February 18, 2019

VR and 3D Innovation

There is one thing for certain these days: there are a lot of smart people working in the VR field. many of them considering its wisest application within education practice. Smart people like:

Max Orozco, co-founder of Lumeum VR, who is dedicated to “bringing VR to those who need it the most” (such as those with limited mobility and the elderly).

Darius Clarke, a VR instructor, who once told me he aims to give youth nothing less than "x-ray vision and fantasy vision” through VR. An interesting perspective, isn't it?

John Rupkalvis, the well-travelled stereo and VR expert, is also bullish on the possibilities for VR in education: “Having conducted numerous tutorials at a variety of educational institutions, including colleges, universities, trade schools, and even K-12 schools, I have gained an appreciation for the numerous ways that complex concepts may be conveyed with clarity through the use of stereoscopic 3D, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality systems.”

February 11, 2019

zSpace Laptop

Have you heard? The New zSpace AR/VR Laptop?

zSpace has outdone themselves with their new AR/VR-capable laptop (VR defined here as 3D), now in growing use in the Atlanta Public Schools. See the laptop’s specs here.

February 4, 2019

NSA 3D Convention

Readers should be aware of the upcoming 3D-Con 2019 convention, an effort supported by the National Stereoscopic Association Convention , being held in Akron (OH), July 30-August 5, 2019.  I have attended one of these conferences, and they are quite interesting, from the perspective of legacy 3D and moving forward into its VR future. 

January 28, 2019

VR and the Idealism/Realism Tussle

The case study I have related in the previous two posts is a fairly positive one. This school district is definitely on the right track toward addressing the achievement gap problem. But I routinely like to temper these feel-good anecdotes with just a dab of scrutiny. It's part of my job—to be a "critical friend" of otherwise successful efforts at classroom innovation. 

Here are some key reservations that worry me about VR in classrooms:
  • In order to be effective, VR must be inset within the curriculum and not stand on its own;
  • High costs ($7000 for a classroom set,as described in last week's post) is simply and arguably unsustainable in today's classrooms. Neither is it scalable.
  • In many case studies, I often notice the presence of more than one eudcators. The presence of so many adult ‘guides’ (3 in the previous case study) in a single classroom also forestalls true scalability and sustainability. 
  • Safety concerns (that students stay in their seats and not bump into each other), is a real problem; 
Closing the achievement gap is a worthy goal for the use of VR in today's classrooms. I encourage a contnued research. However, let's measure and report on the gains of disadvantaged students in relationship to more privileged students, so we know how big a difference we are actually making.

January 21, 2019

Case Study Findings

In last week's posting, we looked at an interesting case study on the use of VR to address the achievement gap in learning. For a quick background, start there, and then return here to review the findings. 

Three outcomes were notable:

  • Before the VR experience, class conversations about the marine world were shallow and lacking, because the students had never been to the ocean before. After the treatment, class conversation lit up. Students were far more willing to share ideas and talk about the things they saw.
  • According to Seymour, the 30 minute virtual trip seemed to have a lasting effect on most students. They constantly referred back to things they saw, heard or learned during their virtual trips.
  • Overall, writing was more descriptive, vivid and detailed after the VR treatment.

Interestingly, these results are consistent with past research using stereoscopic 3D in classrooms, not just the more recent VR phenomenon. In fact, they are almost identical. None of these findings should surprise us, though. VR merely leverages the cognitive principles and advantages of visualization and ‘transfer’ of learning.

January 14, 2019

Grant Opportunity

Here's an opportunity you may want to look at, with a deadline of January 25:

"Recognizing the experiential storytelling potential of immersive technologies like virtual reality, Digital Promise Global, the United Nations SDG Action Campaign, and Oculus have launched MY World 360°, supporting youth worldwide to create 360° media as a way to share their perspectives and advance positive action toward the Sustainable Development Goals."

As part of MY World 360°, Digital Promise Global is providing a limited number of 360° media production kits to support schools and youth organizations around the world to create 360° media.


January 7, 2019

A VR Case Study

"Can virtual-reality help close the achievement gap?" For those not fluent in this topic, in the United States the "achievement gap" signifies the persistent gap we see in the academic performance levels of students of differing social economic status, race/ethnicity, and gender. In U.S. schools, the efforts to shrink this gap are relentless.

