Every child is born a scientist, with curiosity to explore the environment through experimentation. However, in practice, science education still very focuses on transmitting facts instead of encouraging exploration. Playful science practice in classrooms is very challenging to facilitate due to the limitation of safety, money and laboratory infrastructure to facilitate.
But what if we could create a middle ground between science and fantasy, a world where kids can discover and experiment in ways that could be impossible in real life but still true to science? This project is to design an imaginative and accessible tool to help kids develop a scientific mindset and practice through play.
Wonder-LAND is a mixed reality book system that empowers kids to discover the unseen and experiment the impossible through play. The system combines AR and VR technology with various traditional paper-based mechanisms from pop-up book, cut-out toys and movable cards to bring a world alive. In such way, kids interact with the tangible material, paper, that they are most familiar with, to unlock magical 3D phenomena. The combination of high-tech solution with low-tech material creates a safe, flexible and magical environment for kids to play without fear.
With Wonder-LAND, kids can discover things that are not visible to naked eyes through metaphorical paper tools, such as magnifier or a x-ray light. And they can conduct experiments impossible in reality by creating their own universe and controlling parameters, for example the climate or the time. Throughout the book, kids are taken on a journey by a virtual character who asks obvious questions, suggests activities and shares the excitement. And those playful interactions spark their curiosity and passion for more in-depth scientific learning.
My intent is to design a learning toolkit meaningful and accessible for children, while having interactions novel and functional. To achieve that, I experimented integrating two different design approaches, the user-centered design (UCD) paradigm, with the technology-oriented HCI research.
In Sweden, I started observing, interviewing and holding workshops with all the stakeholders, including children, teachers, educators and parents, and pinpointed three main design opportunities: ‘Discover the Unseen’, ‘Experiment the Impossible’ and ‘Experience the Story’.
At MIT Media Lab, I examined different ways of combining physical reality with virtual content, and decided to integrate AR with paper-based mechanisms. I experimented different paper mechanism through functional prototypes and tested with users and educators. The evaluation proves Wonder-LAND fun to play with and capable of fostering various activities that caters the goal of science exploration. The final result of Wonder-LAND consists of a system architecture, functional prototypes as well as multiple examples of possible experience applications.
Wonder-LAND was first shown at MIT Media Lab. The final result was exhibited to the general public and industry representatives at Sliperiet art gallery as part of the UID17 Degree Show, as well as the Dubai Design Week 2017.