These Two Can Show You the Chemistry Between Dank Memes and VR
VeeR: How long have you been producing VR, and why did you decide to get in this field?
Fun Man (FM): We started in May 2017. As we saw that there is an increasing popularity of 360-cameras and their ease of access to the public, we conceived the idea of apply these 360-cameras into education, as part of our passionate endeavor for EdTech to improve learning in students. This is especially so considering the use of 360 videos of real life laboratory techniques is unprecedented.
Fun Man in class, inspiring young inquisitive minds
VeeR: What’s the story behind your title, Fung Fun Man?
FM: I am the Fun Man, Fung is my family name. Being Fun Man is not easy, but I aim to be the best version of Fun Man that I can be.
Our official production title is FAAM, which constitutes our initials put together. The two AA symbols–the conical flasks–in the video perfectly symbolises our focus in chemistry pedagogy. FAAM, when pronounced, is a shorthand for family, something which we believe education should aspire to be: inclusive, inviting, and ultimately familial.
VeeR: Where did you get your sense of humor? Why are you so good at using memes?
FM: #Youdontsay Humour is in my name! Memes make my day, it gives me beacons of hope when my days are dark. Memes make me chuckle when I deal with failures. Memes carry me through good times and bad times. In all, memes motivated me for years and I use them to inspire others too. Isn’t it lit to have some fun in learning? Learning can be serious and enjoyable at the same time!
Alvita (AA): I’ve started actively sharing memes on my Facebook since about 3 years ago, and through my journey of meme curation, slowly refined my sense of humour. Memes are succinct, nicely absurd, insanely intelligent, and most of all, hit you right at the feels–I’ve been trying to look why some memes work and why some don’t and I think the key is trying to find images and/or texts which embody these characteristics… So some time is spent on brainstorming what kind of image or meme can actually fit in at parts of the video. TLDR, active meme reading.
Director Alvita in action
VeeR: When you first initiate this project, how did others react to it? What resistance did you meet with, if any? How did you get the NUS Centre of Instructional Technology and the Department of Chemistry on board, and persuade them to offer you a 360 camera?
FM: We were deeply motivated to use 360-cameras to solve some educational problems that could not be solved before, e.g. #IPOV videos using the Google Glass and GoPro cameras.
The resistance we met in fact builds immeasurable strength within our team. I am grateful to have a team of motivated and driven undergraduates who have irrepressible optimism. I have even good friends who disagree with me that 360-video will improve learning. But I never doubted my team. It was our idea, and we believe in it wholeheartedly. We did not have to prove ourselves, our mantra is to IM-prove ourselves every day. SHOUTOUT to Alvita, Hafiz, Sam!
NUS Centre of Instructional Technology (CIT) passed me a 360Fly camera to try since they had one, and I thought, let’s do magical educational projects with this existing tool. The NUS Department of Chemistry #ChemNUS supported the Ricoh Theta S via the UROPS project where I mentored Alvita to make more realistic 3D instructional videos in the laboratory, to give our students a virtual reality experience. We believe this is only the beginning of things in VR in Education. We are thankful to all who supported us in every way.
Members of FAAM Productions (Left to right, Hafiz, FunMan, Sam, Alvita)
VeeR: In your usual workflow, how much proportion do planning, shooting and editing account for respectively?
FM: We plan our shoots very carefully, trying to craft what we wish to capture. Before shooting, I discuss with my director, Alvita, on the domain knowledge we wish to convey in our videos, and the pertinent parts we would like our audience to view without missing a heart-beat. The actual shooting takes 5 to 10 minutes per video. As I wish to inculcate the value of ‘fail forward’, meaning, we are ordinary humans who makes mistakes and become better, I do not rehearse my shoot. What you see is all there is, total bona-fide moments where Fun Man teaches as if he is in a live class. There is no script.
Editing takes about few hours (~3 hours or maybe less or more; one video, the Schlenk line, took about 6 hours), depending on the length of the video, and whether I’m on fire or lethargic at the moment. Some videos which have less memes and captions are obviously much shorter to make as I don’t really have to think much about the type of stuff I want to put in. Sometimes it takes time for me to listen to the audio and write the captions because I can’t hear so well sometimes (due to the whirring noise made by the fume hood). Anyway, after editing, we would upload the videos for the producer to vet, make necessary amendments. Then we will publish them officially.
