What do users think makes a functional metro station? How can school children plan their own environment visually? Can residents express their ideas to improve the urban environment visually and share them with decision-makers? In March 2018, Espoo took the plunge and went along in a digital trial of augmented reality, which aimed to study the suitability of new technology for helping schoolchildren and local residents become involved in the planning of their own environments. The goal of the trial was to develop digital skills among children and city residents and involve them in urban planning in an easy and enticing way. The trial was conducted in accordance with the Espoo joint development model, in cooperation with 3DBear, the company that developed the augmented reality application. Three Espoo-based schools and the Espoo City Museum took part in the effort.
Pupil workshops were initiated at the Meritori and Tapiola schools. The use of the application was explored first. Pupils and teachers can use the application to add their desired elements to their environment digitally and examine the view on the display of a mobile phone or tablet. With the design tool, you can easily move, remove and replace fixtures or plants, for example. Classroom teacher Kati Jääskö-Santala took part in the workshop with her 3rd grade at Meritori School and, encouraged by the positive experiences, continued the trial in the autumn with her new class at Koulumestari School. “At the beginning of the workshop, the pupils got to use augmented reality to mark locations at school with emotion symbols, indicating what they found nice, scary or conducive to learning. The results provided new information. For example, many wanted the cafeteria to be more pleasant and comfortable, although I personally think it’s already nice. Some of the marked locations were surprising as some found the school toilets, for example, highly unpleasant. In the midst of their hectic day-to-day, teachers may not notice how pupils feel about a comfortable work environment and select certain locations based on their own views. The trial provided teachers with important insight into the pupils’ preferences, which can be used to ensure optimal learning. The exercise also expanded my own views about comfortable premises. I’ve noticed that I often find that, for a location to be pleasant and comfortable, it needs to have been built for the purpose,” Kati Jääskö-Santala says.
The pupil workshops continued in September when Tapiola School 8th graders were mobilised to plan the Tapiola metro station from the perspective of various user groups. The young people examined the functionality and comfort of the metro station from the viewpoints of children with families, commuters, youths, senior citizens and disabled persons. Working in the actual environment produced numerous new ideas to develop the metro station:
• one direct lift connection down to the metro tracks (not just the parking garage)
• more benches and plants
• a pedestrian crossing to the parking garage
• voice guidance for the visually impaired
• an info board is required
• more clocks in visible positions – possibly times from different countries
• presentation space for companies in the empty areas
• clearer signs indicating the locations of toilets and lifts, for example
• lower stair railings – small children can pass under them
• more visual decorations and art
• moving walkaway to enable passage with carts and baby carriages
• play areas for children
Correspondingly, 4th graders from Meritori School planned the upcoming Kivenlahti metro station and visualised their ideas with augmented reality. Based on these ideas, the pupils then built the metro station from 3D-printed miniatures. The scale model is displayed at the Espoo City Museum. “It was a pleasure putting the pupils’ work up for display in the pop-up exhibition area in the KAMU Lobby after the trial. As originally planned, they will also be included in KAMU’s next changing exhibition “Katse horisontissa” (Eyes on the horizon). Since the museum has also worked to support school education in accordance with the new curriculum, a trial of this kind was deemed to be an excellent way of implementing pupil-oriented multi-disciplinary learning,” Museum Educator Tiina Hero says.
Active city residents show their value
On Espoo Day, local residents were provided with a new kind of opportunity to participate in the planning of their own urban environment. The workshop was organised in collaboration with Espoo City Museum. Valia Wistuba, Development Manager of Espoo's Digiagenda strategy, is satisfied with the day: “It was great to see how well the application was received among local residents and customers when we took to the streets in the centre of Tapiola on Espoo Day. The locals appreciated that the City of Espoo is interested in the development of urban spaces and environments and hearing the residents’ wishes and feedback.”
The proposals submitted by the residents on the development of the urban environment were also forwarded to the regional planning architect for review. The trial indicated that an easy-to-use digital solution can be used to engage residents of varying ages in the development of their own urban environment.“The trial was extremely interesting from my viewpoint, since we also got to test the utilisation of augmented reality from a variety of perspectives. It was wonderful to see how the 3DBear application could entice both children and young people in schools as well as city residents to create ideas on the development of their own local environment. I think that augmented reality applications have a great deal of potential in terms of engaging local residents in development efforts,” says City of Espoo Chief Digital Officer Harri Luttinen.
In conjunction with the WeeGee+Design event, 3DBear was involved with a workshop of its own. This enabled the application to be tested under guidance on museum premises and the museum to be shaped through augmented reality. “Participatory projects related to modern Espoo are still a new thing for Espoo City Museum, so the trial also challenged the museum itself to act in a new way,” Museum Educator Tiina Hero says.
The next steps
The trial culminated in a presentation event at the end of November, which provided school children and representatives of the city and 3DBear alike with the opportunity to voice their views. Everyone’s experiences had been very positive. “The Espoo digital trial was extremely successful. We were able to test phenomena-based learning in a new way utilising augmented reality and technology that had previously only been used for playing games. Finland has a unique opportunity to take pole position in international competition for XR technologies. Innovative cities, such as Espoo, that are not afraid to try new things are quite simply making it possible for start-ups to emerge in this fields,” 3DBear’s Chief Operating Officer Jussi Kajala says in summary.
“The 3DBear application is an excellent tool for developing creativity, which enables children to immediately see the functionality of their own ideas in an authentic environment. The application has almost limitless opportunities for use in school environments,” classroom teacher Kati Jääskö-Santala says. She looks forward to planning and designing other school spaces and the surrounding environment with pupils. 3DBear's Education Lead Maria Muuri feels the same way: “Schools need participation and pedagogic tools that support independent thinking and growth into active citizenship. Digital technology and augmented reality are excellent for this kind of work. It is particularly valuable that the application can be used to share ideas and suggestions visually with the latest technology. Sometimes a picture is worth more than a thousand words.
Espoo City Museum has already turned its sights on the future. “We initially got involved in the trial excited by the opportunity to model the history of locations in Espoo in the present, in accordance with 3DBear’s trial proposal. We’ve had good experiences with trials in the context of both pedagogic and digital projects. In the actual implementation phase, the trial was steered towards modern-day, future and increasing engagement among children, in accordance with the museum’s new vision, since this seemed like a fruitful perspective for all those involved. We wanted the pupils’ voice to be heard in the development of school environments and the local urban environment. The trial proved that an augmented reality application would be a great way of engaging a large number of pupils in the planning of their own environment, even without the necessity to allocate human resources from the museum or the Premises Department1. In this way, the operating model could even cover all schools in Espoo,” Museum Education Tiina Hero reflects.
The 3DBear AR application is available from the AppStore and Google Play.