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  4. 1.25 Virtual Inclusion: Tackling Hate and Extremism in the UK Using Virtual Reality Technology

1.25 Virtual Inclusion: Tackling Hate and Extremism in the UK Using Virtual Reality Technology

Academic team: Dr Peter Bloom, Prof Shailey Minocha, Dr Evangelia Baralou
Policing partners: Thames Valley Police
Status: Complete

Police officer in front of crowd

This project is introducing virtual reality and video 360 as an important anti-discrimination tool, impacting how world-leading NGOs such as  The Institute of Strategic Dialogue technologically promote social inclusion. Demonstrated for over 120 students across the UK, the MET and organisations linked to the Mayor's Office of Policing and Crime (MOPAC)  are beginning to endorse its use throughout London. It is also under strong consideration to be featured on the Department of Education’s official website and is the subject of a policy report co-written with DEMOS. In the month since their release, its free app and website have attracted users globally and its coverage by the BBC was widely viewed nationally and internationally.

This project was funded by Google and the Institute of Strategic Dialogue for close to £100K and was composed of a diverse academic-practitioner project team led by Dr. Bloom including Professor Shailey Minocha, PhD students in the field of educational technology, and members of the technology co-operative Animorph. It aimed to show how immersive and VR technologies could be early adopted by anti-discrimination groups from NGOs to educators to governments to build skills for tackling hate and extremism, especially among primary school age children. For this purpose, it build three original six minute video 360 scenarios based on the stories and direct up input of students, teachers, and relevant experts in the field including members of Prevent and the police. They allowed users to experience “a day in the life” of a socially excluded young person in order to foster greater empathy and catalyse constructive critical reflection and discussion. Once completed, the team maximized the accessibility of this resource by making it freely available as an app in both 3D and 2D along with releasing it as an open access web resource on OpenLearn. The product was, further, piloted at three VR workshops across England in Milton Keynes, High Wycombe, and Blackpool with over 100 primary school age students. Data was collected about their initial reaction to the experience and its impact on their views concerning discrimination. The positive response revealed the potential of VR to serve as a crucial technology that can be used by a wide array of organisations for fostering social inclusion. The project was also presented at the UN and revealed a similar international appetite for exploiting VR for these socially impactful ends.

The three virtual reality scenarios each depicted a"day in the life" of a socially excluded British young person based on stories and evidence collected from students, educators, and Prevent officers. They allow users to "experience" (1) an Afro-Caribbean student who is being bullied at school (2) the first day of school of a young Polish girl and (3) the discrimination felt by a student of Arab ethnicity who friends are playing a "terrorist" themed video game. Each of these scenarios is 8 minutes long and the final two scenarios allow the users to make "a decision" at their end representing various options for responding to issues of social exclusion at school.

The scenarios are now available on a wide - range of platforms including a publicly available app on Android and Apple, via a dedicated website, through an OpenLearn educational resource, and on Youtube. We have also created the scenarios so that they can be "experienced" in 3D on a headset or in "classic" 2D settings where users can explore the video 360 environment either via mouse or by hand. The scenarios can be "experienced" on mobile phones, tablets, or desktops. 

We have also created a free digital toolkit for educators across the UK and internationally. We will additionally have produced an online resource on the Open University website that will encourage the general public to engage with these virtual reality resources. Finally, we completed with DEMOS a final report for policy-makers and other leaders in the field that will summarise the project, its initial findings, and its potential impacts. It promotes the benefits of further developing this VR agenda for tackling hate and extremism in a wide-range of contexts.

Since the public release of our VR scenarios in March we have made rapid and growing progress in spreading its impact both in terms of the width of its reach and depth of its effect. The project was extensively covered by the BBC, filmed as an exclusive story that was aired on the BBC 2 Victoria Darbyshire show as well on its 24 hour news channel and global websites. We have also worked with the MET police to present this in a Turkish supplementary school as part of an effort to spread it to all major supplementary schools in London over the next year. We are also working with members of the Members Office of Policing and Crime (MOPAC) to promote this more widely in all areas of London. Looking ahead, we are in discussions to create more funded scenarios on youth violence, transgender discrimination, and the threat of far right discourses as well conduct long term trials of this technology in schools using an innovative offline educational website. Finally, we are writing a report with members of Animorph highlighting good practices for creating community - led civic technology by social enterprises.

Outputs

Title Outputs type Lead academic Year
iTunes App Mobile app Bloom, P 2019
Google Play App Mobile App Bloom, P 2019
BBC news story News article Bloom, P 2019
Demos - virtual inclusion Paper Bloom, P 2019
News article News article Bloom, P 2019
Virtual inclusion - digital toolkit Paper Bloom, P 2019
Website  Website Bloom, P 2019

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