UNICEF Innovation Fund Graduate: Utopic Studio
Helping educators make classroom learning more engaging by converting traditional curriculums to virtual reality learning experiences
The UNICEF Innovation Fund is proud to see portfolio member, Utopic Studio, 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.
Our team, Utopic Studio, has developed an online subscription-based platform that provides an easily downloadable and customizable virtual reality games library for PreK-12 learners.
Virtual Reality (VR) is a growing technology that has been expanding and captivating new audiences. Children and young people are an important part of these new audiences as they are undoubtedly eager to engage with this type of technology.
Our platform includes an online learning management system, transformation of schools’ curriculum to virtual reality, a pre-packaged library of ever-growing virtual reality games that are built in collaboration with renowned publishers, training sessions for teachers for easy adaptability, and an activity tracker to track the learning activities of the students.
Our technology allows teachers to include formative or summative assessments in the virtual reality world that provide our resources to then receive instantaneous statistics on the individual or group performance. The teacher can quickly modify or apply our resources to create a learning path that fits their own lesson plan for the year.
One of the major challenges faced by children is their engagement and motivation to learn; however, the same children show high motivation and engagement while playing video games with their parents or when they are at home. So, our goal is to bring this engagement to the classroom by merging traditional classroom teaching methods with virtual reality gaming that would drive more engagement and motivation to learn.
So far we have carried out usability tests with 500 students who have happily engaged with the experience of using VR. We carried out the first part of the testing to validate the usefulness of conducting assessments using VR. Our second part of user testing looked into how to implement this technology into the classroom. This has been extremely important to develop and iterate our technology — during the past year, we also carried out focus groups and individual interviews with children and teachers to learn about their perceptions about their experiences using the product.
In addition, each game undergoes extensive design stages. For example, for the Puss in Boots game (pictured above), the first stage of design was critical to deliver a new experience that has a unique balance between reading and game mechanics. Our team of artists focused on designing the character from the fairytales, a crucial part, in order to deliver an engaging experience for children.
The team then worked hard on different iterations for how children will interact with the text into the VR app.
Finally, after 3 months of development, Utopic´s team finished the first version of the game. Over the course of those months, we iterated around 3 times on different versions, as we aimed to optimize the content and 3D assets to improve children's experience. In the beginning we inserted a tutorial to explain how to interact within the game, but it took too much time to do, and it was not practical in a classroom context. So the team decided to simplify mechanics and interactions in order to make it easier for teachers and students alike.
Our experience with children using VR is extremely positive, even though for many children it was their first time to use a headset, they engaged and learned to interact with the technology extremely fast. The problem we have had is that children do not want to quit the experience! One of the schools that we remember the most is a rural school where the children did not have many experiences using video games or engaging in digital practices. For them the use of the headset was extremely motivating and they were happy to participate in the experience.
For the team it was a challenge to move into open source development because you need to think in terms of future collaboration. It was hard to integrate new practises among the team in order to reach the contract requirement for the open source technology. There is a standard for open source development that is important to follow up, such as the coverage test, continuous integration and the type of licenses used. So it was interesting in terms of organizing the development task in order to accomplish and deliver a good project for the open source community.
Next set of goals
We are committed to promoting social development through access to quality education that equips people with 21st century skills and helps them succeed in their careers and life. We are especially driven towards improving children’s reading skills. The promise of literacy involves the belief that through literacy, people will achieve social mobility.
We have gained immense success through partnerships with public and private sectors. We recently signed a channel partnership agreement with the publishing house Vicen Vivens that gave us access to its 9000 schools worldwide. We are also working closely with Telefonica Foundation to tackle the educational problems faced in OECD countries. Lastly, we have signed partnerships with education councils in Chile that are helping us implement the technology into schools across Chile.
Finally, for the coming year we want to reach 20 schools in Chile and 5 schools from the Latin American region. We want to keep expanding our solution to the rest of the region by making more partnerships with publishers and resellers.
UNICEF Innovation Fund
One of the great parts of working with the UNICEF Innovation Fund is the people you meet from different regions of the world who are fighting to improve health, education, economy by innovating in their contexts like with us in Chile. It is not an easy task to improve critical areas with little resources and political issues. Considering these factors allowed us to improve and adapt our methodology of work to be able to address needs both from a local and international perspective.
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.