Welcome to Simuli: a virtual reality simulation app and video series that provides an immersive experience that aims to build empathy for a neurodiverse population. Simuli strives to move users beyound reaction, to action, by immersing immersing them in some of the challenges that some people confront on a daily basis. It also provides some helpful advice that can guide both instructors and students to better relationships in school and beyond.
Simuli attempts to recreate the experiences of neurodiverse students in familiar school settings. Students select from three scenarios, play the simulation, and afterward receive a brief description of what they just experienced in an explainer video. The intent is that by the end of the simulation, the student should have a better understanding of the challenges experienced by their neurodiverse peers, and be able to employ some simple behaviors that can help them integrate into normal school activities.
The simulation was a collaborative effort to increase empathy for neurodiverse peers, made by students, for students… and teachers. The EPIC + KCAD students involved in the project worked collaboratively with faculty and neurodiversity experts to conceptualize, produce and execute a simulation experience that was both impactful and educational. Interviews, studies and user tests were carried out to ensure authenticity.
Get The Simuli App
Choose one of the links below to download the APK file for side-loading to your Android phone. Then view the app using a Google Cardboard headset. The LoRes version will provide smooth playback on most phones. The HiRes version will provide smooth playback on high-end phones.
View The Simulations Via Video Screen Capture Below
This simulation is from the perspective of a student with anxiety who is struggling with the pressure of group activity in a class setting. The student uses stimming, in the form of pencil tapping, to soothe themselves.
Simulation 2 is from the perspective of a student with dyslexia. They are in the lunch line struggling to read the menu while their peers become impatient. A fellow student offers assistance with reading the menu.
In this simulation, the viewer is in the perspective of a student with OCD. The class has been assigned a group task to create a poster. In order to keep things organized the student with OCD keeps all the markers for themselves. This causes the group to become upset, but a helpful peer explains that they will help put the markers back in a neat way after the project is complete.
Any small repetitive sounds that are difficult to block out such as: buzzing lights, ticking clocks, or tapping feet.
Difficulty correctly reading or interpreting words, symbols, and sentences. The letters often will look jumbled up or will be missing pieces.
Things that become disruptive to concentration visually such as: flickering lights or light intensity.
The repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals to calm oneself.
User Testing Overview:
We will be user-testing the app and reporting our findings over the next few years. If you have interest in participating in the tests, please contact Bill Fischer: email@example.com
VR in Education
Teaching and building empathy in the classroom by having students step into the shoes of their classmates will help move our next generation of leaders towards building better relationships; now, and in the long-term, for the communities we live in.
Using this as a part of your curriculum in addition to bringing in other materials and having your students share their experiences, may help to break down barriers.
Below are links that will direct you to a couple sites where you can purchase VR goggles:
Over the course of three semesters, groups of KCAD students worked on the Simuli project, putting together one simulation each semester. The first group set the groundwork for what was to follow as each group built up the project to its final state.
When each simulation scenario was started, groups first had to decide on their subject. Who are we building empathy for and how will we do it? Research and interviews with people on the Neurodiverse spectrum were done to answer these questions and to be sure that we would accurately represent their experiences.
Once a topic was selected and research was done, we started in on writing the story we wanted to tell. Each simulation tells the story of someone dealing with their condition and the social anxiety that may accompany it. Stories make it easier for anyone not on the Neurodiverse spectrum to connect with those that are. Seeing through someone’s eyes as a story unfolds before you makes it easier to build empathy for someone who experiences the world much differently from the viewer.
While the assets are being built, someone works on the sound for the simulation. They gather voice actors for the characters and decide how the space will sound, wanting it to mimic a real classroom space as much as possible. Voice actors go into a recording booth and say their lines, then the sound designer takes the voice lines, cuts them, places them in a timeline, and times them all out with one another.
The stories were written out in the form of a script, and then it was time to decide how the story would look. One or two people got to work creating a storyboard that would act as a guide for those that would build the simulation itself. While storyboards were being created, a list of objects, called assets, that would appear in the simulation was made and another team began work on building those assets.
When assets are complete, and the sound is in progress, a team starts the process of animating! Depending on what is required for the story, the animators either find animations for characters with Mixamo, or animate the characters from scratch. The animation team for the third simulation used live footage of members of the class to base their character movements off of, to be sure it all looked realistic.
After the animations, assets, and sound are completed, it is time to compile it all together in unity. Not everything always works together perfectly, so the team has to take the time to fix any errors that may have occurred during this step or earlier ones, adjusting the sizes of objects or the timing of sounds or animations so that everything is cohesive and tells the story seamlessly.
It is then time to run some tests. We put the simulations onto phones and strap into some headsets to be sure that everything runs well and that no further adjustments are needed from our perspective. But the tests don’t stop there! We have to be sure that our messages get across with people who have never heard the story before and better yet, people that are part of our target audience. We set up user testing and have students from local middle schools test the VR simulations and see how they respond. If a large number of them have trouble understanding something or tell us something is off, we then have to go back into unity and adjust those things to be more clear or accurate. Only then can the project really be considered complete.