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Looking Glass

Looking Glass

Cultural Immersion for Immigrants through VR

Adjusting to a new life for immigrants and refugees is difficult. From securing housing, finding a job, to learning a language, there are many things they must learn to navigate their new homes. It can be confusing and intimidating.

Due to cultural, language and economic barriers, immigrants and refuges face challenges with integration, leading some to be socially isolated or marginalized in their new communities. Social isolation is a root cause of violent extremism, often because individuals seeks a sense of belonging offered by extremist groups.

Looking Glass is a Virtual Reality training program that pairs community volunteers with new immigrants and refugees to teach the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in their new communities. 

 Example VR learning environment with vocabulary and text overlay. Instructors can simultaneously share the same view with beneficiaries and ask questions to build inquiry-based learning skills.

Example VR learning environment with vocabulary and text overlay. Instructors can simultaneously share the same view with beneficiaries and ask questions to build inquiry-based learning skills.

Stakeholder Research

Conducted more than 100 interviews in-person, over the phone, videochat and via email. Interviewees included stakeholders ranging from peer advisors, community leaders, attack survivors, refugees, local resettlement centers, etc.

Hady Barry, Ex-Muslim Refugee from Guinea

Brief reason for picking: First-hand experience growing up as a refugee in multiple countries and being a Muslim minority

Insight 1: People who are separated from their “tribe” latch on to their identity even more strongly than they normally would had they stayed – they exhibit extreme behaviors to compensate for loss of identity.

Insight 2: After being isolated for a long time, people become comfortable with being by themselves and deprioritize integration into their community.

Camille Nickow, Criminology Expert

Brief reason for picking: Worked closely with prison inmates and formerly incarcerated people in rehabilitation and reintegration programs

Insight 1: People who successfully complete rehabilitation programs are usually grateful and in turn become champions for people like them (e.g. former Neo-Nazis helping other Neo-Nazis break off ties)

Insight 2: In addition to rehabilitation, at-risk individuals also need a path to return to normalcy so the focus isn’t just on their past but also their future.

Nic Ming, Director of Projects, Bread Projects (group interview)

Insight: Refugee workers are not always passionate about what they're doing. They grab opportunities available to them. Are highly collaborative. Program measures success based on how students utilize new skills.

Hannah C, Volunteer at English in Action

Insight: Some cultural norms need to be addressed such as age-deference relationships to make someone comfortable engaging. A major goal of conversational practice is to build confidence, not perfection.

Interview Insights

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How might we engage with local communities to provide support and services to at-risk individuals?

How might we intervene during the aftermath of an extremist attack to reduce marginalization and build more cohesive communities?

Stakeholder Map


Journey Mapping

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Value Proposition


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Theory Of Change


Prototype 1: Video and Survey

How effective is watching a 2D video at familiarizing someone with a foreign environment?

Our hypothesis: Exposure to a space, even through a digital medium, can increase perceived comfort and familiarity with a space. Participants surveyed about their familiarity with a place, shown a video about it, and then subsequently surveyed again.

“Practice and maybe someone explaining what is considered right and wrong would help me learn better.”
“I’ve actually watched this video before but I feel I won’t get the confidence until I actually do it once.”
Current ways of learning- Ask friends, search online, avoid doing tasks., Feel uncomfortable while ordering at a restaurant, what to do on a normal weekend, starting conversations(need to be politically correct, greeting, no common topic, scared of being judged), hooking up at Frat parties

Prototype 2: Photosphere Exploration

How much do people explore when presented with an immersive environment, and do they ask questions?

Our hypothesis: Immersive environments can teach observation, inference, prediction, and pattern-making skills that will help newcomer immigrants and refugees acclimate to their new communities.

Participants given a phone with static 360 image of an environment, participants encouraged to explore and ask any questions while experimenter asked them questions about being and acting in the space.

People need a good amount of time to familiarize themselves with an environment before they start exploring
Being able to see the same view was important in discussing specific people or objects in the environment
People initially take some time to overcome the novelty of the technology, but tend to interact more later.
More framing work needs to be done to help establish a scene to encourage people to associate themselves with the space

Beneficiary Archetype: People who have stayed in the US for < 5 years who intend to join a community, but still (at least occasionally) feel apprehension or anxiety participating in certain routine situations in English.

Analogous Environment

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We attended an Intro to Backpacking workshop at REI to see an example of teaching someone about a new experience they could have before they actually experience it in person.

  • The environment was pleasant and conducive to questions and reengagement
  • The use of props helped supplement the discussion
  • The instructor’s genuineness and expertise was key to retaining interest and credibility

Hi-Fidelity Prototyping

Prototype 1: Play/Pause

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  • Freedom to Ask anything
  • Ability to roleplay
  • Power to be elsewhere

Technological Implementation

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Instructor's Manual


User Journey Map

User Testing

Controlled Pre-post Assessment Experiment

  1. Participant meets with experimenter A and roleplays two interactions. Experimenter evaluates performance in confidence and correctness.

  2. Participant meets with experimenter B and engages in a training session.

  3. Participant meets with experimenter C and roleplays two more interactions. Experimenter evaluates performance in confidence and correctness.

Goal: Determine if training improves confidence and clear communication using social norms.

Assumption: Performance in virtual space correlates to performance in real space

Concrete Knowledge Retention Assessment

  1. Participant meets with experimenter A and engages in a training session. Experimenter has a list of explicit learning goals.

  2. After a couple days, participant is sent a quiz with images from a similar, but not identical environment and asked about tasks.

  3. Participant is evaluated based on ability to retain knowledge about tasks and apply them to similar environments (i.e. a different coffee shop)

Goal: Determine if this method of training is conducive for retention.

Assumption: Short term retention leads to replicability in physical environments.

Measuring Impact

  • Community – civic engagement (e.g., going to local townhalls, homeowner association meetings, or school parent-teacher association meetings); community participation (e.g., going to local religious establishments, community events, volunteering); application for permanent resident status or citizenship
  • Language – language acquisition using standard assessments like TOEFL

  • Self-reported well-being – survey beneficiaries about feelings of social isolation, new friends made, outlook on future, etc.

The main motivation behind our product is to increase social integration for immigrants and refugees. There are a few things that we could measure for impact:

  • Employment – success rate in finding a job (jobs offered/total jobs applied); reduction in time to employment (months); reduction is redundancy (i.e. getting fired or laid off)

  • School – reduction in time to enrolling in school; school dropout rate; academic achievement (GPA); extracurricular participation (# of clubs or sports joined)

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Looking Glass was created as part of Designing Technology to Counter Violent Extremism, a course offered by the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation at UC Berkeley and the Department of Homeland Security.

Team: Advaita Patel, Daniel Pok, Howard O