February 20, 2017

The Research Chase

One of first questions people ask me about 3D (and sometimes VR or HD visualization technologies) is about instructional effectiveness and research. “What is the difference some of these technologies make in learning?” “How effective are these technologies with young learners?” they ask.

Of course, a key issue is “What kind of research are you talking about?” In school environments, there are many types of formal and informal research. There are survey data, focus group reporting, and case studies. There is also anecdotal evidence, which can provide very useful empirical insight, when collected well and over time. There is action research, informal classroom research, and even research on fidelity of implementation—how to implement well.  There is industry-conducted  research, sponsored external research, and independent research (if the latter exists!) There is also planned research, which is also quite insightful, because we get pre-knowledge about the upcoming purpose or key research questions being asked in an upcoming study.

Then, of course there is capital ‘R’ Research—the gold standard—with control groups and rigorous evaluative processes.  The most expensive kind, I must add. And let’s not forget my favorite type of research: the meta-analysis, or the compilation or big picture of what we have learned from many dozens of previous research studies.

But back to my kick-off sentence:  Regarding modern visualization technologies, the first question educators typically ask me is “How much does it cost?” But the second question invariably targets the effectiveness, or research, question. Of course, providing an answer for this question in the spare seconds that the listener is willing to offer becomes a difficult proposition, to say the least. I usually offer to send the requester an insightful chart, which succinctly summarizes what we know to date about the instructional effectiveness of 3D (and to a lesser extent VR and HD visualization technologies). I'll show you this chart in next week's post.

February 13, 2017


One of the newest and most interesting arrivals at this year’s ed-tech expo halls is Mursion, a company that designs customized training simulations held in virtual space. A San-Francisco-based company with a satellite office in Orlando, Mursion does not produce off-the-shelf content for virtual reality. Instead, they use their simulation engine to customize specific solutions for their customers. In my interview with Brentt Brown, Mursion’s Director of Business Strategy, he explained his company’s footprint in this way: “We focus on creating a virtual environment where professionals practice and rehearse fundamental interpersonal skills for high-stakes careers.” Here are a few examples showing how that actually works
In Education. Many of their customers asked them to develop virtual reality simulations enabling prospective teachers to practice classroom management (classroom discipline) skills. Others employ their engine to build VR simulations for rehearsing essential teaching techniques, such as how to more effectively use questions to elicit deeper student thinking. 
In Hospitality. Best Western Resorts and Hotels recently used Mursion to train and provide performance assessment for their globally distributed workforce of more than 15,000 front desk staff, focusing on front-line customer service acumen conducted via live simulation role playing. 
In Medicine. Another customer is using the Mursion simulation engine to help medical and hospital staff rehearse in a realistic VR environment the delivery of information to patients receiving unfortunate findings from recent diagnostic tests. 
In Industry. Mursion helps clients create multi-avatar environments that enable trainees practice facilitating team meetings or manage interpersonal conflict that is impeding job performance
And there’s much more in the works. In the near future, Mursion will enable the creation of a simulation that populates a virtual classroom with student avatars with differing learning challenges, including language-diverse, ADHD-diagnosed, and autistic-spectrum students; a simulation that helps educators improve how they communicate with parents; and a simulation for autistic students that will help them practice their social skills.

Using its modular and cost efficient simulation engine, Mursion offers their customers a cost/benefit ratio that appears noteworthy. According to Brown, “most simulations require three-hundred hours of design work to produce one hour of simulation for classroom delivery.” With the use of the Mursion development templates, however, "the cost of designing most simulations is less than $1000 (or about eight hours of development time)." Mursion is also aiming to organize a marketplace or clearinghouse of role-playing simulations (designed by current clients) to offer even more cost avoidance to future customers.
Consistent with a trend I’ve been seeing across the education spectrum, Mursion is preparing for the immersive VR world as well. While most of Mursion's current clients experience simulations on a 2D screen (usually a flat screen TV or a laptop), all of Mursion's simulators can easily be rendered to run in 3D via a head-mounted display (HMD), such as the Oculus Rift. Mursion expects that over the next few years the majority of its clients will transition to fully immersive experiences on HMDs. 

