Virtual reality comes to Isle of Dogs

At Christchurch Isle of Dogs about two months ago we installed sensors on all of the bells to help train a new band. After we saw the latest release of Abel at the Roadshow we installed it and acquired a spare projector (my clients don’t need me to take my own projector to presentations these days). By moving some of the peal boards we had a perfect screen on the opposite wall, with near life-size images of the ringers.

At our tied bell practices over the last couple of weeks we have tried various things, with excellent results. By using the ‘add method’ feature we have been able to add various kaleidoscope exercises (dodging and place making), as well as many of the exercises in ART’s teaching tool box. Even experienced ringers find it difficult to jump in and ring a method straight away on the simulator, but the moving ringers and the use of the various exercises to split down the learning process into small manageable steps really helps.

Our new ringers have been able to progress much quicker than at a normal practice. The problems with a normal practice are that you can only give each beginner two or three ‘prime rings’ in an evening (a touch specifically for them with a strong band around them) – and the experienced ringers don’t want to spend all evening just ringing things for the beginners. With the new release of Abel, I have been able to give the new ringers much more rope time in an hour and a half session, so they get more practice to perfect things, and are being brought on much faster. They also tell me that it is less intimidating, as they are less worried about making mistakes in front of other people.

We were also able to have useful discussions about striking. Without prompting I found that several of the beginners were watching the striking display at the bottom of the screen to see how far out they were. It was particularly useful to slow the peal speed down to 4:30 and to have a discussion about counting your place and including an open hand stroke lead, and then to get them to count along, before gradually speeding up. It was much clearer than doing this in real time.

Teaching people how to lead was also much easier to explain. By slowing the motion down I was also able to show how the treble needs to wait till the tenor is almost catching their sally, before the treble pulls off to start the next handstroke. I know that ropesight is not as accurate as ringing by rhythm, but I am pretty sure that my new ringers are using a combination of both senses. With our multi-bell interface I have also found that two new ringers can practice ringing rounds at once, so long as they are not on adjacent bells – 2 and 6 work well.

Although it’s not the same as ringing with real people, it is far better than previous versions of simulator software and allows us to do far more with our beginners. We have effectively been able to set up a second practice night, without the need to find four more experienced ringers each week, and who are prepared to ring just rounds, call changes, kaleidoscope exercises and plain hunting all night long. Just what is needed if we are to train new ringers, and to enable them to progress fast enough to maintain their interest, on anything like the scale that is required.