The other day I was designing a sensory room for a school and discussing with the staff the needs and requirements for the space. As always, there were very varied ideas, from using it for early visual and sound stimulation, through to the need for a stunning interactive, multimedia, cinematic, smelly, touchy-feely presentation studio! Further on in the discussion we decided to incorporate an iPad into the sensory studio, which led to the idea of the whole sensory room being controlled by an iPad or iPads! And that’s when it dawned on me.
I am a great fan of Infinity tunnels, fan lights, sound to light walls and sparkling wall carpets, but each of these products is very costly. So, a little hunting for the right apps and perhaps we really can replicate these effects and experiences with iPads? Apps are generally a low cost investment, so is this going to be a really cost-effective way to design a space with the ultimate flexibility?
By using data projectors, especially the ultra short throw type which do not cast shadows, or even ‘Pico’ projectors, we can re-create many of the wall-mounted, boxed lighting effects available. This can be achieved with ‘Soundalla’, a voice controlled sound to light visual effect app which runs through the internal microphone on your iPad. By using the Apple ‘Camera Connection Kit’ you can then connect a USB microphone to the iPad so localising the sound.
Fireworks displays, interactive fish tanks and a whole host of effects can be projected onto a wall. I think the only drawback is that the iPad does not have external switches at the present time, however, it won’t be long until these are available.
Let’s take this a step further, to interactive multimedia presentation facilities in sensory studios. These do exist, but they are very expensive and the content is supplied and controlled by the individual sensory companies. Only one company can fix it and only one company can supply the software and content. This makes these systems very limited in their use and, a few years down the line, they can become obsolete more quickly than you hoped. Add to this the fact that most run from a PC and many staff in schools do not feel confident in using these systems.
I hear the counter argument – just one company controls the tablet market at the moment, but Apple are big enough to offer masses of support and masses of content. There are over 500,000 apps in the store – available NOW for just about every subject you can think of! So there is a lot of content already out there – from apps about Egypt, science, numbers, storybooks, or relevant pictures which can be projected big or small onto a wall! Or the sensory room can become a
music studio, using complex apps like ‘Garage Band’ or the more simple ‘Magic Piano’. The options are endless!
So does this mean that we can do without bubble tubes, fibre optics and all of those other items that we normally see in sensory rooms? I don’t think so, because our children and students still need the tactile input that the iPad does not offer. However, think about how many experiences that an iPad can create in a sensory room, which are currently complicated and/or very expensive to do! We have been using small ‘Jambox’ and ‘Bose Soundlink’ bluetooth speakers to create vibrations through inflatable chairs to help students with a hearing loss ‘feel’ sound using instrument apps like ‘Thumb Jam’, which they can also control themselves! A win win situation!
In the first design, I have created docking points on the walls for each iPad, however this could also be done remotely through ‘AppleTV’. Remember though that ‘Apple TV’, like many wireless links, can suffer from a little bit of ‘lag’, so a wired connection is quicker especially for some apps such as ‘Dragons’. I also like the idea of having little ‘one-to-one’ or small group area within a sensory studio. Having two or three IPads projecting around the room will enable practitioners to differentiate the learning needs of the children or students. So at one end of the room there is some wonderful early vocalisation work using ’Soundalla’ taking place, but on the other side of the room ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ or the story of ’TinTin’ is the basis of a literacy session. The opportunities are enormous and remove the need for complex computer systems – by using a portable system that is simple to operate. A class can take their own IPads into the studio and simply place them in the dock and carry on the work that they were doing in the classroom – in a much bigger and interactive way! Practitioners can plan sensory studio sessions without being in the studio – even from home!
There is one other thing… I still find practitioners deal much better with sensory rooms where
there are switches, which can be directly attached to the bubble tube/fibre optics without having to go through a complex control system. If the iPad is the most complex thing in the room, nearly anybody will be able to use it. Is the IPad the answer to all of our needs in sensory rooms? Of course it isn’t, however as the technology moves on, we may find that it is not just making it easier to deliver content to our children and students, but is also a lot cheaper. It is also future proofed to a degree, as apps which work on the IPad one and two will still work on the New IPad (3).