September 26, 2016

Gimmick or Godsend (1)

Gimmick or Godsend: AR/VR in Education

Marybeth Green (Associate Professor of Instructional Technology and Graduate Coordinator for the Instructional Technology Program at Texas A&M University-Kingsville) and her colleagues are actively researching 3D augmented and virtual reality as it plays out in the K-12 classroom. This story begins with a conundrum.

The Problem.
Dr. Green noticed a phenomenon occurring in classrooms using augmented and virtual reality: “We have found is that there is a "wow" factor when people first see 3D images; but this enthusiasm often obscures the quality of the content,” which can be outright poor.

The Backdrop.
Dr. Green and her colleagues recently pursued a small grant to purchase augmented reality books, books that also required the purchase of AR/VR viewing apps. They acquired more than 100 books. Using an iPad, the student could view augmented reality 3D images or even click off the AR image and explore a virtual reality simulation right in the classroom. According to Dr. Green, who is putting a list of these resources together, about 20-25% of the available AR resources provide students with a combined mixed and virtual reality experience.

The Discovery.
“Initially, preservice teachers find the content enthralling. When seeing 3D, it is so unexpected; so when they see 3D images emerge, they don’t see the quality of what’s there. It is only after repeated exposures that they begin to examine the content and find its weaknesses. Some of the content is quite good and builds on students' understanding of the content, but some is hardly worth the effort or price,” explains the researcher. Inservice teachers appear to be more discriminating, however. “It’s nice, but it doesn’t really help with comprehension or learning—some of the content is a bit disappointing,” she adds.  “Teachers are much more appreciative of the content that really does enhance the value and understanding of the textual content.”

The Parry.

Dr. Green and her associates identified a workable method to get past the unreasonable ‘wow’ factor of middling quality AR/VR content,: they provided teachers with a basic academic rubric that could be used to sift less-than-stellar AR/VR content out of consideration.  The rubric appears to be effective. “It enables us to ask the question: ‘Is this content a gimmick or godsend’ ”, she states.

September 19, 2016

Unity Invests in Education

Unity is the well-known and respected development platform for games, virtual worlds, virtual reality, and interactive simulations. Unity development has long been a staple in student clubs, high school and vocational school curricular offerings, professional/ professional technical institutes, and even university computer science and game design programs. So why the tremendous rise in educator interest over the last two years at major ed-tech conferences? Clearly, increased fascination with gamification, virtual reality, STEM, and student-created content helps explain this swelling of customer interest.

Another factor behind the surging interest of educators is that Unity used the recent ISTE conference venue to announce some education-specific breaking news:
A refreshed mission. Unity now explains that they are “dedicated to working with educational institutions worldwide to help foster innovative learning and exploration in variety of areas including game development and interactive experiences and content, including virtual reality.” 
A structural update. Unity has recently formed a dedicated GlobalEducation unit.
A certification for education program. This includes Unity-certified developer courseware, certification exams, and even certification events. 
A training and certification partner program.  Unity Technologies aims to give “academic institutions, training businesses, and resellers the opportunity to tap into the growing community of Unity developers seeking professional development and certification.” 
New academic pricing. Aimed at supporting game development programs, education software license bundles (i.e., educator pricing) are now available for purchase by academic institutions. 
Free Resources for Educators. Unity has developed an Educator Toolkit aimed at helping educators to create, tailor, or shape a Unity teaching curriculum for their classrooms. 
An educator grant program. Free Unity education software licenses to help K-12 instructors implement game development courses.
On another note, I noticed that Unity is not shying away from the emerging virtual reality market either. I find them as one of the most knowledgeable vendors on the floor in relationship to VR in eduation; they are also knowledgeable about the stubborn vision health issues that can plague VR implementations in education.

Although still a small team, Unity appears to be on target with a seven-pronged strategy aimed at investing in the education market.

