How do you go on a school trip when you can't go to school?
National Historic Ships UK is one of the heritage organisations to take advantage of a recent offer we made to fellow Heritage Alliance members of creating a free virtual gallery, part of our efforts to support the sector during lockdown. They are based at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, so it was fitting that we approached the school physically closest to them, Meridian Primary School, to offer their pupils the opportunity to go on a school trip with a difference.
Following close liaison and planning with the Year 4 teacher, Jeff Mason, a detailed note was circulated explaining how the kids could access the National Historic Ships exhibition in our gallery space, The Arcade. It is built on Mozilla Hubs, which we chose because unlike most VR platforms it is available to anyone with a web browser, a critical consideration for any virtual experience designed for mass audiences, as The Arcade very much is.
Then it was time to open the doors and welcome the kids in! Pandas, foxes, robots and all sorts of other characters popped up as they chose their avatars and came into the gallery. This was the first time many of them had been in direct contact with each other for many months, since lockdown began, and they quickly delighted in moving around the gallery and chatting away to each other. We left them to discover the chat functionality, and then how to bring 3D emojis into the space, which they did within moments.
Jeff himself was highly visible as a bright yellow floating robot, and after giving them time to enjoy themselves exploring the gallery together, asked his pupils to engage with the National Historic Ships photography exhibition itself. They looked at the photographs and chose their favourites, took a few minutes to sketch them and imagined what it might be like to sail on them.
But mostly they just had fun! They hadn’t been able to see each other for months, and through the magic of this virtual experience they were brought back together again. Since the Year 4 trip, the other classes at Meridian that have not been able to return to school have also visited the gallery. Years 2, 3 and 5 all enjoyed their own trips, and came together in The Arcade. This was immersive technology for real purpose, and it was such a pleasure to be a part of it.