Immersive Environments & The Future of Virtual Reality in Education

Tudents_with_EdusimI have been a gamer for 35 years, a childrens user interface developer for 15 years, an immersive environments user interface and platforms developer for around 10 years, and the chief designer of the Edusim project (more on that here) . Needless to say I’ve seen quite a few iterations and generations of immersive environments and virtual reality platforms, so below are a few of my observations regarding where I see them heading (these questions were posed to me for an interview of EdTech magazine and I am sharing them here.).

* What’s on the horizon for K–12 virtual education?
# I believe the gap between real and virtual educational content will close to the point of being insignificant, and extremely rich educational experiences will become a daily opportunity for students to learn and understand at a very deep level.  The day where every student can take a virtual field trip to the moon to understand its makeup and importance, virtual trips to the inside of a volcano to understand how and why they function, floating through a virtual kidney to understand how it works.  The educational opportunities will literally only be limited by our own imaginations.

* How might we see it evolve over the next five to 10 years?
# I think with projects like Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, & Microsoft Hololens we can expect the gap between our perceptions of what is real and what is virtual to shrink dramatically.  I can imagine a time within the next 10 years that virtual reality goggle are as common as wearing earbuds connected to our smartphones, and the interaction with virtual objects, overlaid  onto our real world objects (via our goggle/glasses display), is relatively common.  Which will make education an extremely interesting field to be in in the coming years.  Virtual field trips, data visualization, seeing “inside” objects as you look at them to understand how they work, step by step tutorials that walk students through a process superimposed onto the real life content itself as they are working with it (a breakout image of an motor as its being taken apart)


* What are some of the barriers?
# Schools traditionally lag several years behind the technology curve and tend to lack imagination when it comes to providing rich educational experiences. These barriers become less obvious with school leadership that truly understands the powerful role technology can play in the educational setting, but without a doubt the “traditional” school setting is the primary barrier to leveraging the tremendouspower of the immersive educational technologies that are coming our way relatively quickly!


* What examples do you have of K-12 doing great things with VR?
# In Colorado (Southpark Elementary) they have been using CAVE visualization technology with their students for 4-5 years – … Whats going on here in the Czech Republic - … Schools are leveraging MinecraftEDU in interesting ways as well, several with Oculus Rift head sets … There are also some really cool ways Opensim environments with Oculus Rift displays are being leveraged for deeply immersive educational experiences.


* What flavors of VR are out there and which seem to be the ones that will actually be important?
# Without a doubt an entire industry will soon sprout up around the head mount displays and virtual learning content for K-12 education (no doubt many of these emerging companies will leverage the power of the Unity3D platform & its developer community) , but the projects I find most interesting are what some of the open source groups are doing, in particular the Opensim community, and the Google Cardboard Community.


* Why is VR emerging now? (What specifically is driving the move to VR at the K-12 levels?)
# I think now its a combination and convergence of ideas that include hardware (with the head mount displays), the idea of “sandbox” games & environments like Minecraft taking root, and with the relative ease it has become to create some very compelling 3D immersive content for the many hardware platforms available using a toolkit like Unity3D.  I think we can expect several more years before school fully embrace the immersive educational opportunities that are out there.  There tends to be a lot of logistics involved at the moment to really bring this type of learning to the students, so I suspect schools will shy away from the idea for awhile due to the shear lack of resources & time.

Platform Updates: High Fidelity get closer to being useable

High Fidelity, the San Francisco-based startup from Second Life founder Philip Rosedale, has raised another $11 million in funding in a round led by Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital. The funding was noted in a SEC filing that went through today and was confirmed to TechCrunch by Rosedale.

Founded in 2013, High Fidelity is building deployable virtual worlds, combining the ease of rolling out a VM instance on a modern cloud platform with the interactivity of Minecraft and the immersion of virtual reality. Over the course of several hours at High Fidelity HQ yesterday, Rosedale demonstrated the state of the startup’s tech and the vision he has for turning it into a viable business.

Get the rest at Tech Crunch here

FETC 2015 Wrapup

I spent most of last week at the annual FETC conference in Orlando Florida. I took particular note of the gaming, 3D environments, & maker focus. I was very encouraged by the emphasis this conference took regarding gaming in particular. Below are some notes & observations:

* Several Keynotes – the most insightful in my eyes (& the real show stopper for me) was Jane McGonigal’s regarding games & gamers
– This is basically the Keynote she delivered (many of the same ideas & slides)–G1w

* MakeBlock – I Seen this before and really like it –

* Birdbrain – They had a small but well attended booth – seen their new Hummingbird board based on Arduino (it can actually be programmed with the Arduino IDE when the kids area ready to move from Scratch blocks to a syntax)

* MinecraftEDU – Talked to them quite a bit as well, Booth looked awesome ->

* NexEd was in the incubator pavilion … We talked quite a bit about “sandbox learning” – I was impressed with this product!

* WeatherSTEM – key ideas: sensors, data, the internet of things & mashing up data

* FETC had Makerbot CEO Keynote on Thursday – 3D printers are finally seem to be on the rise in K-12 circles.
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