September 12, 2016

VR @ InfoComm

Frankly, this year’s InfoComm hoopla—from an educator’s perspective—left me underwhelmed. There were no blockbusters, killer educational technologies, nor grand entrances as in past years. There was little to get us to stand to our feet and applaud great educational potential. This was a tepid year—a year of stolid incrementalism at best. Given the recent hubbub that is usually associated with virtual reality nowadays, I was surprised to find a subdued presence for VR at InfoComm 2016. In fact, the VR presence may have been a bit smaller than in previous years at InfoComm, if memory serves me well. I was expecting more from the VR meme at InfoComm 2016. I didn’t get it. Nevertheless, here are some of my VR observations:

  • 360° cameras and software. The fresh appearance of a slate of 360° and VR cameras caught my attention. Nokia featured their OZO camera, while Elmo touted their QBiC camera with its free VideoStitch post production software for creating 360°VR videos. Kodak was pushing their PIXPRO 4K editing software for producing spherical videos, while Ricoh showcased their low-cost Theta 360 s. I should mention: I noticed educators in significant numbers trolling the booths dedicated to 360° and VR cameras, with outspoken interest in having student use such cameras to produce educational content.
  • Stampede offered a “wild west” shootout corral. The popular corral experience, run by staffers from VRstudios, showcased their multiuser wireless virtual reality solution. Although they expressed no interest in the ed market whatsoever, feverishly grinning instead about the bullish gaming and entertainment market, I envisioned three implications for the ed market: 1) the wireless capabilities make a lot of sense for the ‘freedom’ demanded by the ed market: (tethered products don’t do as well, historically); 2) the multiuser nature of the VRstudios technology is an advantage, bringing cooperative learning to virtual reality. (Imagine an entire class meeting on the surface of Mars to learn about gravity, survival, and the challenges of exploring the planet with a mobile rover); and 3) it will make teachers and children sick. It made me sick, and that practically never happens. (They need to figure this one out: see my article, “I love VR; I hateVR.”

  • Canon Eye 2 Eye. Canon physically involved passersby in their interactive Eye 2 Eye VR dance and motion experience, which was quite impressive at first glance. Implications for the ed market: this technology could eventually evolve into an interactive environment that would be extremely motivating for physical education. I know… it’s a stretch.
  • Christie. In an interesting twist, Christie showcased their Mystique suite of virtual reality-assisted design tools. (I wonder: did they know that Mystique is the beautiful shapeshifter in the X-Men comic series? Oh, well.) The demo was tucked deep in the bowels of the Christie booth experience, and was hard to navigate to, so I imagine that not many people saw it. Still, their design tool was interesting, because it represents Christie’s venture into software solutions, not just hardware solutions. Implications for the ed market: VR can make inroads in education as a tool to solve problems not only in design, but also in visualization (before and after views), simulating dangerous experiments or conditions, or conducting historical “what ifs.”

Although Infocomm 2016 offered little overlap this year to the world of education, the time I spent foreshadowing what is possible is instructive. For now, most of the VR companies at InfoComm (camera companies excluded) feel that education is not on their short-term market horizon. And that's okay, because most educators still sense that virtual reality is just too impractical, experimental, and expensive.

September 5, 2016

3D @ InfoComm 2016

I’ve been an educational technology director for 25 years, with a significant track record in large educational technology and AV purchases. I  returned from walking every aisle of InfoComm 2016, searching for promising trends, developments, and products that might offer value for the education market.

What does an educator see? I look for both memes that make sense in education as well as the practical solution: the product that potentially meet a need or solves a pain somewhere in my organization. Something crisply new and eye-catching can also spark a burgeoning idea in an educator’s mind. And at times, we chuckle when we see the emperor’s new clothes (vaporware, hype, or solutions in search of a problem to solve).

The Third Dimension at InfoComm
Even though there is still interest in this technology in higher ed, a muted presence of 3D technologies was the case at InfoComm 2016. Two booths featuring autostereoscopic displays were underwhelming, and a few other glasses-based 3D stations were easy to forget. One large display manufacturer with an impressive floor presence and lots of traffic, Central China Display Laboratories, was the exception. Yet the content they were showing was ineffective, bordering on useless. This company has a featured LED installation here in Colorado, at the University of Denver. I wish they were showing that content instead.

Again, InfoComm 2016 seemed like a celebration of incrementalism—simultaneously in its best and worst form. But who knows? As they say, sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.

August 29, 2016

Prime time (2)

Is 3D VR content ready for prime time?

