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Goggles take residents around the world and beyond

GTNS photo by David Hotle

Washington Middle School student  Molly Klinzman and Halcyon House resident Caroline Kaufman explore the universe through a pair of virtual reality goggles as part of a demonstration of the technology Wednesday.
GTNS photo by David Hotle Washington Middle School student Molly Klinzman and Halcyon House resident Caroline Kaufman explore the universe through a pair of virtual reality goggles as part of a demonstration of the technology Wednesday.

To Caroline Kaufman, one second she was sitting in the cafeteria at Halcyon House and the next second she was in a field of stars looking out on the planets in the solar system in all directions.

She mareveled as she turned her head all different directions to see what the galaxy had to offer. While it was hard on her neck looking around, she couldn’t stop trying to see everything she could see through the eyeset that had been placed on her head.

“It’s beautiful,” she said of the view. “It was unbelievable to be able to see that.”

On Wednesday, Washington Middle School talented and gifted (TAG) teacher Connie Svenby brought several of her students to Halcyon House to display the 30 virtual reality (VR) goggle sets the middle school recently purchased for the program. The star field was not the only place residents could travel as with the teacher pad about 745 destinations, from the Grand Canyon to a zoo, to a tour of Europe, to the digestive tract of a human, were at their fingertips.

Eighth-grader Molly Klinzman said the gifted class works with virtual reality very often. The goggles provide a 3D rendering of anywhere students need to be without them leaving the classroom. The students also regularly train on how to guide others through the sensation of suddenly being in the center of a completely new experience.

“Virtual reality is an immersive picture experience,” Klinzman said. “You can put the goggles on and then turn around and you can see everything around you. You get the whole view.”

Svenby said the VR goggles were purchased last year for the students after she requested they be purchased for her program. Then superintendent Jeff Dicks had agreed the goggles would be a benefit to the students.

“Last year I taught geography and there are a lot of geography-based expeditions that the kids could go on,” Svenby said. “It would be a good way to show the kids the rest of the world.”

At this point, the class is doing plenty of community outreach to show the people in Washington how the virtual reality works.

On the front of the goggles, the name “Viewmaster” is clearly visible. Svenby said the goggles are the current incarnation the 1970s Viewmaster handsets that presented a photo from discs.

Halcyon House lifestyle services director Carole Martins also compared the headsets to an old stereograph. Stereographs, which Smithsonian magazine referred to as the original virtual reality, presented two photos on a long arm to provide a 3D image for the viewer. She said many had seen a stereograph, but it did not prepare them for the encompassing VR experience.

“They are loving it,” she said of the residents looking in all directions with the goggles strapped to their heads. “About 90 percent of them have never seen anything like this. These students have never known a world without computers, but these residents have never known a world with computers.”

Martins admitted to having to lure some of the residents into the exhibit. Once inside, the residents were fascinated with the VR technology.

Svenby said her goal was to make her class more hands-on for students. In the future, they will be showing the goggles to as many people as possible, including taking them to WCDC next week.