Educating in Virtual and Augmented Reality

Ed Barton Curiscope CEO

Digital Catapult Centre Brighton’s February VR meetup focused on exploring the role virtual and augmented reality can play in the teaching and training of students, at any age. 

Brighton-based Curiscope, who are pioneering cutting-edge immersive technologies in education, were on hand to lead the proceedings. 

Ed Barton, the firm’s CEO, was on hand after the event to answer our questions about immersive technologies now and in the future, and explain why they made the decision to recently relocate from London to Brighton. 

Can you tell us a bit about Curiscope?

At Curiscope our belief is that everybody, everywhere has untapped potential and brilliance within them. The challenge is that for most of us, this genius is never made known because they simply don’t get the chance to experience that particular avenue. Unfortunately, this means for many their genius simply passes them by – what if no one had ever handed Picasso a paintbrush?

That’s where we want to make use of VR and AR. As the technologies becomes more accessible, they give people the chance to have an increasingly embodied experience of a greater range of activities than they would otherwise be able to access.

I’d like to think our work to date embodies exactly that. With Great White Sharks, 15m people have now been able to experience something that was inaccessible to them in a way that’s enriching rather than sensationalist. Our hope is that in amongst these views, the seeds of marine biologists and conservationists have just been sown. We want a better world and enabling millions to think differently is one way we’ll achieve that.

We explored training, learning and education at our last meetup. Why do you think VR provides such a unique opportunity to teach and educate?

It’s hard to understand something until you experience it. I often fall back to this as a reason why we do what we do and why I think learning is so important in VR. That’s the essence of what we’re trying to do: enabling people to experience things, concepts or places when they otherwise could not. It’s not every day that you can go down to a molecular level, travel out into space or go back in time; in VR you can do all three in half an hour.

Technology is there to enable people and to give us the freedom and the space to ask questions of the world. That’s what excites me; learning-led VR that’s there to enable creative and critical thought.

What do you think is the future of VR for teaching?

Firstly, I think it’s important that we don’t force VR on the education system before it’s ready. Schools and teachers do a fantastic job under an unbelievable amount of pressure and the tech world has a tendency to want to ‘disrupt’ everything. The reality is that teaching is unbelievably complex, inherently personal and underfunded. But I think as much a part of the problem as anything else is that we view education as something that exists purely in schools. Our belief is that learning never ends and it shouldn’t be separated from our day to day life.

We’ve already got great examples of how VR can be used in schools – Google Expeditions is one. This is very much what we believe in – granting access to corners of our world which we could never otherwise reach. Beyond this, we want to look at something grander. We’re interested in how the medium can actually get you to explore yourself. How can we teach people to look into their own responsibility; responsibility to themselves, others and the planet.

Curiscope have recently moved your offices from London – what attracted you to moving your offices to Brighton?

Brighton has always been a hub of creativity and with some of the best game development talent in the country, it felt like the perfect place to be. There’s other advantages as well; the community is physically closer here and I think that’s incredibly important in a medium like VR to enable the fluid exchange of ideas and thought. Unity is obviously here as well, which is a great benefit in an industry where you’re often on bleeding edge codebases. Finally – it’s Brighton. There’s a much better work-life balance and I’m super excited for life down here over the summer!

What do you think is special about Brighton as an environment to be working on VR?

I see a lot of LA and San Francisco in Brighton, even if it’s a lot colder right now. There’s an openness to originality and creativity, which attracts a lot of people with an attitude that matches ours – you can hardly move for life drawing, theatre, street artists and all manner of bizarre and colourful activities.

There’s also some fantastic, highly experienced people from the game industry that we have the fortune of being able to learn from. On the very first day here, we were invited out for dinner and felt immediately immersed in the community. In VR, this all matters – you’re using existing skillsets to influence an entirely new medium; it’s a mix of gaming, artistic and startup thinking and it suits the city perfectly.

We also had presentations from Microsoft HoloLens, The University of Sussex’s Psychology Department and Progress Films. Did you have any takeaways from the meetup?

I found the Hololens presentations and Dr. Peggy St. Jacque’s research into out of body experiences to be particularly interesting – I think we’ve barely scratched the surface of the potential impacts and applications of the technology. What I always love at VR Brighton is seeing an active, involved, diverse community. It’s great to see familiar faces and to see talented people working in the space.

What is next for Curiscope?

We’ve had a pretty mind blowing first year – it was incredibly hard work, but extremely rewarding. From nothing, we launched and shipped a product and created one of the most viewed VR experiences of all time. Now it’s about following up on that success and turning this into the most exciting company to work for in Brighton. We have some major projects that we’re launching this year that we have complete creative control over; they’re very different from anything else in Brighton or VR full stop.

We have at least 10 positions to fill in the next six months, with a couple of roles we need to fill in the next few weeks. Beyond anything else, we are looking for talented people who feel passionate about what we do. If building these inspirational and impactful experiences is what drives you, then please get in touch.

Join Digital Catapult Centre Brighton’s mailing list to keep up to date with their news and events. If you’re interested in presenting or showcasing your VR/AR concept at one of their future meetups, please email richard@wiredsussex.com

Are you an early stage immersive technology company? Check out Augmentor, a 10-week programme providing mentoring and access to cutting edge immersive tech facilities.

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