Well, I hate to pile on, but it’s always useful to temper exuberance with a stout dose of business reality. Five years ago, I developed a taxonomy of content types for educational 3D content.  At that time, in analyzing the available 3D content specifically designed for the educational market, I first recognized that 3D educational content came in a diversity of approaches and design--six flavors, if you will:

In revisiting my taxonomy, I realized that contemporary VR content for the education market today still fits clearly into these same lanes. But here’s the problem: Nearly all of the educational VR content I have seen to date fits only into the first three lanes: video shorts, shorter animated segments, or learning objects. (Imagine simple walkthroughs, immersive field trips, and objects that can be rotated.) Despite their immersiveness, these VR learning opportunities are all passive experiences. (Incidentally, school gatekeepers—such as district administrators, principals, and lead teachers—ferociously fight to keep passive learning experiences out of classrooms.) Yet hardly any VR content in today’s educational marketplace reaches into the more interactive lanes of micro-simulation, complex simulation, and user-generated content. (Micro and complex simulation often work well addressing a ‘wicked’ challenge in education today—the need to teach complex thinking and problem solving, not just teach for memorization.)  

So that’s the stinky elephant in the room. Until this content reality changes, VR will never reach its potential in the educational market; VR will not scale to the level hoped for by the VR industry. Instead, educators will rapidly disinterest themselves with the lower, more passive forms of VR content and move on to other things. I hope the momentum will not be lost.

Now I know what you are thinking: “haters gonna hate and ain'ters gonna ain't” is what’s rolling through your head. But I’m no hater, mind you. As an executive board member of the ISTE 3D Network, I’ve been working to advance the implementation of 3D VR into schools.  And as the online community manager for the 9000 members of LinkedIn’s Stereoscopic 3D Media and VR Technology group, I continue fighting to keep this agenda on the table. I just haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid. Thanks, Karl.

August 22, 2016

Prime Time (1)

I was delighted to read TI Fellow Karl Guttag’s piece on Display Daily entitled "VR and AR Head Mounted Displays – Sorry, but there is no Santa Claus." In this remarkable piece, Guttag brings the reader back down to earth on the readiness of VR and AR technologies for the marketplace based on the absence of solutions for the many human factor challenges associated with VR and AR hardware.

Guttag’s article immediately led me to think about my area of specialty—schools and universities—and about another building block of scalability that he did not address, but remains an equally significant hurdle to broad adoption of these technologies in schools (or frankly, in any market.): 

VR content

In the grand scheme of things, content really matters. Then I wondered: “Is educational VR content ready for prime time in schools?”  In the next few posts, we will take a closer look at this issue. Stay tuned...

August 15, 2016


Hi, would you do me the privilege of voting for my SXSW proposal on 3D Virtual Reality in Education? (One must be ‘crowdsource’ voted to get accepted.) To vote, just click on the Link or the voting icon below. You will need to create an account and log in to vote, unfortunately. It would be so appreciated!

My proposed Panel Picker Session: Fishbowl: Virtual Reality in Education

August 8, 2016

3D's Real Plus-one

Some tech heads and gadget geeks suggest that 3D goes better with friends. That is to say, 3D will only thrive when combined with another technology. And they suggest the same will hold for virtual reality--that 3D VR needs a "plus-one."

Some experts feel that the next "plus-one" will be gesture recognition. Technologies like Leap Motion are indeed a sexy proposition as 3D’s and VR's potential plus-one, but my instinct says this may be merely a gadget crush. In the education market, delivery outscores feature set. Instead, imagine this:
Being able to deliver stereo 3D via the Internet, enabling 3D companies to dispense with the complexity, copy protection, installation, and reinstallation schemes that so agitate customers. Putting 3D in the cloud will simplify the storage, delivery, and frequent refresh of 3D and VR learning objects and simulations.

Is internet delivery of 3D a chimera? Look what smartphone delivery with Google Cardboard has done for 3D and VR. It looks like the plus-one for VR and 3D may have stepped onto the scene.  Or maybe not...

August 1, 2016

Growing 3D Organically (2)

The second phase of expansion of 3D visualization at Nevada State College (see last week's post) involves their advanced pre-med experiences, specifically, their human dissection cadaver lab. Nevada State is ramping up plans to provide both live and recorded stereo 3D cadaver dissections, using a head-mounted GoPro camera and stereo-displaying Panasonic projectors in the dissection lab and other classrooms. Hoping to deliver instruction as close to reality as possible, Dean Kuniyuki submits: “We want to have students prepared well. “He continues: “In the past, when we were only able to have two cadavers, it was the MDs that performed the dissections. [With 3D] we want more students to do hands on, rather than just passively watching what the MDs are doing.”

