UNICEF Innovation Fund Graduate: Imisi 3D
Locally tailored interactive Virtual Reality learning content for students in Nigeria
The UNICEF Innovation Fund is proud to see portfolio member, Imisi 3D, graduate. They’ve come a long way – from numerous product iterations to deep diving into understanding their ecosystem better, strengthening their business model, and gearing up to take their solution to market. They’re now ready to collaborate at a larger scale – as they find new pathways to work with partners, investors, and the open source community.
We did it!
As crazy as it sounds, in just over 12 months, our team researched, ideated, and built 3 educational VR modules for Nigerian students... and that’s just half the story.
In a historic first, we worked with teachers from a Lagos public junior secondary school in a co-creative process. This allowed us to get to the heart of their teaching needs and build content tailored for the Nigerian curriculum.
Imisi 3D provides locally tailored, interactive content using Virtual Reality to transform education in Nigeria where approximately 80+ million Nigerians are 15 years or younger, and nearly 10.5 million of them are out of school.
Imisi 3D’s solution provides quality education utilising VR as a learning aid, while focusing on harnessing the improved learning outcomes that VR provides and ensuring the availability of locally relevant content that meets the needs of end users.
Where We Are
We have the initial versions of our first 3 modules, and are keen to ramp up testing. Initial feedback from students and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive — they enjoy VR. Now we have to move on to the impact on learning outcomes, the need that drove our work in the first place. We are keen to conduct a rigorous study, all the while iterating, to determine how we can optimize the use of virtual reality in a Nigerian classroom for improved outcomes. We also want to understand how best to support teachers in the classroom as they teach with VR, and start to explore the nuances in the different school environments across the country.
Ultimately we look forward to scaling a product that provides an effective alternative for educational resourcing across all demographics, within Nigeria and beyond.
The creation of the modules was an intense learning journey for us. The first phase was evaluating the user research done by the project User Interface/ User Experience (UI/UX) lead, Gregory — he conducted in-depth interviews with teachers, which were then transcribed to allow for qualitative analysis. Based on this, the curriculum, and teacher guides, ideation sessions were held with the team to determine the approach for each module. Storyboarding followed, then script writing, and UI/UX design. Initial prototyping was done via sketches and role modelling; first builds were then deployed in the school for testing with students and teachers.
To get clarity and further feedback on these ideas, storyboards were created. These were sketched out on paper as perspective drawings, scene by scene, with captions describing each scene’s actions. The storyboards provided detail for the environment in each scene and the approximate positions of objects with respect to the user. Feedback was gathered from the team, including the developer and 3D modeller, and implemented. Future iterations of the storyboards were designed using a Wacom tablet and SketchBook app on PC.
To prototype interactions, we created paper prototypes and did a combination of roleplaying and Wizard of Oz with the team. Wizard of Oz prototyping is a technique in which interactions or functions are faked, and interactivity comes from a human rather than software code. Roleplaying involved recreating the conditions in which a student would use our solution, while a team member played the role of a user. The UIs were designed in Figma and a chrome extension called VRoom used to view the designs in a VR headset and get feedback. This allowed the correction of any usability issues.
Our prototypes weren’t made with code; with the knowledge collected from each stage of prototyping, we moved on to code a minimal version of the actual application. We used free 3d assets for the models, and text-to-speech and spatial audio sourced online to create the application. This enabled us to validate our ideas with the actual users on a larger scale before investing time and resources in creating our own assets. We built, tested and modified accordingly then moved on to developing with our own assets.
We conducted several usability tests throughout the project to find out if the application was intuitive, ensure that it had no adverse health effects on the students, and determine the extent to which it improved the students’ performance. For the first usability test on this project our UI/UX Researcher, Gregory, created a testing plan which outlined the desired outcomes, the research method and participants. The test was going to happen in the school’s VR lab, so the next step was contacting a teacher to schedule a time for the testing with students.
Our usability testing consisted of a combination of observation and interviews. To test for learning outcomes, we also conducted pre- and post-intervention tests.
