Collaborating in VR Education: An interview with School of Web Design & New Media Alum Cody Jackson

February 19, 2018

by Andrea Pimentel

Students and instructors from the Academy of Art University show off collaborative virtual reality projects at the xR in EDU event, January 30, 2018, Autodesk Design Gallery in San Francisco.


Screen captures of the Virtual Reality experience for the Four Freedoms project

What’s the future of virtual reality and K-12 education? How do you break into VR development? These are some of the questions that come to mind as I sit down Cody Jackson for a recap of his presentation at the xR in EDU event.


Cody, a recent graduate, showed off the Norman Rockwell Four Freedoms collaboration project, a joint effort of the School of Game Development (GAM) and the School of Web Design & New Media (WNM). Other presentations included Child’s Play by Tatsuma Nakano (WNM) and Junho by Adriana Catarino (GAM).


Accompanying the students was instructor Phil Kauffold (GAM) and Changying “Z” Zheng from WNM. Phil and Z were excited to take part in this event, and subscribe to the core mission of xR in EDU: to kickstart educational content in virtual and mixed reality for K-12 and higher education.


I asked Z to describe the relevance of the event. “Right now there isn’t a direct pipeline to connect K-12 educators with VR/AR developers and content creators.” She adds, “We want to develop relationships with educational content developers, and provide real-world experience for students.”


The following is my interview with Cody where he talks about his experience presenting the Norman Rockwell project and his thoughts on getting into VR technology.


Ryan Medeiros (RM): I’m here with Cody Jackson, who just recently graduated from the School of Web Design & New Media. He’s been doing a lot of VR projects recently, and he was part of the xR Mixed Reality in EDU presentation held January 30th at the Autodesk Design Gallery in San Francisco.

Cody Jackson (CJ): Nice to be here.


RM: So Cody, what did you do at the xR in EDU presentation?

CJ: From the school we had Z, Tatsuma, and myself from WNM, and Phil and Adriana from Game Development. We set up our VR projects with the Oculus on a few different computers. People would come by each project and try them out. We used this opportunity to do some user testing, asking them questions about what they thought of the experience.

There were others demoing their projects as well. So we got the opportunity to look at other people’s projects and see what they were doing differently and potentially implement some of those changes in ours.


RM: What VR project did you demo, and what was the response?

CJ: I demoed the Norman Rockwell project. It’s a virtual reality experience based around The Four Freedoms, painted by Norman Rockwell. The response was all positive. A lot of people really enjoyed it. We thought it was appropriate to bring this project to the event because it is a learning experience and fit with the theme of VR and AR in education. Most of the people that approached our table were teachers, professors — educators in various fields.


RM: And they’re trying to find ways to use VR and AR as an educational tool?

CJ: Yes.


RM: And so how does your project, The Four Freedoms, do that?

CJ: It’s meant to help people understand a little bit more about the world that Norman Rockwell lived in when he painted these influential pieces. The various rooms that we’ve built give an audience a deeper understanding of the impact that his work made on that time period, and also gives a look into the actual things that people would have used in that time period.


RM: The 1930s and ’40s?

CJ: Yeah, 1930s and ’40s, things that we don’t have in our time period. For one example, an interaction I worked on was a plane-spotting book. because this was before the advent of radar. the way that they protected the homeland from potential threats of planes flying over was having people, just regular people, looking for planes and referring to their plane-spotting book. Everybody had one in their home and it had markings and tail numbers and other identifications of whether it was a US, British, German or Japanese planes that were flying over. They would go out in their field and look up and just note down what planes they saw, and then send those in to the US Air Force.


RM: Wow, so it sounds like you’re actually able to create a VR simulation of this book, and that way students now can experience that era and technology 30, 40 even 50 years ago.

CJ: Yeah I think one of the big hopes from the Norman Rockwell Museum is that this will promote conversations between grandparents and grandchildren, between the generations. The grandparents interacting with VR technology and their grandchildren looking back at what their grandparents’ earlier life might have been like, and so kind of bridging that age gap.


RM: So the VR kind of acts as a tool to bring younger people and older people together.

CJ: Potentially. That’s the hope.


RM: So about you, you were exposed a lot to VR here at the department. Tell us what VR and/or AR is going to mean for you in your career coming up. What are your professional goals around VR and AR?

CJ: I think I’m still exploring, and honestly, that’s probably where the industry is at this point. Every company is trying to figure out what this new technology means and where it’s going to sit and so I hope to get in on that. I’m looking for jobs that will allow me to use my background in user experience and interaction design where I can influence how we interact with this new technology in the future.


RM: It seems like you’re uniquely positioned in the right place and the right time for VR. Do you have any advice for students who want to get into VR/AR right now? What should they do? What should they start exploring?

CJ: First, I would suggest downloading a copy of Unity, it’s a solid tool, and it’s free. Download the software and just start going through the VR tutorials. That’s a step that you can control. You can’t really control getting a job right away, but advancing your education and knowledge in VR is something you can control.

You don’t have to get an expensive Oculus headset. You can start out with mobile VR. Honestly, mobile VR is one of the biggest influencers, and Google cardboards are inexpensive, around $15. The first app that I developed was for mobile VR. Start developing mobile VR on your phone.

Also, classes on VR are incredibly helpful, because you have that community of fellow students and instructors. This has been my experience with the collaboration class and the Norman Rockwell project. My job throughout the week was to use the resources that I had to try and figure out the problem, and then I would go the class once a week. If I had a problem that I couldn’t address, I would take it up with the instructors or my peers.

And if I didn’t know how to fix it myself, I could go on the documentation for Unity or onto forums and ask questions, and just figure out how to address each problem as they came up.


RM: Cool. Well, I want to thank you, Cody. I think you’re an inspiration to our students. You’re doing a lot of good work, and I really appreciate you talking with me today.

CJ: Thank you.


I applaud the efforts of Phil, Z and the students to collaborate on these types of cutting-edge VR projects.


Until next time,


Ryan Medeiros


School of Web Design & New Media

Academy of Art University