Currently, Nevada State has grown to six chambers, hosting three human cadavers and one synthetic cadaver. The synthetic cadaver is constructed of materials that feel like real human flesh (a real cadaver is stiff) and maintains natural coloration (real cadavers lose coloration). The synthetic cadaver looks and feels like a live human body, including a fat layer that oozes. Fluids can also be pumped into it. The synthetic cadaver, however, is still a consumable resource. Fortunately, the synthetic cadaver qualifies for free replacement after it has been used repeatedly. Not so with the human cadavers. The cost of cadavers runs the show. For that reason, the use of 3D video recording and display translates well, economically speaking. Students will make fewer mistakes on costly cadavers, becoming familiar with the tasks at hand (through visualization) before they work with the cadaver. “We want students, besides observing, to get their hands dirty, so to speak,” explains  Kuniyuki.  He also expects students to view 3D videos 3-4 times before making the hands on switch. (In our observing other 3D visualization projects world-wide, this is something we have called “learning replay”—the willingness of students to watch and re-watch 3D visualization for learning advantage.) Then, “when they are then working with the human cadavers, they know exactly what to expect,” he says.

Since many educators can be fiercely traditional-minded, it begs the question: “how did this growth of 3D visualization come to be?” Well, there is a mix of reasons. One reason is that the college had an existing infrastructure in place. “Because we had invested in the original 3D visualization infrastructure, we knew we had the possibility of expanding it in this manner,” beamed Dean Kuniyuki. In addition, school administrators are clearly listening to students, valuing the overall effectiveness of visualization, and seeking to provide improved learning experiences at a more affordable cost.

Currently, one of their challenges is exploring a transition from passive to active 3D in other areas of the campus. The jury is still out on this change up. I’ll have to return to see how the active-passive scuffle turns out. 

July 25, 2016

Growing 3D Organically (1)

(For the backstory, see last week's blog post)

Dr. Andy Kuniyuki
3D visualization (stereo, using passive display technology) continues to be integrated into every anatomy and physiology offering on campus at Nevada State. Systematized, if you will. And college leaders and faculty have not held pat. They have also integrated 3D visualization into their new student orientation activities. Dr. Andy Kuniyuki, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences explains exactly how they do it:Every new student orientation is conducted in rooms where they show, side-by-side, 2d (PowerPoint) and stereo 3D visualization.” Dean Kuniyuki chuckles as he reminisces, asking the question: “which do you prefer?”  He knows the answer beforehand, but he is trying to excite students for the first time, exposing them to this valuable learning tool even before students attend their first classes. “They are thrilled that we have that possibility [3D visualization].”

Nevada State is also moving forward on their visualization agenda. First, 3D visualization is making a big move into the School of Nursing. Use of 3D visualization in anatomy and physiology classes initially caused the word to get out and spread. Hearing from the students themselves, college administrators were hearing that older students wanted these richly visual learning experiences, as well. Nursing school leaders knew that there was huge evidence that pathophysiology is a defining course for nursing students. The current emphasis for instruction is a nursing/whole person perspective. Yet, a firm grasp of pathophysiology is known to be a real predictor of how students will perform as nurses in the field. What the school was missing was a teaching perspective that zoomed down to the tissue, cellular, and molecular levels. 3D visualization could help with this specific instructional challenge by filling a missing link in their instruction. A plan was developed to have instructors from both the liberal arts/sciences and the school of nursing co-teach these nursing courses in the NSC visualization labs. The first co-taught offerings begin this coming spring.

In our next post, we will take a close look at a second wave of 3D visualization strategy at Nevada State College.

July 18, 2016

Flash in the Pan

I’ve noticed something interesting about educational institutions over the years. Usually, once they have researched, procured, and installed
showcase 3D or VR environment, that’s the last you will hear about it.  That’s explains why I often pursue a long-term reporting strategy. Simply stated, I like to follow up. I am curious to see what has happened, to see if a project has evolved or quietly vanished into educational anonymity. Take the 3D visualization initiative at Nevada State College, for example. After I penned my first piece, Nevada State College Flies High, I wrote a follow-up piece, Unparalleled Learning.  That explains why I returned to the outskirts of Las Vegas to visit Nevada State for a third time. 

