What the coming educational VR revolution teaches us about the tech’s future

[It seems like I’m on a VR/AR roll. In this TechCrunch article, Peter Sena outlines a variety of ways that VR is already changing the K-20 landscape. He highlights tools like zSpace and Engage. In previous articles I’ve shared my first-hand impressions of zSpace. I agree with what Peter Sena has described. It really does engage students and allows new opportunities for learners to investigate situations like frog dissections or machine manipulations that would have been dangerous or cost-prohibitive in the past. I’m especially interested to find schools who have looked at Engage. I want learners to be creative producers, not creative consumers.]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

 

by Pete Sena, CRUNCH NETWORK CONTRIBUTOR

Imagine the following scenario: A fifth-grade science class has just begun and the teacher makes a surprise announcement — today the students will be dissecting a frog.

I’m sure you remember dissecting a frog as a kid — the sour-pickle odor of formaldehyde, the sharp scalpels slicing into rubbery skin. You don’t have to be an animal rights activist to grimace a bit thinking about it.

But here comes the paradox. In this scenario, like-minded fifth-graders who are queasy about cutting open animals are excited to participate in this dissection. Indeed, no animal was harmed when the specimens were collected. What’s more, the teacher promises the students that they won’t have to clean up a messy station afterward.

How? Thanks to the paradigm-shifting creations of zSpace, an educational VR/AR company, students can harmlessly dissect an animal on an interactive screen known as the zSpace 200. Students wear a special pair of glasses equipped with sensors and use a stylus that allows them to engage with a virtual image that can be turned or even disassembled.

By importing VR/AR into the classroom, one minute students can explore the anatomy and organs of an animal without harming it, and the very next build and test circuits or set up experiments that test Newton’s laws.

For young students who have been inundated by tech in almost every other domain of their lives, this form of learning comes naturally.

“Kids say, ‘Well of course it should be like this.’ They believe they should be able to reach into a screen, grab something, pull it out, and interact with it,” said Dave Chavez, chief technology officer of zSpace.

While VR is often discussed as a gaming technology, the gaming applications of VR are simply the first wave in a sequence that will profoundly shape the way we experience content over the next five years. Educational startups have been working on VR material for classrooms ranging from kindergarten through medical school. Current estimates project that the global edtech market will reach $252 billion by 2020; VR will capture a big chunk of this pie.

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