Let’s Jam! It's time to create Virtual Reality Worlds

 Among an incredible diversity of exciting and inspiring events provided by the Togliatti State University within the tenth ALL DIGITAL Week, the first Hackathon on Creating Web based virtual reality (VR) apps (Web VR Jam) was an absolute hit!

 The hackathon targeted schoolchildren aged from 13 to 18 and aimed to introduce teens to the powerful VR technology, bring them new opportunities to practice their engineering skills and work on interesting problems, as well as develop today’s essential digital workplace skills such as spatial and creative thinking, team-building spirit and collaboration skills.

 Six schools, the partners of the University, joined that staggering initiative and welcomed over 100 teens from 14 schools of Togliatti and the region. To provide access to all young VR enthusiasts, who applied for the hackathon but couldn’t travel for the live version, the organizers hosted online event.

 To enter the competition, the participants had to form up to three person teams (students and a trainer/mentor) that comprised a designer, responsible for a project idea and content, a programmer/developer who would integrate the idea/content into the development environment, and a project leader (mentor) to distribute the responsibilities between the team members and monitor the process.

 As AR and VR are so new technologies, participating designers and developers were not expected to have the AR- and VR-specific experience, so skilled trainers and experts provided training for the participants, and young creators then dived into their virtual worlds.

 The hackers were challenged to create VR apps using Vizor.io, a free online platform for developing Web VR. First, they had to come up with an idea of a virtual world and prepare required additional material (videos and images). The theme for projects was creating virtual tours in real or fictional spaces, fairy worlds or 3D models moving in space.  The next step was to describe the projects according the requirements, determined by the organizers, send a link to their project via the registration form, and demonstrate it to other participants.

“Web VR Jam is a new event format for us. The idea for a VR hackathon came to me after we had launched the Center for Virtual and Augmented Reality in Togliatti. We wanted a hackathon that was diverse, open and collaborative to stimulate the emerging AR and VR technology conversation. We invited Togliatti schools to join the event and I was amazed that 14 schools, including rural ones, responded!  And it turned out to a real Jam with a delightful vibe, where developers created VR applications, were exposed to new ideas, explored new technology, made new friends and had fun”, Olga Mikheeva, the organizer of the hackathon, Togliatti University lecturer, shared her thoughts about the event.

 Projects were evaluated by the five-person panel of judges - IT experts, who worked really hard for almost 5 days to find and pick the finalists from the participating teams.

 “I was totally inspired by the young people who took part in this amazing Hackathon. They created incredible projects! We are proud of everyone who dove into the VR platform and made it to the finish,” said one of the experts.

The overwhelming positive feedback from the hackathon participants proved that it was a huge success!

"What a staggering initiative! I loved everything! While preparing for the event, we learned so many great things about AR! The projects were just amazing!" (CS teacher, Togliatti)

 “It is great to host WebVR app jam in our school! Thanks to our Computer Science teacher for giving us this opportunity! We certainly want to win, but participating in Jam and getting experience in creating VR apps is also great!” (a 15 year old participant)

 "It turns out it’s actually not that hard to make a VR app, even if you don’t have any 3D or coding experience. I enjoyed the jam!" (a 16 year old participant)

 "Teachers have to learn how to use latest new technology, because they will have to interact and guide students on how to use this technology, and it will also bring teachers closer to students. This hackathon was a perfect place to be with my students, to work and have fun with them, and to learn new technology." (CS teacher)

The top fifteen teams will take part in the final that will be held within the Science Festival in autumn 2019.

 You can see here some examples of passionate VR pioneers' groundbreaking projects

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