Brian Seymour, Director of Instructional Technology with the Pickerington Local School District Ohio, campaigns passionately about reducing some of these disparities with the help of virtual reality. Seymour, named the Ohio IT IP Outstanding Technology Using Administrator for 2017, laments that “educators around the world are looking for ways to close the achievement gap that exists between privileged students in disadvantaged students” and has acted on the hunch that “virtual-reality [could do] a fantastic job of allowing students to have virtual experiences that they might not have otherwise.” This is his story, his case study.

Seymour began by rolling out a two-part case study on using VR to reduce the achievement gap at Tussing Elementary, a diverse school where 58% of students receive free or reduced lunch and more than 25 languages are spoken at home. The plan was to use VR within a three-week unit on oceans and marine animals. “For students in Ohio, going to the beach is no easy outing”, he explained. “Those with means can fly to the East or West Coast during summer vacation. But many will never see the ocean up close." The lack of ocean experience for these landlocked students would ordinarily “leave students disengaged with the material.” With VR, however, they hoped to take students on a field trip to the beach, try a bit of snorkeling, and experience the inside of a shark cage.

Using Viewmaster VR goggles, purchased in four classroom sets (28  goggles per set, at roughly $7000 per kit), a core group of educators first learned how to use them and then matched up the best content possible in order to meet their unit learning objectives.

At first, students were taught traditionally for two weeks. When the first day of VR instruction arrived, the goggles were set up in the classroom while the kids were at lunch, and the app was loaded, and launched for use. The kids returned from lunch and recess and, after just 3 minutes of how-to instruction, the children were off exploring the ocean. (Yes, today's students are bright, able to learn what they need to know and proceed on their own in minutes.)

Three adults facilitated the learning in the room, ensuring that students stay in their seats and not bump into each other. These educators also circulated around the room, asking questions and reminding the children kids to explore in all directions, not just what was in front of them.

In a second experience, the educators pursued a blended learning approach, having half of the students on the VR goggles, while the remaining children read a story related to their VR experience and then switched.  This technique had only half of the students on the VR goggles at any one time. (Note that these classroom sets are a shared resource, travelling around the district.)

What were the results? Come back next week for the interesting findings...

August 20, 2018

Musings from the Yangpu

I recently found myself near the broad waters of the Yangpu river during the late springtime, mindfully pondering the crossroads of opposites that is today's Shanghai. Earlier, I gave a spirited TEDx talk about virtual-reality at the Caohejing Hi-Tech Park Innovation Center. Parents were extremely interested in the vision health concerns associated with viewing VR in school settings. At the end of my visit, I spoke to a group of parents at a prestigious Chinese school about trends in U.S. technology for schools. Between these bookends, I listened, learned, questioned and observed. 

I learned about a popular and well attended VR expo held in China that preceded my TED talk, and saw VR prominently featured in storefronts for language instruction. It's interesting that VR may be more integrated in business culture in China than in the U.S. But it's definitely not as widely used in schools as is the case in the U.S. 

August 13, 2018


Education in the U.S. is an endeavor that gravitates toward disintermediation at every level, whenever possible. Close the classroom door, and teachers can do whatever they want. 

That explains why many schools and classrooms are making VR happen on their own, not waiting in line for approval, authorization, or formalization by Google or anyone.  No, they are jumping right in. Get out of their way. If they want VR, they will get it. Impatient teachers are setting up their own carts, viewers, and curriculum. Interestingly, many experienced educators and administrators are surprised by the rapid pace of this innovation’s infusion. These school leaders are finding themselves in the unfortunate position of having to play catch up.

August 6, 2018


“Virtual Reality Coding Academy: Teach Your Students to Code” offers a VR coding curriculum to educators, tapping into the potent coding meme present these days. By the way, VRCA is superheavyweight contender, concealing its considerable prowess underneath an ‘unknown’ boxer’s robe. They are part of EYEQXL, a company with considerable VR heft, and I presume a contender soon to expand in a greater way into the public eye. 

July 30, 2018

Coming Soon

Sometimes we see some VR developments coming up the road, capable companies “waiting in the wings” for better publicity. Here are a few:

Silas. Silas(Socially Interactive Learning Avatar Software) is an avatar-based animation software for teaching Social Skills. It lets students learn and practice social skills by creating their own animated movies on their computer. For Silas, viewing student-created VR is coming soon.

