The Library, UW and Peeka Introduce Children Ages 7-11 to Virtual Reality Book Experiences
release date: 09/02/2020
In a Zoom meeting this summer, with staff from The Seattle Public Library and the University of Washington (UW), children ages 7 to 11 worked in small groups to discuss paper circuit projects they had made, drew artwork incorporating their projects, and imagined how a community newspaper might report on their work.
The children were participating in KidsTeam (kidsteam.ischool.uw.edu), a digital- and design-focused collaboration, led by professors and graduate students at the UW’s iSchool. The Library uses feedback and design ideas from the kids and adults to refine future programs – an approach known as “participatory design.” In KidsTeam, children design along with adults who provide a space for children to explore ideas and share what matters to them.
KidsTeam has hosted participatory design sessions covering sumo-wrestling robots, electronic circuitry, and storytelling through video games. Now, they're moving into virtual reality (VR) with help from local startup Peeka, which takes children's books and turns them into an immersive VR experience.
"Kids really benefit from participating in this program – they get to design their own learning, and see their ideas come to life," said Juan Rubio, the Library's digital media and learning program manager. "Not only does this build social confidence and communication skills, but it's a rare opportunity for kids to have their voices heard while they work side-by-side as equals with adults."
The first VR book the KidsTeam is working on is "Pearl Fairweather: Pirate Captain," written by Jayneen Sanders and illustrated by Lesley Danson. In the book, a female pirate captain negotiates with a different, curmudgeonly pirate. The book teaches children about gender equality, respectful relationships, empowerment, diversity, leadership, recognizing bullying behaviors and how to prevent violence.
"Collaborating with The Seattle Public Library and KidsTeam has been extremely rewarding," said Michael Wong, Peeka CEO. "Together we're giving this bright group of kids the opportunity to design for virtual reality, not only to make things 'cool' but to use virtual reality as an empathy tool. We're challenging KidsTeam members to help us use this experience to teach kids around the nation about empathy and respect in a fun, immersive way."
Using VR headsets made of cardboard and a smart phone, the kids are transported into a world of pirate ships and seagulls. They are learning to think about perspectives – what would a scene look like if you turn to the left or look down? They use their imagination and the VR book to literally walk in a character's shoes, and provide feedback to help shape this experience for other kids.
While KidsTeam is largely supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, donors to The Seattle Public Library Foundation cover the equipment used in the program. Currently, the group meets online while all Library locations remain closed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Through these online sessions, the Library has gained an understanding of the different technological needs and best practices for alleviating challenges such as poor video or audio quality. The KidsTeam online model continues to be modified through feedback from the kids, as well as debriefs with adults facilitating the sessions. The Library plans to share these techniques and methods of engaging children in an online space, which has become even more important as schools shift their classes online this fall.
Peeka is a mobile platform that works with publishers and authors to bring children's books to life in VR, so kids can jump into the pages of books and let the stories happen all around them.
The Library supports children and youth by giving them opportunities to excel and learn through our educational resources, classes and staff assistance. We help level the playing field for underserved populations by forming strong partnerships to offer support with student success.
All physical locations of The Seattle Public Library are currently closed in accordance with public health guidelines. Find out more at spl.org/ChiefLibrarian. Visit the Library’s Road to Reopening page for more information on book returns, Curbside Service and other Library services being offered while Library buildings are closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. You can now place new holds on physical Library materials.