Finding your new career can be as simple as strapping on a virtual reality helmet, thanks to a Winnipeg-based new media startup company.
The Campfire Union specializes in e-learning using digital learning resources, games and virtual reality. Their latest creation is Tower Crane VR, designed with the Manitoba Construction Sector Council to help prospective students decide whether they’d be interested in a career as a crane operator.
“[Tower Crane VR] gives access to people who might not want to get into an actual crane right away,” says Rachael Hosein, Chief Creative Officer and co-founder of The Campfire Union. “They can try it out before making that investment in furthering their education.”
The Tower Crane simulator uses Oculus Rift, the world’s first consumer virtual reality helmet, and allows users to control the crane’s hook, trolley and rotation using a video game controller.
“One of the things we always say is, ‘Practice makes perfect’. So with any sort of training instance, the closer you can get to reality, the better – taking someone through an experience where they react to a situation that’s as close to real life as possible.”
Luckily for Hosein, a 2009 grad of Red River College’s Digital Media Technology program (now called Digital Media Design), deciding what to study wasn’t difficult.
“I’ve always enjoyed combining art and technology. A friend of mine… suggested that I look into the DMT program. As soon as I read up on the program, I decided that I wanted to learn how to make games and applied.”
Hosein, 33, first got involved with creating adult education digital resources during a work placement in her last year at RRC.
“I did my work placement at an organization… was hired on shortly after, and remained there for five years starting as a New Media Designer and eventually moving into the Digital Media Director role.”
Recently, she began feeling “inspired by the amazing things being developed in the city and the positive community spirit that supports the new media industry in Winnipeg.”
Along with a longtime friend and colleague, Hosein quit her job and joined forces with two others to start The Campfire Union earlier this year.
“The four of us share the same vision of using ‘technology for good’ and together have a significant amount of experience in digital media development, e-learning, and the creation of training materials, so the forming of The Campfire Union was an exciting next step,” Hosein says.
So, why the name?
“It’s about bringing people together,” Hosein explains. “That feeling when you’re sitting around a campfire and telling stories. You’re sharing with each other and passing on knowledge through your experiences in a very comfortable and supportive way. We wanted to bring those values into everything we do.”
According to Hosein, combining storytelling and play is an easy way to learn.
“It’s a natural way that people learn. When we can play through an experience or a scenario, we understand it more.”
Furthermore, the independence inherent in e-learning makes good storytelling all the more important.
“The use of technology in learning is increasing. The concept of learning from a teacher in a classroom is being reframed. We’re creating some independence around learning, while still getting the benefits of being guided through the experience.”
E-learning and virtual reality can be very beneficial for companies when it comes to offering training and programs that can accommodate individual schedules, locations, learning styles and paces, while also helping to reduce company costs and waste, and ease the assessment process.
“For rural communities, instead of having someone fly in to deliver training or having to leave home to attend school, technology and quality e-learning can make training much more accessible and effective.”
For Hosein, who in her free time is an avid gardener and sustainable living blogger, a favourite client has been Small Farms Manitoba, for which The Campfire Union works on branding and website development and maintenance.
“It’s a resource connecting Manitoba producers and consumers,” she says of the site. “Producers of food and products in the province can profile their farm, products, events, etc., and consumers can search for local food and products and connect with the farmers that produce them.”
While Hosein describes opening her own business as “absolutely terrifying,” working with great colleagues has eased the process. Also being part of Winnipeg’s technology startup community in what has been dubbed ‘Innovation Alley‘ has helped.
“The community itself is incredibly supportive. It’s shocking, actually, how encouraging everyone has been.”