Safeguarding VR - an ultimate form of self-reflection

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The impact of new soft skills training tool Safeguarding VR is palpable because you, the learner, interact directly with a highly realistic ‘survivor’ of sexual harassment. It might be simulated, but it feels real

Quick read

➨ Safeguarding VR is a soft skills training tool for the humanitarian sector
➨ The training tool allows learners to ‘swap’ bodies and experience a workplace conversation about an incident of sexual harassment from multiple perspectives
➨ It’s available for free via the Humanitarian Leadership Academy’s Kaya platform

The story

Safeguarding VR, the new training application from London-based BODYSWAPS and not-for-profit the Humanitarian Leadership Academy (part of Save the Children UK), puts learners in the middle of a conversation about workplace sexual harassment, and tasks them with observing, making choices and—ultimately—participating in a conversation with a survivor of an incident.

As the experience begins, you are asked to observe a conversation between Susan and Mary. Susan, who has been volunteering with the non-profit where Mary is working, discusses inappropriate advances from a senior colleague, John, which escalated from lending her money, to giving her lifts in his car, and finally to an offer of a full-time position in return for spending one night with him as her ‘real’ husband.

Experiencing this conversation through Oculus Quest as a third-party observer is uncomfortable enough, particularly as Mary makes several mistakes, including an offer to “just call John while you’re here and we’ll sort this out right now”. But then Safeguarding VR runs you through a series of questions, to see if you understand where Mary went wrong.

Upon completing this part of the training, the BODYSWAPS aspect kicks in. The experience builds on existing research to leverage embodied VR scenarios as a way to elicit empathy and self-awareness in order to affect real-life behaviour. You use your own voice to respond to Susan’s increasingly difficult questions and points. Finally, you get to swap roles and step into Susan’s shoes and listen back to yourself from her perspective. Here, you experience how you came across, and in so doing, understand the inherent difficulty in such conversations and develop an appreciation for the importance of following best practices. The impact of the experience is palpable, because you, the learner, are interacting directly with a highly realistic ‘survivor’. It might be simulated, but it feels real.

‘Reflection is the secret ingredient in learning from experience’

BODYSWAPS chief executive officer and co-founder Christophe Mallet says: “This experience is the ultimate form of self-reflection, one that is only possible in VR. Reflection is the secret ingredient in learning from experience. It activates several key learning processes at once and bridges the ever-elusive gap between training and work.”

Atish Gonsalves, who now runs Gamoteca, an MR mobile learning platform and authoring tool, oversaw the creation of Safeguarding VR when he was global director of innovation for the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, a not-for-profit organisation that supports front-line workers with online learning and training, primarily via Kaya, a global online platform for the humanitarian sector.

He says: “My focus over the past few years was on emerging technologies, to make the learning and training more engaging, immersive, interactive and compelling. To achieve this, we developed game-based learning tools and scenarios, low-tech VR experiences such as 360° videos, and chatbots. The aim was to take an online platform such as Kaya, which focuses on e-learning through self-guided learning modules, webinars and so on, and add more immersive learning like Safeguarding VR.”

“Learning retention is high and trainees remember what they have learned for longer, and they stay much more engaged and complete the learning experiences.”

Atish Gonsalves, Gamoteca

“Safeguarding VR is highly immersive and engaging and complements via practice the knowledge and learning resources available on Kaya, Gonsalves says. “Learning retention is high and trainees remember what they have learned for longer, and they stay much more engaged and complete the learning experiences.”

Initial pilots were carried out with the UN Agency for Refugees, the International Training Centre for the International Labor Organisation and Norwegian Refugee Council, which enabled Safeguarding VR’s creators to gather useful data on the potential of using VR in broader soft skills training.

“The levels of engagement from learners we measured were very high,” Mallet says. “Over 95% of people who tried the experience would, for example, recommend it to their colleagues. This is an important first step as user acceptance is key to learning.”

“Secondly, over 85% of learners reported looking to apply what they had learned in the simulation to their work. That’s after a single 15 minutes simulation! The confidence to translate learning into the real-world is what behavioural training is all about so that’s very encouraging.”

“One other thing to note is the importance of onboarding. Safeguarding is a sensitive topic brought to a very immersive medium and preparing learners ahead of the experience is crucial to ensure a safe learning journey.”

A sensitive subject

To deal with safeguarding sensitively, the Humanitarian Leadership Academy worked with subject matter experts to identify the behavioural traits preventing reporting and devise an experience to practice overcoming those in a safe environment.

Gonsalves says: “During the production phase, it was very important to work with respected subject matter experts in the field. Even when we were doing the motion capture and working with actors, the scripts were very well vetted. It was really important during that period that we got it right.”

To ensure that Safeguarding VR does not act as a trigger for learners who have had similar experiences, sufficient guidance was provided for individuals and organisations to tread carefully when using it.

“Most people were comfortable enough with Safeguarding VR and experienced that emotional, visceral reaction that you want to see from something like this, and will hopefully stimulate organisational change.”

Atish Gonsalves, Gamoteca

Gonsalves says: “Most people were comfortable enough with Safeguarding VR and experienced that emotional, visceral reaction that you want to see from something like this, and will hopefully stimulate organisational change.”

Safeguarding VR is available for free via the Humanitarian Leadership Academy’s Kaya platform. Oculus Quest, Android and iOS versions are available, and the academy will support any organisation in the aid sector with rolling out the experience.

The BODYSWAPS soft skills training platform has also gone live, with modules on active listening, clear communication and challenging non-inclusive behaviour available. The platform is available in English and French, for all major standalone VR headsets.

Main image: As Safeguarding VR begins, you are asked to observe a conversation between Susan and Mary
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