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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How Virtual Reality Could Change the Way Students Experience Education

[As I discover the power of AR/VR activities, I’m more convinced than ever that these technologies will make a major difference in our world in the coming years. Here’s an EdTech article that outlines the potential and limitations of what the authors call “micro-experiences.” Here in Pittsburgh I’ve been lucky to see the power of the technologies at the Virtual Immersion Lab at Montour High School and recently at the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference.]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.

The headlines for Pokémon GO were initially shocking, but by now they’re familiar: as many as 21 million active daily users, 700,000 downloads per day, $5.7 million in-app purchases per day, $200 million earned as of August. Analysts anticipate the game will garner several billion dollars in ad revenue over the next year. By almost any measure, Pokémon GO is huge.

The technologies behind the game, augmented and virtual reality (AVR), are huge too. Many financial analysts expect the technology to generate $150 billion over the next three years, outpacing even smartphones with unprecedented growth, much of it in entertainment. But AVR is not only about entertainment. In August 2015, Teegan Lexcen was born in Florida with only half a heart and needed surgery. With current cardiac imaging software insufficient to assist with such a delicate operation on an infant, surgeons at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami turned to 3D imaging software and a $20 Google Cardboard VR set. They used a cellphone to peer into the baby’s heart, saw exactly how to improve her situation and performed the successful surgery in December 2015.

“I could see the whole heart. I could see the chest wall,” Dr. Redmond Burke told Today. “I could see all the things I was worried about in creating an operation.”

VR’s applications are impacting almost every aspect of our lives. Caregivers are using VR to treat dementia, helping patients to regain memories and enriching elderly lives in other ways. Churches are using VR to help shut-ins connect with social groups. VR is letting people virtually scale Mount Everest, tour museums and attend concerts, athletic events and Broadway. VR has been used to solve crimes and influence juries. Training exercises for pilots, soldiers, astronauts, teen drivers, and factory and construction workers utilize VR to permit training without unnecessary risk. The New York Times and other media have released special VR news stories. Google notes that global searches for the term “VR” are up 400 percent since last year.

In many of the ways that VR will enhance other human experiences, so too will VR enhance education. By making remarkable experiences available to students, this new era of affordable VR technology can transform education.

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Dissecting Eyeballs and T-Rex’s: Virtual Reality in the Classroom

[The Montour School District, just outside the city of Pittsburgh, has taken the lead in integrating Virtual and Augmented Reality into their curriculum. I joined a team two years that wrote a grant to fund the zSpace Virtual Reality Lab that helped to put the school district on the VR/AR map. In this Edsurge article Justin Aglio, the Director of Innovation, outlines how the district is using the emerging technologies to create more active classrooms.]

By Justin Aglio Sep 8, 2016

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0


In the fall of 2015, the Montour School District opened its doors to a new Virtual Immersion Lab. At first, students did not know what to expect (nor the teachers). However, on his first day using the lab, a physics student engage with virtual reality and expressed, “This is like hands-on learning, without wanting to let go.”

It was clear the risk was worth the reward.

Though new virtual reality and augmented tools come out and hit markets seemingly every month (like Pokemon GO—you knew I was going to bring it up somewhere), the educational value of VR and AR may still be unknown to many educators. However, there is no slowing down for new development of VR and AR technologies. And at Montour, there’s no slowing down, either.

Here’s a peek inside how we’re bringing AR and VR to our students—and how you can, too.

Inside the Virtual Immersion Lab and Montour’s Plans

The Virtual Immersion Lab at Montour is powered by the virtual reality edtech tool zSpace, which creates a 3D learning experience for kids. Through zSpace, students are able to dissect an eye-ball, T-Rex, 1968 Dodge Challenger, or almost anything they want—virtually. Students are also using the virtual reality tool for electrical engineering, physics, biomedical engineering, and mold clay models.

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