lot of systems. We even designed a mechanical wing apparatus that actuates full bird wing rotation and flapping. This system helps the learner embody through motion what it feels like to become a bird.
Imagine I was to say to you, “Hey, a bird flies by working with all the different forces that act on its body, and those forces are lift, drag, thrust, and gravity. As the bird rotates its wings up and down it increases lift or decreases lift by interacting with air molecules around it.” I’m sitting here and explaining this all to you, but you’re not experiencing it. In a game where we leverage embodiment and motion, and feel what’s like to feel a bird, a student is able to stretch out his arms and feel like a bird. They feel the air molecules change when they rotate their arms, and they will recognize the cause and effect relationship to their movement and the molecular environment around them.
When you combine simulation, gameplay, and movement connected to really core concepts, kids get it really fast. Way faster then looking at a whiteboard or seeing a static photo trying to represent a three dimensional concept. They are in it. They are experiencing it. We see kids within 15 minutes fully articulating an experiential knowledge of forces in motion and bird flight.
Hand controls and plate tectonics
When we decided to work with the Leap Motion Controller, we really wanted to see how hand gestures can help kids understand plate tectonics. Lots of plate tectonic phenomena relate to movement – plates move towards each other, they move apart from each other, they move across from each other. With that in mind, we created GeoMoto.
Geomoto was a real proof of concept to see how quickly can kids remember all these geological concepts through the movement of their hands. What we found was with that experience (and the earlier planetary accretion experiment), that student improvements from pre to post on these tests ranged from an average of 5% all the way up to an average of 25%. For a more detailed breakdown of the improvements, check out our whitepaper Learning Geoscience Concepts through Play & Kinesthetic Tracking.
Where is all this heading?
I believe the blending of the emerging VR space with motion technologies is going to be a big one. The VR ship is coming in. Devices are getting pushed out. The experience of VR will be normalized in the next few years. A mixture between motion technologies and VR experiences are going to allow people to completely immerse themselves in complex concepts.
One of the things I really want to tackle is taking the hard sciences and making them intuitive and understandable through these technologies. When you get to 5th and 6th grade, math starts getting abstract, and science starts getting hard to see. This is a critical time, and this is a time when you start losing kids. These emerging technologies are going to be critical for kids that are visually oriented and kinesthetically oriented.
For example, how can we get them into the microverse, inside the roots of a plant? One may argue that there is no reason to work with a virtual plant when you have a real plant in front of you. However, with VR and motion technologies, we can get inside of the physical plant at levels of magnification and time dilations that would be impossible with a physical plant.
The real question to ask becomes, “what can the real or traditional structure not do?” Wherever that gap exists, that’s where these approaches step in. I envision a world where there is nothing you can’t see, visualize, move through, and physically experience through virtual motion-based technologies in the realm of education and information. A massive digital library of immersive and experiential modules that allow the learner to explore complex concepts. It’s the holodeck learning academy delivered in a way that even Star Trek never envisioned.