USER EXPERIENCE DESIGN | LEARNING EXPERIENCE DESIGN | RESEARCH | COMMUNICATION DESIGN
Culture connectors is a virtual reality based experience that seeks to engage young learners through a self-directed exploration and reflection of cultural heritage.
This project is a recipient of the Contemporary Take, Beyond Cultural Heritage program grant supported by the Prince Claus Fund and the British Council.
Team: Arundhati Mitter, Habiba Insaaf
Supporting Organization: British Council and Prince Claus Fund
Role: Research, Concept Development, User Experience, Learning Experience, Communication Design
Duration: 3 months | Done as a part of the design team at Flow India, India
Content Credit: Flow India
How can one engage communities, with a particular focus on young people, to contemplate on their relation with cultural heritage in order to foster reflection on a shared past, present challenges and future co-existence?
Conceived within Flow India; Culture Connectors is a creative response to this probe.
An immersive VR cultural experience which aims to move beyond facts and passive appreciation of the past to an active engagement that builds on a bigger picture of the past and present to understand continuity and change and to build empathy.
The Problem Space:
Learnings from providing cultural education in Indian schools relate to 2 specific areas:
Lack of access:
Even where cultural resources such as museums exist there are significant physical and financial barriers to taking children out of school. Lack of perceived value of cultural resources by teachers and parents and low status of arts and humanities in most school systems adds to this handicap.
Lack of scalability:
Where quality educational experiences exist they are hard to scale. Where scalable resources (online) exist, they are often unused or deliver an experience that is very low in quality.
With the goal to reach large number of learners in the most effective way that is easily scalable, Culture Connectors was conceived.
How might we make the experiential nature of a physical exploration mirror itself as a digital immersion on a technology platform without diluting the authenticity of the engagement?
Appreciation of pluralism
Increase in open-mindedness and cultural creativity
Increase cultural knowledge
Building sense of empathy in young learners
01. Site Selection:
Criteria for selection:
The selection of the site was based on several criterias like:
Capacity to engage learners in the age group of 11- 14 yrs
Ability to provoke cross-disciplinary inquiry
Ability to promote less known cultures
Ability to challenge culture and gender assumptions
Novelty & richness of the experience
The Qutub Complex:
Keeping the criteria in mind, we chose the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Qutb Complex in New Delhi, India. The complex contains some iconic buildings, pre-eminent among them being the Minar itself, a victory tower erected by the Ghorid sultans around the start of the 13th century. Beside it is a partly ruined mosque, constructed from an astonishing assortment of temple fragments that, as described in an inscription on the mosque wall, came from 27 ‘idol temples’.
The Qutub complex provided an interesting confluence, which brought together a myriad of histories, cultures, architectural styles and stories.
02. User Research and Understanding:
To design age appropriate learning framework, we restricted the age group to 11-14 yrs. In this age group, learners have shifted to adolescence and show similar social-emotional development. We further conducted more research amongst the age group across a range of socio-economic strata, exposing them to different cultural experiences to learn their needs and interests.
03. Familiarizing with the affordances of Virtual Reality:
Since none of us had ever used a VR device, this project posed a particularly interesting challenge — to design for a material and technology which is new and emerging. Under the guidance of Hyper Reality Studio, which has a purely VR focus, we were able to familiarize ourselves with the affordances of the technology; understanding the type of interactions and visuals which were possible in VR.
04. Site and Context Research:
The Qutub Complex, situated in Delhi, comes with a long lineage of socio-political and cultural history. Building a site-specific experience, required us to do in depth academic and contextual research around its long history. We immersed ourselves in a range of books, archaeological data, and site research to learn more about the complex. To structure our data, we built a framework of six buckets, which would give us a scaffold to populate research on the site and context in order to build the intricacies of the experience.
05. User Experience Framework:
IPOP Model :
We situated our experience framework under IPOP model originated in the Office of Policy and Analysis at the Smithsonian. The model developed out of many years of surveys, observations, and interviews in Smithsonian museums. It identifies four key dimensions of experience – Ideas (conceptual, abstract thinking), People (emotional connections), Objects (visual language and aesthetics), and Physical experiences (somatic sensations). The model maintains that individuals have preferences among these; they are drawn to these four dimensions to different degrees, and that a good experience must embody a good mix of all of these.
Engaged Cultural Learning:
We developed the learning framework based on the methodology of Engaged Cultural Learning™, developed by Flow India. Engaged Cultural Learning™ uses the act of engaging and exploring a cultural stimulus, to build a set of skills and dispositions relevant and essential in the 21st century.
06. Experience Mapping
Through the synthesis of our research and insights, we began the experience mapping process with a service design framework, situating the Learner’s journey through the VR experience at its core, and then mapping it to stages of doing, thinking and feeling, while framing it in the context of IPOP model and Engaged Cultural Learning.
The Qutub complex surfaces a long history, being built through time by many rulers. We designed an experience map which embodies this linear understanding of its history, through a journey through its complex and its historical making. We studied the importance of a context map as an interlinking factor which would provide the learners a situated understanding of the space.
We further built the experience on 6 key interactions and activities, which brought together the different forms of media and explorations that a learner could do within each space. The experience also aimed to bridge any kind of lack of motivation amongst the learners through an extrinsic reward of gamified interaction, which would require them to earn a full set of icons to earn the different personality types attached to them.
07. Final Shoot:
08. Beta Testing Preview:
Currently the web and mobile version of the experience is being beta tested, with an aim to reach out to 3600 learners across a wide range of schools including affordable private schools, top tier board schools, schools in Tier III cities as well as Tier I and Tier II cities in India.