The Beamer. The Beamer has created the Stardust Mystery Game. VR is on the way for this creative learning experience.  In the game, students are sent back in time with three friends friends to find the source for your inherited stardust (atoms). In this simulation, soon to be made VR-ready, a team takes photos, collects samples, and explores the surroundings in search of their atomistic origins. That’s the way VR should be employed—not merely field trips—but in an experiential way.

Parrott Education. A UAV (drones) company, Parrott is showing their tablet-VR-drone interwoven solution, hoping for some audience appreciation.

July 23, 2018

VR: Back to School

VRCA.  “Virtual Reality Coding Academy: Teach Your Students to Code” is offering a four-course VR coding curriculum to middle and high school students, tapping into the potent coding meme so popular these days. By the way, VRCA is part of EYEQXL, a company with considerable VR heft, and I presume a contender soon to expand in a greater way into the public eye. 

July 16, 2018

ViziTech Takes Aim

Vizitech USA has been in the 3D and VR space for some time, but here's a heads up. Their strong suit, mostly ignored by other VR sluggers, is to bring the world of visualization to vocational education or career-technical education (CTE) as we call it in the States. It’s a smart move: the current U.S. administration has just begun a renewed push for both pre- and post-high school vocational education. See their website.

July 9, 2018

Advice to the VR Industry

Here's some advice for the burgeoning VR industry. These suggestions are for the hardware, content, and integration people alike, notions that will help you effectively reach and scale in the K-12 and university market place:
  • improve the digital quality and feel of your VR graphics; 
  • employ more favorable pricing for cash-strapped schools, small-sized schools, and rural schools;
  • realign your volume purchase schedules to create greater incentive to buy (currently many pricing schedules unkowingly disincentivize customer purchase);
  • offer a straight-out purchase solution (as opposed to annual pricing structures, which are distasteful, painful, and unsustainable to most schools).
Many great VR products develop minimal sales traction when they unkowingly pursue a pathway toward pricing failure. Just saying.

July 2, 2018

Being Veative

 Singapore is in the house. That’s right, Veative, a virtual reality company headquartered in Singapore with offices in India, USA, UAE, and Egypt, has hit the VR market with notable fanfare. Veative is a joint effort by two respected digital learning organizations – Piron Corporation and Almotahida Education Group – in a new and growing partnership that advances 3-D, VR, AR and MR in learning.

Veative (apparently a portmanteau combining “virtual reality” and “creative”) brings to the table a number of ‘differentiators’ when compared with other players in the ed market:

  • Veative offers interactive VR modules that include 3D models (learning objects, we call them), 360 videos, simple and complex simulations, as well as accompanying assessments.
  • They offer both Internet and local (offline) delivery options (students and teachers can choose to download VR content from the online store or from a local [offline] content access point.) 
  • Veative features greater interactivity than their competitors, integrating the use of handheld controllers throughout their content for interactivity purposes. 
  • They offer a free creative VR learning app, more than 50 free lessons for schools, and some wonderful virtual labs and simulations, which are especially valuable for online learning programs. Veative’s VR modules are now available for Middle School Math and Science, and High School Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics. All lessons are currently available in multiple languages, as well.
  • Veative offers a complete ecosystem of surrounding value, including a comprehensive VR curriculum, mapped to the curriculum; VR Learn, a content delivery app for students (students can organize existing VR modules and add new ones in their own library); a teacher tablet with a management control app  (teachers can control student screens or can install/uninstall and launch VR modules remotely on student devices.)
  • They also offer VR headgear options, a wireless classroom router. a lockable/rollable charging/storage unit (called a ‘trolley’), reporting and analytics features, LMS integration, and insructional support (an in-house team of education experts available for advice and lesson/module design).

Ankur Aggarwal, CEO of Veative, reasons: “Content is a key pain point for adoption of VR.” He predicts: “We look forward to extending our 400+ apps in STEM to breadth across new content areas, including coding, language learning, and apps that are cross-curricular.” 