VeeR: Of all the VR projects you’ve run, what has been the most memorable for you, and why?
FM: I cannot forget the first VR projects we embarked, that is the Schlenk Line video. It did exactly what we wanted to achieve that could not be done without 360 camera: seeing the panoramic view of the whole fumehood and letting students figure out the salient parts to pay attentions to. That was also when we started using Dank Memes stickers. I was so mesmerized by the outcome, thanks to Alvita and her excellent post-production skills.
AA: I think it’s the Schlenk Line video as well, as it was our first time shooting, and it really is, up till now, a strong case of argument on why we need 360º videos in lab education (I mean the setup is just spatially complex it’s just good to put on 360º). Another is an upcoming video, the Glove Box video, which had us put our 360º camera inside a fumehood containing inert gas! The view we captured was just mesmerising and refreshing, especially the view inside the antechamber where we transfer items into.
VeeR: What has been your biggest challenge during production, and how did you overcome it?
FM: Our biggest challenge would probably be the preliminary stage–finding the right camera and the right way to edit the 360 videos. As both of us were quite new to VR technology, we had to read up quite a lot and consider the pros and cons of multiple cameras and editing techniques–how we are going to edit them and make sure students’ attentions are steered towards the area of interest at a given time. Eventually, deadlines forced us to decide promptly: we finally chose Ricoh Theta S because of its wide view and its ability to Livestream easily (because at first we considered to livestream our lab sessions as well); and instead of using Skybox 360 like many had suggested, we decided to stick to the software that we normally use, Camtasia, as we want to keep things sweet and simple for us as other prospective users as well.
Admittedly, we still feel that our choice of camera and editing can be improved, but looking back, it was quite interesting to see how we finally made it, after being clueless for some time back then.
Fun Man and Alvita working on a VR project
VeeR: From your personal experience, what are GoPro and Ricoh Theta S’s individual advantages?
FM: We wrote an article on this question: https://nusit.nus.edu.sg/technus/go_mobile/comparing-360-videos-technology-enabled-blended-learning-experience-laboratory-teaching/
GoPro’s advantage is that it is of much high resolution and audio clarity, it feels more robust, and it has higher memory and battery life. However, what it lacks is the comprehensive spatial view that most 360º cameras, such as Ricoh Theta S, would offer. This being so, it makes capturing complex, large setups, such as the Schlenk Line, or even the fumehood, rather difficult. One has to continuously shift the camera to capture the demonstration, which may lead to shaky videos that are hard to watch. With Ricoh Theta S (and other 360º cameras), one just need to put the camera down and conduct the demonstration as per normal. So simple!
VeeR: What visions do you have for the future of VR, especially in regards to its application in instructional technology? What other new technologies and gadgets is NUS experimenting with?
FM: I hope one day all our laboratory pre-lab classes will be conducted using VR, there will be virtual excursions that save cost and time, at the same time achieving the learning outcome and objectives of the course. VR can promote interest in science via experimenting with minimized safety hazards. Once learners are unafraid to experiment, they will be more confident and perform experiments with pride and will do well. When they do well, they ride in the virtuous cycle and love learning. That is the ultimate aim of helping students to learn better! #lifelonglearning
AA: Virtual excursions and experiments remain an integral aspect of VR, especially in the context of scientific education. Currently, virtual labs and classrooms have been implemented in few select institutions–for instance, UBC uses VR (I think non-360) for pre-lab assessments. These VR environments are currently mostly computer generated graphics, which may not feel as authentic as real life labs at the moment and may not prepare students as well as they were in a real life lab.
I think with the development of technology, VR can slowly evolve into something more lifelike, authentic, and immersive–for instance, some companies do develop VR dining experiences complete with other sensory attributes–and most importantly, accessible. With these developments, hopefully VR can be implemented in more institutions and truly prepare students for technical skillsets through their authentic learning experience.
For more information, visit Fun Man’s page on: