The ability to explore City of Lethbridge facilities will soon be in the hands of the students of Dr. Robert Plaxton Elementary School – literally! Several Virtual Reality (VR) experience videos are in development so students can learn about City facilities without even leaving their classroom.
Andy Tyslau, Vice Principal of Dr. Robert Plaxton Elementary School, began by reaching out to different City of Lethbridge departments to see if they would assist in the creation of virtual field trips. With a camera and a few lapel microphones, Tyslau has since been able to create 360-degree virtual tour videos for his students.
Tyslau's first goal was to develop content for his students. After working through the pandemic, another objective was to find creative ways to bring field trips to the students.
"As more experiences and more field trips become available, it became more and more clear that sometimes it is cost prohibitive," says Tyslau.
Partnering with the City helped Tyslau begin to create local content for not only Dr. Plaxton students, but for any student or individual interested in the content.
The 360-degree video process began with Lethbridge Fire and EMS, who helped produced three pieces for the project: one on an ambulance, one on a ladder truck and one on a rescue truck.
"These videos will provide students with the information they would get from doing a fire station tour while allowing them to control the angles," says Troy Hicks, Fire Prevention Officer with Lethbridge Fire and EMS. "A unique element to the virtual tour is that viewers can see the maximum height on the ladder truck's platform. This is something we would not be able to do during a physical tour of the station."
Another partnership involved the Waste Water Treatment Plant. Stephanie Vehnon, Water Wastewater Communications & Outreach Specialist, says that as an educational opportunity, it allows viewers to get a sense of what goes on at the facility.
"You don't think about what happens when you flush your toilet or when you turn on your tap," she says. "It's a totally different experience learning the whole process."
The most recent video Tyslau is working on is a tour of the Waste & Recycling Centre. With Dr. Plaxton being the first school in Lethbridge to utilize solar power energy, it was important to capture the different conservation processes that occur at the Waste & Recycling Centre, he says. The City of Lethbridge recycles concreate, asphalt, porcelain and brick and block into aggregate products and wanted to ensure these aspects of the Waste & Recycling Centre were highlighted.
Receiving an in-depth tour from Nathan Bueckert, Waste & Recycling Communications and Outreach Technician, Tyslau was able to venture to areas of the Centre not all patrons get to see.
"We were able to film the VR tour at places that large tour groups are not able to attend due to safety concerns," says Bueckert. "Students will be able to explore the landfill face, the commercial drop-off and see the large equipment up close in action."
These VR experiences will also provide an inside look to spaces that would not be regularly accessible to touring onsite in-person. As indicated by the school, some offsite facilities can be challenging to explore with young groups and onsite safety concerns are eliminated by having theses virtual resources.
"Departments have been very patient and very open to going wherever we want to go and check it out," says Tyslau. "They were open for us to film in different areas where tours can't get in, because it is just one person rather than a class of 35."
Once completed, the videos will be available for both the school and City of Lethbridge departments to use for future educational purposes. Further opportunities for additional content may be explored in the future.