June 25, 2018

Empathy for the Homeless

Let's continue with the work of Fernanda Herrera and her research in the arena of virtual reality. In the last two posts in this series, we laid some preliminary groundwork. Now, let’s fast forward to Herrera’s most recent scholarly work. Herrera’s current research, still in process, focuses on two central questions, instantiated in two separate studies:
Can VR interventions be used to teach empathy and prosocial behaviors toward the homeless?
How long do these effects last, given three follow-up assessments at 2, 4 and 8 weeks after the intervention?
Can VR interventions be used to teach empathy and prosocial behaviors toward the homeless? The scenario in this research study begins in the present: 
...our landlord knocks on the door. When you open it, he says you have until the end of the day to pay your past-due rent or you will lose your apartment. You owe $750. [The VR simulation then requires you to choose what objects in your apartment you will sell to stay. But the items you sell simply won’t add up to the necessary amount.] 
 Next, you receive an eviction notice, and soon you’ve run out of time. You get kicked out of your apartment and start living in your car. In your car, you struggle looking around for a misplaced toothbrush and discover, in general, how hard it is to do mundane things while living in a small vehicle. [Unfortunately, in San Francisco, there is a law if you get caught sleeping in your car three times, you get your car impounded.] 
One moment, while rustling through your belongings, trying to find your toothbrush, you get caught--and cited. Your car gets impounded. At this time you are now sleeping on a bus, experiencing the dangers of not having shelter, and not being able to get to a community shelter before they close the doors [Most shelters are full by 4:00 pm. Although many homeless do indeed have jobs, they cannot always get off work to make it to a shelter on time]. 
While on the bus, someone tries to get close to you Once, you have your belongings stolen. There is even an interactive scene where you talk to others on the bus, people who are also homeless, learning why they became that way [spousal abuse or loss of a job, as an example].
Herrera summarized the overall experience  when she stated that “VR is really a good perspective-producing machine.” Although the findings are preliminary (the study is still ongoing), she summarized the key points of her latest research project using virtual reality to impart empathy:
  • Just receiving information about the homeless problem doesn’t appear to lead to action in addressing those challenges
  • Simply ‘imagining’ the above presented scenario narrative also fails to lead toward active, prosocial behaviors
  • New and previously unknown information, however, can indeed promote more prosocial behaviors (Information such as the notion that many community shelters close by 4:00 pm, already filling to capacity by that time)
  • Immersive and experiential conditions (VR) enable study participants to feel closer to the homeless and their plight
  • Participants in the experiential VR condition evidence heightened movement toward becoming engaged and making a difference

Apparently, the narrative of virtual reality outperforms simple information-giving in the ecology of empathy.  How long this empathy, prosocial behavior, and inclination to act will linger, however, remains to be seen. Herrera has not yet completed the second study. But we may be well on the way to observing the demonstrable emergence of Milk’s “ultimate empathy machine”.

June 18, 2018

VR and Empathy (2)

Continuing from last week's post, there are not many actual studies in empathy using VR, according to Herrera, who also cites related research from the field of Psychology: “If we imagine being a part of a group, we become more empathetic to that person, but also to that entire group and more empathy leads to an altruistic motivation to help.” She asserts that “VR is good for perspective taking: we can have any experience from any point of view,” since VR works by replacing perceptual input from the real world with perceptual input from the virtual world. She adds: “We can take on different skin tone, become shorter or taller, and we can achieve body transfer and body schema.” She explains:  “We start having body cognition, adopting these virtual characteristics into our own. We start thinking of a ‘new self.’” Instead of just being told what someone’s life is like, what their struggles are like, “now we can struggle with them.”

The problems with many empathy studies are typical to the challenges faced in other studies: small sample sizes and/or required college student participation in the studies may skew the results.  I hate to end with a teaser, but please come back for part 3 of this series, as I tackle some groundbreaking new research just coming out of Stanford University, research now being conducted by the delightful Fernanda Herrera. 

June 11, 2018

VR and Empathy

“What if we could teach people about social issues so that they could not only learn facts, but they could also learn how to be more empathetic, to see things from another person’s point view?” asks Fernanda Herrera, a Stanford University PhD candidate. She wonders if it possible to employ virtual reality (crediting Chris Milk’s TED talk) as an “ultimate empathy machine”.

Citing some previous work at Stanford while presenting at an ed-tech conference, Herrera describes two interesting empathy-based studies:

Becoming the Superhero. In one virtual reality study, participants take on the role of a flying superhero who finds their city in a state of emergency. In the rush to evacuate the city, one child has inadvertently been left behind. Half of the study’s participants flew in to rescue the child in a helicopter, while half flew in as a full-fledged superhero. The research showed that participants who ‘became’ the superhero helped find the child faster and helped more thoroughly than those who flew in with a helicopter. Apparently, role models can be effectively ‘embodied’ in a VR experience.

