Cultural Immersion for Immigrants through VR
For a course on 'Designing Technology to Counter Violent Extremism', my team focused on the cultural integration of new immigrants and refugees. I carried out an extensive user research to understand the needs of our target population and help our team pick the most impactful technology for the purpose.
My team's final product was Looking Glass, 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. Cultural, language and economic barriers lead to social isolation for these marginalized communities, which is often a root cause of violent extremism as individuals seek a sense of belonging offered by extremist groups. Our product aids immigrants to adjust to a new life by helping them learn to secure housing, find a job, learn a language and navigate their new homes.
Here is a walk through of the user research process I went through.
I started by conducting interviews of various stakeholders such as peer advisors, community leaders, attack survivors, refugees, local resettlement centers, etc. to understand the problem of social isolation, know about the existing help and infrastructure available and run through some of our potential ideas.
Across 4 months, we interviewed over 100 stakeholders in-person, via phone-calls, video-chat and emails. Since our entire team was located in Berkeley, our interviewee sample population was highly skewed to people and organizations in the Bay area and California. We also used a lot of personal contacts to get in touch with experts and extremism victims.
I summarized the insights from the stakeholder interviews to come up with the How Might We questions.
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?
Here's one of the several stakeholder maps I created. The size of the icon of a stakeholder emphasizes on their importance and influence on the muslim immigrant.
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
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
User Journey Map
Controlled Pre-post Assessment Experiment
Participant meets with experimenter A and roleplays two interactions. Experimenter evaluates performance in confidence and correctness.
Participant meets with experimenter B and engages in a training session.
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
Participant meets with experimenter A and engages in a training session. Experimenter has a list of explicit learning goals.
After a couple days, participant is sent a quiz with images from a similar, but not identical environment and asked about tasks.
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.
- 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)
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