In the past two years, Nevada State College has experienced a building and enrollment boom. But with their venerable 3D instructional infrastructure in place, and new construction becoming the new major emphasis, did 3D visualization and display technology take a back seat? Stay tuned for next week’s post on what I saw on my third trip. It's all about the long view...

July 11, 2016

3D Content Update

Stereo 3D Content Providers - July 2016 Edition

Once or twice a year I provide a last of world-wide 3D content providers. It’s a top question I am asked at conferences across the U.S. Here is the latest list:

July 4, 2016

Mystery Theater

The Suspicious Case of the Mysteriously Vanishing 3D

Educational 3D has been mysteriously vanishing, without a trace. Has 3D become nothing more than an apparition, a fleeting wisp in the evolving fabric of education? Put on your gumshoe hat, read on, and be prepared to solve the troubling case of the mysteriously vanishing 3D.

The Mysteriously Vanishing 3D
Exhibit 1. 3D signs have been slowly disappearing from exhibit halls. Is there a deliberate thief at work, stealing away these popular signs?
Exhibit 2. Even though nine out of ten money-making blockbuster movies are still produced in 3D, the term 3D is never seen in educational technology articles in most school journals. Stolen in the night it seems.

Is something ominous happening here, something beyond the obvious? Is 3D in education dying a slow and predictable death? It’s time to play the Sherlock. Let’s explore the true story behind the erratic behavior we see in the evidence presented above.

The Strangely Reappearing 3D

Is 3D really disappearing from conferences and the literature? I once posed this question  on LinkedIn, and the response I received suggested that there are many 3D “haters.” That's a lot of suspects. But no, the solution is at hand. The mystery is about to be solved. At every conference I attend, and in all the journals I read, 3D is still there. It just changed its name. I wonder why? Maybe trying to avoid old and unwanted friendships, a tarnished reputation, a furious ex? No, 3D never left town. It never went off the grid.  It simply changed its name to VR. Most VR is 3D, you know. It's still there. Have you seen it?

June 27, 2016

Echo Chamber

At the ISTE 2016 conference, being held this week, virtual reality is no doubt turning out to be the new popular kid on the block. (See last week’s post.) But there’s a problem afoot: We are seeing an “echo chamber” effect at play in educational settings. Too many of these sessions sound like the same content: the field trip or the gadget. Both represent education ‘light.’ That’s not a good thing.

“Hardware has run ahead of content,” bemoans Rene Pinell of Kaleidoscope VR . She’s right. You can see it here at the ISTE conference. In the Wall Street Journal, Chrisotpher Mims lambasts the fact that “most content is demos.” He’s right, too. Can you whisper “hype cycle?” With the exception of zSpace and my own workshops (the last two on the list posted last week), there is nothing much new here. Unlike VR at the recent SXSWedu festival, which featured many creative twists for VR (e.g., online learning, virtual reality mashups, vision health, emotional intelligence, and the future of storytelling), VR at ISTE is, like many new technologies, pursuing the lowest common denominator. Ouch.

June 20, 2016

ISTE 2016 Preview

The annual ISTE conference is convening this year in Denver, Colorado. The ISTE conference is the largest ed-tech conference in the U.S, and will offer more than 1,000 educational sessions to more than 23,000+ teachers, professors, and administrators. Examining the ISTE 2016 conference landscape goes a long way in informing us about what is trending in education. Let’s zoom in on some of these developments from the perspective of 3D and virtual reality.

In the Conference Sessions
The upcoming ISTE conference will offer forty-six 3D-VR-AR-related events in their slate of sessions: five showcase 3D design in education; ten feature AR solutions; fourteen highlight 3D printing; and seventeen sessions specifically focus on VR in education. In the VR arena, the session titles convey particular meaning:
  • Google Cardboard, Virtual Field Trips, and Visual Learning: The Power of Maps
  • Google Cultural Institute and Google Cardboard (VR) for the Classroom K-12
  • Gizmos and Gadgets for Use in (but mostly out of) the Classroom
  • The Basics of the New 3"R's" in Education: AR, VR, QR
  • Classrooms, Made of, Virtual Reality Field Trips
  • Virtual Field Trips: Bringing the World to Your Classroom
  • Virtual Reality Bridges the Gap for ESL Learners
  • Virtual reality tour with Google Cardboard to amazing places!
  • 3D and Virtual Reality in the Classroom
  • Augmenting and Virtualizing Reality through Computer Science
  • Breaking out of the Norm with Virtual Reality
  • Tripping Out! Virtual Field Trips for All
  • Student Led Virtual Field Trips around the World
  • Discovering Immersive 3D and Virtual Reality in a STEAM classroom with zSpace
  • Creating a Customized Street View Experience for Your Classroom
  • Your First ISTE 3D VR Bootcamp
  • See 2 Achieve: Virtual Reality, 3D, Vision, and Learning