An older version of me. In another study, the participants simply ‘inhabited’ an older avatar of themselves. Researchers were hoping to discover if the participants would become less prejudiced toward the elderly. One study was conducted using the medium of VR, while another experiment asked participants to simply ‘imagine’ themselves to be older. The results? Those participants who just imagined being elderly didn’t at all feel ‘connected’ to the elderly. But those who ‘embodied’ the age study group through VR felt more connected and also wanted to help. A follow-up study, with the same conditions, evidenced no difference if they felt their group was under threat. Evidently, the presence of competition may reduce the ability to empathize. 

Come back for more insight next week...

June 4, 2018

Research: Just a Bit

At a past SXSWedu, I found myself in a delightful summit, “From Information to Experience: AR/MR/VR”, conducted by three experts on visualization in education. The speaker and the breakout session that by far drew the most interest involved Fernanda Herrera, a PhD candidate out of Stanford University. In her breakout, Herrera spotlighted the use of VR in education, highlighting several well-accepted benefits of employing VR, based on extant research:
  • learning physical tasks
  • enabling presence and social presence
  • providing interactivity

Learning physical tasks. Herrera documented the knack of virtual reality to aid with mastering physical tasks, such as flight simulation, medical training, and even Tai Chi. Herrera explained: “People who try to learn physical tasks—let’s  say Tai Chi, for example—via VR versus just having to read about it or see videos about it, are better able to perform the task.” “The VR users can also perform those tasks faster or better than their video or reading only counterparts”, she added.

Enabling presence and social presence. Herrera reminded attendees that both presence and social presence are indeed important in learning. This was especially true with sharing an environment with someone else. “People who had high levels of presence and social presence told us they liked the experience more”, she clarified. “And people who learned via VR with someone else performed better, paid more attention, and learned more than those who learned without VR than those who learned with a computer or an agent.” (An agent is an avatar controlled by the computer.) According to Herrera, social presence is key.

Providing interactivity. According to Herrera, Interactivity within the educational VR experience really counts for something. “The more an experience is interactive, the more students feel agency, the [sense of being] in control. She explains: “the more students personalize the experience and are able to determine what they need to do to get the most out of that experience, then they feel their actions matter more.” She continues: “[Therefore] they pay more attention, and are more likely to finish that experience, and are more likely to come back for more of the same type of experience in the future.”

Herrera concluded, “We know a little bit about VR as a learning tool” while moving on quickly to another question: “But what if we could teach people about social issues so that they could not only learn facts, but they could also learn how to be more empathetic, to see things from another person’s point view?” Stay tuned for part 2 of this short series, as we take a closer look at the capacity of virtual reality to enable empathy and prosocial behaviors. 

May 28, 2018

Will VR impact student outcomes?

As virtual reality grows increasingly bullish today, the key question now becomes “Is it really worth it?" In a past SXSWedu conference session entitled "Will VR really impact student outcomes?” this topic came under long-deserved consideration. The scholarly panelists included Eric Sheninger (Fellow, ICLE or International Center for Leadership in Education); Jennifer Holland, (Senior Program Manager for Expeditions and Classrooms, Google); Elizabeth Lytle, (Director of Education and Product Experience for zSpace); and Rebecca Girard, Science chair, Notre Dame High School, Belmont CA).

Sheninger delicately warned about the current tendency to view “VR as a miracle.” Too much time is spent, he suggests, merely “exposing students” to it. And too much effort is expended on excitedly identifying "what is possible" with this new technology. He suggested we need to look deeper and think more effectively about virtual-reality as it will play out in schools. “We need to take a critical lens about this. We can’t let this become another gimmick,” he argued.

The last two speakers, Holland and Girard, together attempted to answer the key question: "Will VR really impact student outcomes?” They highlighted some of the ‘observed’ benefits for students when using virtual-reality in the classroom:
  • deeper questioning
  • a better sense of scale
  • conducting experiments not possible due to safety, distance, or time constraints
  • increased motivation
  • learning that is extended outside of the classroom
  • better comprehension of concepts
Although these observed benefits represent only low-lying fruit, and are typical to most informal studies and industry-sponsored case studies, they still remain informative. The most interesting refrain coming from students and teachers is the notion of “deeper questioning”, a theme we have heard echoed for the last seven years in other related 3D visualization studies.