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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The Trends and Challenges Shaping Technology Adoption In Schools

[For the past two years I’ve served as the co-chair of the CoSN Emerging Technologies Committee. However, even before I served in this capacity I turned to the Horizon Report each year to better understand the shifting sands of Educational Technology. I used the Horizon Report in my own forecasting as a CTO and in my work as an adjunct professor. In this Mindshift article you’ll find a great summary of the emerging trends, short-term as well as long-term, with the challenges ahead for educators in K-12.]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Every year for the past 15 years the New Media Consortium and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) have been taking the pulse of where education technology stands among K-12 educators. A panel of 59 experts from 18 countries discussed major trends in education that are driving the adoption of technology, as well as the big challenges to effective implementation. This collaborative effort helps to paint a picture of where things stand now and where they might be going. This year NMC and CoSN have also put together a digital toolkit to help educators and policy leaders start conversations about these trends in their community, with the hope that some of the changes they see happening in pockets around the world will become more broadly accepted.

“It gives lots of way to facilitate activities at a PTA meeting, at a school board meeting or a local chamber of commerce,” said Keith Kruger, CEO of CoSN. “We’re hoping you don’t see the report as something you read once and file away, but that you start using it to really start stimulating conversation.”


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Virtual Reality in K-12 Education: How Helpful Is It?

[In my work with schools I’ve begun to see an increasing use of Virtual Reality. The Montour School District uses zSpace with its elementary, middle, and high school students. This summer I helped to coordinate a Summer Institute for STEAM Innovation sponsored by the South Fayette School District. Heather Mallak, a local digital innovator, developed a workshop that focused on Augmentative and Virtual Reality. If you start with Augmentative Reality, you can keep the costs very cheap. You don’t need sophisticated technology. You can create Green Screen worlds where students visit historical buildings or travel to global destinations.Discover in this Converge magazine article some of the possibilities and resources you might want to consider.]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

This article originally appeared in the Q2 issue of Converge magazine.

With school budgets tight and parents often complaining that kids spend too much time playing video games, why are educators pushing students to use a relatively little-understood, but visually powerful technology? More and more school districts and classroom teachers are finding that virtual reality can be just what they need when classes can’t afford to take a field trip across town, much less to another state or overseas. And that’s just the beginning of the possibilities that VR offers. With affordable devices such as Google Cardboard, a growing number of virtual experiences are suddenly available to students everywhere.

While data on just how widely virtual reality is used in schools is hard to come by, anecdotal evidence and the rate at which VR apps and devices for educational purposes are popping up suggest that educational VR is here to stay.

Long considered a novelty for gamers, VR is making the transition to the classroom for two key reasons: affordability and available content, according to Maureen Brown Yoder, professor of education technology at Lesley University. Inexpensive equipment, offered most notably by Google Cardboard, is helping VR with the affordability issue, while an increasing number of apps aimed at education are helping make content accessible. “VR has been around for many years, but I don’t think it was very widely used at all in education,” said Yoder. “But the real difference is that now there’s better content.”

Right now, anyone with a smartphone and a cardboard headset can experience free VR programs produced with 360-degree cameras. More sophisticated headsets are readily available from Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Open Source VR and Samsung, but cost from $300 to $1,000 each, making them cost-prohibitive for most school districts, unless they’re donated.

In May, Facebook announced that its company, Oculus VR, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup behind the VR headset known as the Oculus Rift, is piloting programs with an educational component. Dubbed VR for Good, the program will donate gear to San Francisco schools and connect students with professional filmmakers to produce three- to five-minute, 360-degree videos about their community.

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