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Reconnecting roots through virtual tech

Christchurch rangatahi (youth) are creating interactive experiences using virtual technology to share their stories about who they are and where they come from.

Girls experiencing a smartphone headset

Students in Ōtautahi (Christchurch) are reconnecting with their tūrangawaewae and whakapapa (ancestral land and family ties) through learning how to use augmented reality in their storytelling.

The project, called Koneki (‘This place here’), is run by the social enterprise charity Fabriko in partnership with Ara Institute of Canterbury. 

Koneki launched with a hui in Te Puna Wānaka marae at Ara Institute of Canterbury. After the mihi whakatau (welcome speech), the young locals, whānau and kaiako (teachers) went to different parts of the marae and experienced a variety of augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies. 

Each person interacted with tablet apps that brought drawings to life, headsets that turned smartphone screens into a virtual reality world, 3D scanning software and gaming consoles with handheld controllers and headgear.

Scan of a girl  Girl being 3D scanned

“I really like the 3D virtual reality game,” says eight-year-old Mercedes.

“I liked doing everything! It’s fun,” adds Ewan, a student at Te Pā o Rākaihautū.

By showing rangatahi how digital technology is a creative, hands-on tool that can house and integrate mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), Koneki also shows that new fields of work like digital technology can still be underpinned by Māori values and traditions.

“There’s a serious lack of Māori representation in the digital technology space,” says Te Marino Lenihan, Kaiārahi at Ara Institute. “I’m hoping that this kind of mahi will help more of the next generation see themselves – and then put themselves – at the forefront of digital innovation”.

Boy using the virtual reality headset and controller

Although the launch involved giving rangatahi a taste of several different types of ‘realities’, the project itself  - which takes place in schools once a week throughout the year - focuses mainly on augmented reality (AR).

AR apps work by layering digital elements on top of the real-time view, as seen through your smartphone or tablet camera. The apps are programmed to use the device’s camera to scan and detect specific items, known as markers, in the real world. These markers then trigger the app to respond by presenting a ‘pop-up’ digital component superimposed on the camera’s real world view.

In Koneki, each student will have chosen a unique image that fits their personal story and manipulated it so that it becomes a marker, with a printout of the image placed in the real world to trigger the app.

Girl using an augmented reality app on a tablet

“We chose AR because it’s a relatively inexpensive way to show how you can create digital realities without the big expense of creating an entirely virtual world, which is what virtual reality requires,” says Carl Pavletich, who co-founded Fabriko with Bridget McKendry.

Bridget adds, “I can’t wait to see what the kids come up with, and to see what happens when we pass these tools to them and they put their experiences onto it.”

Carl says that the augmented parts of the students’ creations will range from animated art to videos of the students themselves. The videos will be recorded with a green backdrop so that the videos' backgrounds can be made invisible with special software, creating the illusion that the rangatahi are really there, but only when viewed through the app.

Boy interacting with a mixed reality holographic headset

The kaiako and mātua (parents) were just as excited as Carl and Bridget about Koneki.

“All stories start with a picture, so the first step is for the students to take a photo of somewhere very special to them. It can be somewhere outdoors that means a lot to them, like a river or forest,” explains Ana Kahika, kaiako at Te Pā o Rākaihautū.

"I'm most looking forward to taking what we learn from this and weaving it into our teaching programme. It'll be really great seeing what the students put into it and what they get out of it."

Boy interacting with a mixed reality holographic headset

Parent Diana Bates says she particularly likes how the project will creatively enhance the students’ knowledge of te reo Māori as well as strengthening ties to their ancestors.

"We will use the technology to acknowledge our mountains, our rivers, our waka, and our whakapapa. Our past is really important: we need to look back to move forward. And using this platform is a great way to do this."

Her son Ewan adds, "I think it will be really cool doing this stuff at school."

Visit the Koneki website

Boy experiencing an augmented reality app

About the project

Koneki logoKoneki is run by Fabriko in partnership with Ara Institute of Canterbury, with support from the Unlocking Curious Minds fund.



Unlocking Curious Minds

Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.

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