Can virtual reality apps simulate a real experience and educate people in a way that is memorable? This project aims to transfer knowledge about bees by enabling embodiment while employing a true to life game element of assigning the user a task; find sources of nectar and pollen.
My contribution: Product designer, interaction designer, researcher, user and technical requirements documentation, and academic paper author. Collaborators: Pete van der Spoel, Natasha, and Evelien.
Background
Multiple studies have been done to research methods of learning and memory retention, and according to Dale’s Cone of Experience people generally remember 90% of what they do as they perform a task – such as going through a real experience, as opposed to 50% of what they hear and see – such as viewing an exhibition or watching a demonstration (H. Anderson 2016). When people participate in a workshop or role-play, it increases the memory to 70% based on what they say and write (H. Anderson 2016). Yet, if VR can provide a virtual experience that simulates a real experience, which would increase learning, then there is a need for the medium within the educational space. Not only would people learn better, but also they would be able to retain more information. Virtual reality can potentially close the gap of memory rates from only 10-20% from what they read and hear, often the traditional method found in many schools, to 90% through a virtual experience (H. Anderson 2016).
Approach
Conceptually, we wanted to teach users about honeybees through embodiment. Specifically, what bees do and how they do things. We imagined our app being used by school aged children in an educational setting. After some extensive research, we found there were many aspects of the honeybee that we could teach via means of our app.
We also thought about the aspects of VR that we could use in our project, which adds value to teaching with the medium of VR as opposed to others (i.e. film). With VR we could create a better sense of embodiment, in which a user can control some aspects of their virtual world that cannot be done through a medium such as a film. Using virtual reality, allows us to develop a user experience in which the user becomes a bee in a virtual world that is able to fly around the world and see what a bee sees. This perspective of a bee is the strength of using VR as an educational method.
Using the aspects of VR and keeping our target user in mind, we were able to narrow down some educational points that we would like to get across to the user of our app. But we still had to think of the best way for our user to gain and retain the knowledge provided by our app. This lead us to two methods: creating a gamification app that gives users tasks or goals to achieve, or an exploratory app whereby the user is not given any extra info and is free to explore the virtual world and learn in a passive manner. 
Ultimately, we did a hybrid of the two: a simple task shown to the user on application startup and an exploratory app whereby information about bees were provided throughout the virtual world in the form of pop up boxes.
The Prototype
The app allows the user to be a worker bee in a virtual world with a goal to locate good sources of pollen and nectar in order to share this information with the rest of the bees in the beehive – true to the real tasks of a worker bee.
At startup the user is shown a text box, which explains that they will be a bee, what type of bee they are, and what they must do. After this screen, the user sees a 3D model of a bee in the center of their vision, giving them a third person perspective. For the first prototype we decided to follow current interaction design used in other virtual environments by using third person perspective, yet we are uncertain if this is more or less effective, than a first person point of view. 
The user is then able to control the flight of the bee, which mimics helicopter flight. To minimize motion sickness and enable users to comprehend what they see as they fly, the speed of flight was slowed down significantly. This also gives the user ample time to quickly learn how to control the bee.
While the user is flying around, they are experiencing some special effects applied, which simulate a bee’s vision. To do this, colors were altered to show the spectrum of colors within the bees’ vision, but also within the limitations of what the human eye can see (i.e. humans can not see ultra violet light, but bees can). A hexagonal screen overlay was placed to simulate the effect of having compound eyes (hundreds of single eyes arranged next to each other) and the fish eye camera effect was enabled. Additionally, the field of view was altered to 120 degrees to further stress the view of the bee, unfortunately if it was higher and closer to the realistic 300- degree view a bee has, it would be hard for the user to comprehend what they see. Also, bloom and sun shafts were applied to give a sense of more realism in the virtual environment.
Conclusions
The prototype application is a start to what could be a large application full of a wealth of information on bees. And by means of embodiment, we believe there is a higher retention of knowledge gained when learning about subjects through a virtual reality app. In its prototype stage, it can be used as a motivator to get children interested in the subject matter when combined with traditional teaching methods in educational settings, such as schools. A finished application could teach much more and offer a better user experience, which could possibly suffice as the main method of teaching.
We envision a finished application being used in museums with entomology exhibits or museums with virtual interactive exhibitions. Extending beyond the museums, further uses could be within exhibition spaces in zoos and botanical gardens. Additionally, organizations could showcase the app at locations such as schools or during school trips to national parks where real bees could be seen. In these examples, the target user group could be extended and applicable to all ages.
Be a Bee could also be potentially used for future research for apiology studies (the scientific studies of bees). If the gamification elements are removed and replaced with algorithms, it might be possible to use the app to model bee behavior, growth, or flight patterns, for example. Alternatively, the app could be used to understand and treat psychological disorders concerning bees (i.e. bee phobias). Be a Bee is only in its beginning phase as a prototype, but has promising potential as a tool to educate beyond the classroom.
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