Here are some of the insights we gained from usability testing:
- We discovered that participants weren’t able to find some objects (in this particular case examples of potential and kinetic energy) in their VR environment despite the cues given.
- From the intervention test, we discovered issues with comprehension and articulation, some participants were unable to translate into writing - in the post-intervention test - what they had seen in VR.
Being Open Source
Being Open Source helped us navigate some technical issues while developing our software. Here are some of the ways we benefited from being Open Source:
- Security and permissions: Being open-source allowed us to focus on the development of the product as opposed to constantly giving potential contributors/users permissions to use or copy the project. We are also guaranteed the security and maintainability of the code our contributors push to the project, thanks to the third-party platforms we are able to use.
- Local Community and Stakeholder Involvement: Our project has allowed us to engage with the AR/VR Africa community. As a company that is passionate about connecting communities across the African continent, working on a (Free and Open Source Software) FOSS project has provided another way to connect and engage. Members of the community, as well as stakeholders in the education sector, have asked questions and suggested features they would like to see implemented. This allowed us to create with insight from multiple perspectives.
- Cost: Several third-party platforms can be used for an Open Source project. These platforms access your project from the cloud, check the code and give feedback. Depending on your project needs, third-party platforms can help with continuous integration, test coverage, cloud build, code maintainability, etc. A great benefit for our company was access to third-party platforms for free. These third-party platforms, which automate processes and make development faster and more efficient, are free for Open Source projects.
Developing the educational virtual reality modules for our program turned out to be a challenge we underestimated. In a sense, we were venturing where no one had - going into a Nigerian public school with VR - working with the teachers there, specifically picking up on their pain points and the subjects they would like to enhance, and then co-creating educational content to align with the national curriculum and their teaching guides. Phew! Even typing that out is a whole mouthful, and it was full on from the first day.
As we move on from our year with the UNICEF Innovation Fund, a new challenge will be the appropriate positioning of our VR educational modules for the Nigerian market. We will need to find the right business model that deeply considers access and resource disparities among Nigerian students. We are already thinking about public-private partnership models that can facilitate this, and look forward to the potential of collaborating with the government and the private sector to make this happen.
We have started conversations with a number of organisations about this project. We want to provide evidence of the impact of virtual reality as a learning aid in Nigerian schools, and will be partnering with a local Edtech company whose reach extends to all states in the country. UNICEF Nigeria is another significant player, we hope to engage as they will be a key advocate and disseminator for this evidence. We are particularly grateful for this as their influence and work in education locally is well known.
The future of our work will rely on collaboration and partnerships between policy makers, educators, the private sector and the community. We will foster that dialogue by continuing our stakeholder-focused VR for Education roundtables.
Well, now we really begin to benefit from the thoughtfulness of the UNICEF Innovation Fund model. As an open source project, we look forward to constant refinement as we learn more about how best to implement the modules in different types of schools. We will also work with a partner in China to test acceptance of the modules there. In particular, we anticipate a market for the modules on Maths and Potential and Kinetic Energy.
In keeping with our commitment to the integration of virtual reality as a learning aid in schools, we will continue with our VR for Schools project, evaluating the impact of the modules in ongoing impact testing, and are currently pursuing follow-on funding that will allow us to expand the scope of the project.
Working with the UNICEF Innovation Fund
A big thank you to the team at the UNICEF Innovation Fund, for their support and genuine care. From the first field visit to Lagos in January 2019 (you are always welcome back Fabien and Chris!) through to the workshop and ongoing monthly check-ins, it has always felt like there was a whole team rooting for us and supporting us. On this entrepreneurial journey, that can often be lonely and hard, it has meant everything.
About the UNICEF Innovation Fund:
UNICEF’s Innovation Fund invests up to $100k in early stage, open-source, emerging technology digital public goods with the potential to impact children on a global scale. It also provides product and technology assistance, support with business growth, access to a network of experts and partners to allow for scale and growth. The investments can go either to UNICEF Country Offices or to private sector companies in UNICEF programme countries.