Stanford Experiments with Virtual Reality, Social-Emotional Learning and Oculus Rift

[The growing popularity of Virtual Reality (VR) is moving in new directions. In this Edsurge article two schools share how they’re using VR as part of a focus on social and emotional learning. In the past simulations didn’t really engage students. The simulations were artificial. VR has the potential to change the equation. One of the leading researchers for VR is MindCET, an educational technology think tank in Israel. While they question some of the hype with VR, they feel that examples like the experiment at the Alpha School and Synapse School in California deserves our attention.]

Virtual Reality using zSpace

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

By Blake Montgomery Aug 16, 2016

What can virtual reality, the technology that arguably takes the viewer farthest away from the tangible world, teach students about expressing themselves and interacting with each other?

Two experiments at two very different California schools aimed to find out.

In May 2016 at San Jose’s Alpha Public Schools, a 13-year-old student named Jose met four Stanford computer science students bearing an Oculus headset and a laptop. Jose was among the first student to try Emoti, a virtual reality (VR) mindfulness exercise developed with the help of a $3,000 grant from inspirED, a partnership between Facebook and the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence.

Jose put on the headset, headphones and, lastly, a watch-like device designed to measure stress by tracking heart rate and sweat. The first thing he saw was a beach set against a pink sunset—a calming backdrop. Emoti’s simulation then taught him a mindfulness exercise—breathe deeply as he pressed his middle finger to his thumb—with text, CGI demonstrations of the hand motions and verbal instructions.

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Curating Tech Developments in Online Learning

[While this Campus Technology article focuses on online learning for higher education, it’s worth examining for anyone looking for ways to use technology to transform learning. The success stories provide strong evidence how technology can make learning happen in ways not possible otherwise. The projects range from an avatar for nursing students to bring the Great Barrier Reef to students through teleconferencing.]

By David Raths 08/10/16

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

New ways to deploy artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, gamification and robotic telepresence are making their way into classrooms across the globe every day. Two leaders in the field of online learning are building a website called Virtually Inspired to curate examples of what they consider the most promising efforts.

Susan Aldridge, senior vice president for online learning at Drexel University and president of Drexel University Online, and Marci Powell, chair emerita of the U.S. Distance Learning Association, looked at more than 250 projects deploying new technologies in online learning and initially narrowed that number down to approximately 50 they plan to highlight on their website, which is still a work in progress.

Aldridge and Powell want the site to provide one-stop shopping for faculty and administrators looking for innovative approaches to online learning. Increasingly, Aldridge said, students will not sit still for talks in large lecture halls, and still too much of online education involves a talking-head video rather than an engaging experience. As she went looking for new approaches that might be applied to Drexel’s curriculum, she and Powell decided to share those findings with colleagues in higher education, who could pick and choose what might be beneficial for them.

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Virtual Reality Disruption

[In this Education Next article Michael Horn looks at the opportunity for Virtual Reality (VR) to change the dynamics of the learning environment. In my work with the Montour School District I’ve observed how VR can make a difference today. I’m looking at ways for students to not only interact with VR, but to create VR.]

Will 3-D technology break through to the educational mainstream?


FALL 2016 / VOL. 16, NO. 4

Picture this: A student wears a set of goggles that transport her from a classroom in Athens, Georgia, to the Parthenon, 5,600 miles away in Athens, Greece. In an interactive, 3-D world, she peers up and down each of the 17 columns on the temple’s side and examines the fluted shafts. She notes that they have no bases. It’s easy to understand the differences between Ionic and Doric architecture here: rather than relying on textbook descriptions, those differences come to life before her eyes.

Google Virtual RealityThe technology exists to make this scene a reality in classrooms across America. And the conditions appear ripe, as well, which is fueling the latest round of eager speculation about virtual reality’s readiness to break through to the educational mainstream.

The question is whether we should believe the hype.

More Broadband, More Investment

First, schools are upgrading their Internet connectivity, which is setting the stage for broadband-dependent virtual-reality learning. The federal ConnectED initiative aims to bring broadband to 99 percent of all U.S. schools by 2018, and progress has been swift. As of last year, 77 percent of schools had access, and the FCC has signed on to spend up to $3.9 billion annually to close the gap.

Second, companies are bringing new devices to market that can provide immersive educational experiences at affordable prices. And an increasing number of providers are entering the market to offer virtual reality experiences.

In March 2014, Facebook paid $2 billion to acquire Oculus VR, a startup that offers a virtual-reality headset called the Oculus Rift. At the time, Oculus claimed its big breakthrough would be in producing a device that cost only $350—the product actually costs $600—yet would provide a 3-D, video-based experience with gyroscopes and motion sensors that would be comparable to devices that cost in excess of $10,000. Soon after, Education Week published a glowing report, quoting a teacher in Western Australia about his “awesome” experience using Oculus devices to serve special-needs students with “meditative or relaxation-oriented virtual-reality apps, such as Titans of Space, a short guided tour of planets and stars.”

In classic disruptive fashion, in September 2015 Google followed the Oculus announcement by launching Google Expeditions at a group of schools. The product consists of a cardboard viewer that costs $15, which holds a smartphone and allows students access to more than 100 virtual field trips.

The Google Cardboard viewer works with elegant simplicity. Users place their smartphone into the viewer, which houses a pair of 45mm focal-distance lenses placed an optimal distance away from the phone’s screen. With compatible apps—such as the New York Times’ virtual-reality app—the lenses create a 3-D effect, and scenes shift with users’ movements. In January, Google launched a beta app for its Android phones that allows students to use viewers to explore historical sites with their own smartphone and tablet.

Further disruption appears imminent: Raw materials and designs are for sale to enable users to create their own inexpensive viewers. And affordable copycat cardboard and plastic viewers are also on the market. The higher-end Rift is mainly associated with immersive gaming for now, despite rumors that the company may consider giving Rift viewers to schools for free.

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