Thursday, March 9, 2017

Notes on Blindess

Since I spend a fair bit of my free time playing games and dabbling with VR I thought I’d resurrect my blog as a way of noting down things I find interesting. People understand VR to mean virtual reality but in a neat technology fit voice recognition also bears the same initials so I’ll be writing about both and in keeping with my blog name, probably anything else that pops into my head.

For the record my go to VR devices are google cardboard, Daydream and Alexia. I like playing with all these things out of my own tech curiosity but since I spend my days talking about tech and language teaching, I naturally always look at something with my teacher head on.

One of the common uses of VR, the virtual kind, is to watch 360 films, allowing you to be immersed in the world of such things as whales and sharks. So, for my first post, I want to look at one of those, but one with a difference.

Notes on Blindness’ doesn’t so much open a new world but rather immerse you in the dark, gloomy world of a person whose sight is failing. Based on the real audio diaries of John Hull, who kept audio diaries as his sight deteriorated, the app recreates elements of his world. Like many 360 videos, it can be watched on a device screen, but it is within the VR headset that you truly get a feel of what it is like to lose your sight. The darkened world with pin pricks of light and your brain trying to work what it is you're looking at. As the audio diaries play the pinpricks take on different forms from children playing to cars on the motorway. Here you can see as the experience begins, trees loom out of the dark and a person walks across the view.

As a VR experience it is one I find myself going back to, the sound of John’s voice over the spectral images is compelling if slightly disquieting.

From a teaching point of view, the app can be used to promote language in a number of ways. On one level, there is the discussion to be had at discovering what it is like to be losing one’s sight.  Listening to John and deciphering the images and trying to locate what he is talking about is authentic listening. His pace of voice makes it not too hard for students to follow, though for some the language used might be a bit ungraded. 

It would also work well in a traditional activity of viewing without sound. In this way the learners can try and work out what they are seeing, work together to construct a rough outline of what they saw then listen again with sound to confirm and find out what they missed. Since, for obvious reasons, there is lack of detail in images (unlike the sounds John hears), a logical next step is to work on the language of description with students adding adjective etc to their basic outline of what they saw.

Notes on Blindness is available for both IOS and android and chapter one is also available in the Within storytelling VR app.

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