In the Exhibit Hall
3D and virtual reality stalwarts like zSpace, Unity, Google, Samsung, AV Rover, Sterling Pixels, and Sensavis are returning to the expo floor. New to the ISTE exhibit hall finds Mursion and Omniglobe with their first-ever presence.

3D Network Events

ISTE’s personal learning network (PLN)—the 3D Network—will also continue its educational advocacy for all things 3D. This group is expected to raise the decibel level of 3D and VR in education by again hosting three special events: their popular membership open house; the annual meet-and-greet event; and a panel presentation (entitled Designing, Visualizing, and Making in 3D) at the conference. (Companies wishing to have a presence—in person or with literature—at the 3D Network meet-and-greet event, scheduled for Tuesday morning should contact this author sooner rather than later.)

June 13, 2016

Accelerator (3)

In the two previous posts, we have focused on the notion of 3D as a learning accelerator. So, how does this all work? It’s no surprise. It's the power of visualization in learning. Sofia Kruth, the innovative school teacher identified in the last two posts, makes the following conclusions about the power of 3D visualization in the classroom:

In my view it is simply outstanding, I have never before seen or experienced this level of complexity when children this young talk and explain the process of making oxygen. If given a chance they can perform on a much higher level then given levels in the curriculum.”

Even the U.S. National Science Foundation National Institutes of Health note in their seminal report, calling for more visualization tool development: “Visualization plays a role in saving lives, accelerating discovery, and promoting education through improved understanding.”

June 6, 2016

Accelerator (2)

Last week’s post is an example of accelerated curriculum in action. It begs the question: can 3D visualization help even younger children learn more advanced topics, more thoroughly?

The answer is “Yes.” Here’s another compelling story, told by teacher Sofia Kruth at Sandhultskolan, evidencing how a teacher approached curriculum acceleration using the 3D Classroom to teach photosynthesis at a much lower grade level than is the norm— in first grade.

We started our school year (year 1) by planting seeds to see the growth. We went outdoors to look at trees and plants and how they change throughout seasons. Our curriculum for the younger years entails changes in seasons, along with simple lifecycles of plants and animals. One day in autumn a pupil in one of the upper classes found parts of a deer in the woods. We took care of it, processed the parts, and looked at them in class – we found a hip, upper hind leg, and bits of the backbone. The younger pupils wanted to be part of those discoveries, too. I allowed my younger pupils to examine the skeleton parts and after that we went to watch the human skeleton in 3D. My pupils were fascinated with the human skeleton and drew conclusions about the thorax movements as the person breathes. With these positive remarks, and the attention and curiosity that my young pupils showed, it made me think about other areas for using 3D visualization. 
In the Swedish curriculum the photosynthesis is mentioned for year 4-6, nothing in the earlier years. With my positive experience with the 3D-Classroom in studying the skeleton, I thought: “Why not? I will challenge my pupils and let them deepen their understanding of plants, carbon dioxide, oxygen and their correlation—and if it doesn’t work I will know that they are not ready.” 
Said and done. We took the time to set up the 3D-Classroom and clicked trough the menus together. My pupils were fascinated with the look of the leaf, the stomata and how the stomata open and close depending on access to light. We followed the cell and saw the “factory” inside, how everything moved while light and stopped when dark; we saw the “explosion” inside the leaf as carbon dioxide molecules met the water molecules and through solar energy created new substances in a chemical reaction; we saw the carbohydrates the plant used and the oxygen that is released into the air for us to breathe.

The 3D captured my pupils’ curiosity, but also helped them see and think beyond their normal capacity. One student spontaneously remarked “What luck there is daytime on the other side of the globe when we have night, otherwise there wouldn’t be any more oxygen.”  This pupil made correct assumptions and connections that included the earth’s axis and earth movements around its own axis and the sun with the chemical reaction inside a leaf. Rather complex thoughts and revelations from this young pupil (7 years old). The entire class drew complex schemata of how the photosynthesis works, schemata that entail the stomata, water molecules, carbon dioxide molecules, and the importance of light.

May 30, 2016

3D as Accelerator

For educators exploring mobile, large display, virtual reality or augmented reality platforms using 3D, it is important to know the value added benefits of these products. To date, most reports about the effectiveness of using stereo 3D in the classroom revolve around increased retention of learning, ‘wow’ factor, motivation to learn, and higher pre-test/post-test scores. What if there is another benefit we are missing entirely, something much more appealing to educators?

One advantage of teaching with 3D, based on recent learning experiences in advantage of teaching with 3D, based on learning experiences in Swedish schools, appears to be the acceleration of curriculum. The growth dividend associated with the acceleration of curriculum seems very attractive.  Here’s how it’s evidenced in some Swedish schools.

Using the 3D Classroom, a richly 3D simulation series produced by Sensavis, teachers in Sweden are seeing some surprising results, even at very young ages. At the intermediate school level, Principal Mattias Bostrom reported the following example of curriculum acceleration in action:

An 8th grade biology teacher using The 3D Classroom stopped having tests in anatomy at the end of a course. Instead he had the 8th grade students teaching what they had learned to 4th and 5th grade students, but using the same 3D visualization tools. This way he could better understand the depth of the 8th grade students’ knowledge. During the experiment, the instructor noticed that the 4th and 5th grade students asked tougher questions than he had imagined they would ask. The biology teacher, curious about what the younger students had learned, conducted another spot experiment.  He took the last year’s final test for 8th grade anatomy and gave it to the 5th graders. He was surprised and delighted when the 5th graders scored better on this test than last year’s 8th graders. Humorously, at the same time he was a bit worried what to teach the 4th and 5th graders when they became 8th graders. 

Stay tuned next week for a post involving curriculum acceleration by even younger students.

May 23, 2016

zSpace: Broadening the Impact of Technology

Last week, we hinted that the zSpace STEM Lab, a unique visualization and virtual reality technology, demonstrates how a single technology can exemplify many of the possibilities found in the Horizon Report. (zSpace is a Silicon Valley company offering what I call “a near-holographic hardware platform”). Using the same headings found in the international Horizon report, here is how zSpace does it:

Authentic Learning. Educators frequently lament that so many learning experiences are purely academic, removed from any reasonable applicability to life. So when learning takes on the appearance of a real workplace challenge, we call it an ‘authentic’ learning experience. “6th grade is using zSpace Franklin’s Lab,” says Joyce Barry, Chairperson of Science, Research and Technology at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District, “to introduce our students to basic operation and design of electrical boards. Then they go back into the tech shops and design their own electricity boards, returning again to their design stations to create their electricity boards.” She adds: “This is something that we would never been able to afford or be able to let them do for safety reasons.”

Collaborative learning approaches. The growing phenomenon of collaborative learning in classrooms is now conspicuous. In most zSpace STEM Labs, I have noticed that students are paired together to work on and solve unique and authentic learning challenges.

STEAM learning. STEAM refers to science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. It speaks to the workforce needs of modern society. As a result, STEAM initiatives are really gaining traction in U.S. and international schools. Now, imagine a tool that combines each of the elements of STEAM in one learning experience. To me, that’s another way to go outside the single lane trap.

Shifting students from consumers to creators. More and more, teachers are shifting their thinking away from students as consumers of technology. Instead, educators value students being able to produce with technology. In recent exhibit hall walkthroughs at educational conferences, I notice that almost every product is focused on pouring information into the minds of empty-vessel students, using the technology du jour. It truly strikes me as anachronistic. Actually, it’s the pathway to extinction, because more and more educators are making the shift to “students as creators” with technology. The design, construction, hypothesis-testing, and hand-on emphasis of the zSpace STEM Lab appears to support this transition well.

Deeper Learning and MakerSpaces. The shift to deeper learning signals that it’s time to move beyond the typical low-lying fruit of recall, memorization, and motivation. Motivation is a nice contributing outcome, but we need deeper and more results-oriented learning.  Students need to design, to build, to explore, to do, to enact, and to perform their learning. This is something that’s easily done with great visualization and design tools like zSpace, which is a ‘maker’ technology by design.

Rethinking the Roles of Teachers. According to the Horizon Report, “teachers simply cannot take on the same roles they have traditionally held as lecturers and information dispensers.” The Report adds: “This …underscores the need for teachers to rethink their pedagogies and curriculum in ways that enable students to customize their own paths.” See this video for an example of a successful Los Altos School District pilot project that is changing the role of the teacher.

3D Printing. This video for an example of zSpace embedded within a 3D printing and design ecosystem.

Complex Thinking. According to the Horizon Report, the term “complex thinking” refers to the ability to understand complexity, a skill that is needed to comprehend how systems work ...” The Report tells us: “Another key skill of complex thinking is the ability for students to make complex ideas understandable, using data visualization, media, and other communications techniques.” Visual technologies like zSpace help make this possible for educators.

I’d like to end this series with some key questions. What technologies are you using? Do you find your current efforts consistent with the vision of the future evidenced by the K12 Horizon report? Can the technologies you pursue have a broader impact than you originally imagined? Do you have to stay in one lane with your technology? Are single-lane technologies worth the investment? What’s in your pocket?

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May 16, 2016

zSpace: Going Outside the Lanes

The New Media Consortium (NMC), together with the Consortium for School Networking (COSN), recently released their annual K12 Horizon Report, an international report which is useful for educators contemplating how much they have accomplished or where to go next with their technology initiatives. According to the NMC, “The NMC Horizon Report series charts the five-year horizon for the impact of emerging technologies in school communities across the globe.” And this report has been around a long time. “With more than 13 years of research and publications, it can be regarded as the world’s longest running exploration of emerging technology trends and uptake in education.” The full report can be accessed here.

Although the K12 Horizon report largely speaks for itself, in this post I will offer a bit of translation, along with a new twist for thinking about this venerable report. With full disclosure, I served as one of the 50+ panelists who developed this report over many months. Serving as an expert panelist for the Horizon K12 report, I can add beneficial nuance to the findings, from an inside perspective.

Important developments in technology for K12 schools world-wide

The first pages of the Horizon Report observe some of the most important developments making an auspicious appearance in K12 schools, with promising implications for the near, short and far term. (I highlighted some of these developments in bold typeface so I can address them later. See panel 1.)

Observable trends in technology for K12 schools world-wide
Another section of the Horizon Report focuses on keenly observable trends in K12 schools, again with promising implications for the near, short and far term ‘landing’ of those trends. (Again, some are highlighted in bold typeface for later discussion. See panel 2.)

Technology Challenges Facing Schools

In its final pages, the 2015 Horizon report devotes considerable ink to identifying some of the stubborn obstacles currently facing K12 technology efforts. These obstacles are divided into three categories: solvable (those we understand and know how to solve); difficult (those we understand, but any solution remains complex); and wicked (those that are exceedingly difficult to define, let alone solve. See panel 3.)

When reviewing the K12 Horizon Report, it is always heartening to see a trend or development come across the radar that validates one of your existing technology initiatives. Such is the case with 3D and virtual reality. It is also insightful to see a yet untraveled pathway beckoning us, crying out for our future technology investment. But do you ever feel like the technology journey is so daunting? That the sheer number of technology choices or lanes is overwhelming? I certainly feel that way at times! Still, there is hope. You see, sometimes a single technology can have a broader impact, cover a richer swathe of learning experiences, than we think. In this way, an innovative technology can pack a bigger instructional punch than we originally imagine.

Here’s just one example. One technology drawing consistent crowds at educational conferences for the last three years is the zSpace STEM LabzSpace is a Silicon Valley company offering what I call “a near-holographic hardware platform,” one which really turns heads. Last year, the zSpace STEM Lab earned best of show award at the huge ISTE ed-tech conference in Philadelphia. (It will certainly again be featured at the ISTE 2016 conference here in Denver.) The zSpace STEM Lab is a unique visualization technology, but more importantly, it demonstrates how a single technology can exemplify many of the possibilities found in the Horizon Report. In next week’s post we’ll take a closer look at how a 3D product like the zSpace STEM Lab can cover a lot of bases. Stay tuned…