January 30, 2017

New Tools

Here are two tools for your consideration:

Bubbli                           WhooshVR


January 23, 2017

NETP, zSpace, & VR

In last week's post, we highlighted some of future trends predicted in the National Education Technology Plan (NETP). Most notably to our blog readers, the interactive three-dimensional imaging software trend spotlights a well-known company frequenting U.S. educational conferences: zSpace. Quoting from page 16 of the 2016 NETP:

Interactive three-dimensional imaging software, such as zSpace, is creating potentially transformational learning experiences. With three-dimensional glasses and a stylus, students are able to work with a wide range of images from the layers of the earth to the human heart. The zSpace program’s noble failure feature allows students constructing a motor or building a battery to make mistakes and retry, learning throughout the process. Although the content and curriculum are supplied, teachers can customize and tailor lesson plans to fit the needs of their classes. This type of versatile technology allows students to work with objects schools typically would not be able to afford, providing a richer, more engaging learning experience.
It's important to realize that some visualization technologies, like zSpace, can multi-task in their purpose: they can serve several educational agendas at the same time.Take for example the NETP’s four categories for future technologies that offer educational promise (remembering that 3D visualization is mentioned in only the third category):
Increased use of games and simulations. The zSpace curriculum itself is designed around a rich collection of STEM-based games and simulations. 
New ways to connect physical and virtual interaction.   The “near-holographic” zSpace hardware platform makes the content appear not on a screen, but in the students’ own personal space, manipulated by a physical stylus. And the cooperative (paired) learning approach promoted by the zSpace STEM Lab also brings a physical presence and process to the visualized lesson. 
Interactive three-dimensional imaging software. ‘Interactive’ being the key word here, this tool is not just about viewing or watching—it’s mainly about doing, constructing, testing, evaluating, and rebuilding. 
Augmented reality. Interestingly, the zSpace zView enhancement lets an entire class—not just the students wearing passive glasses—see each simulation in starkly vivid augmented reality.
Although, in the 2016 NETP, the 3D visualization meme was positioned solely in the third category above, clearly some technologies work across lanes.  I am suggesting that some successful 3D visualization products, like zSpace, operate in all four of these domains.

January 16, 2017

NETP Meets 3D

The 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP), Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, by the U.S. Office of Educational Technology is already in motion. Past national education technology plans have been well received by U.S. K12 schools; their recommendations have slowly been adopted country wide, due to incentives and organic pressure from federal, state, local, and even foundation funding. Given the past impact of previous NETPs, this the 2016 NETP is due serious consideration.

Now—on to some interesting specifics. One of the chapters in the 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) is necessarily more forward looking than the other sections, spotlighting some upcoming areas in cyberlearning. “The Future of Learning Technologies” section of the 2016 NETP is an attempt to move the reader beyond an “understanding of the current state of educational technologies; it also [identifies] the research being done on early-stage educational technology and how this research might be applied more widely in the future to learning.” In fact, the NETP highlights four promising avenues for future learning technologies, based chiefly on the investigative work of the National Science Foundation in “researching opportunities offered by integrating emerging technologies with advances in the learning sciences.” These auspicious avenues include:
  • Increased use of games and simulations
  • New ways to connect physical and virtual interaction with learning technologies
  • Interactive three-dimensional imaging software
  • Augmented reality (AR) 

No surprise here, in our next post we will highlight the the third bullet above, one that predicts the growth of interactive 3D in education. More to come next week...

January 9, 2017

FETC Preview

The Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) is shaping up to be a must-attend event in Orlando, January 24-27. One of the largest and most innovative ed-tech conferences in the country, FETC has a long history of exceeding expectations. Here is a preview of what to expect in the arena of VR and 3D. I hope to see you there!
The exhibit hall this year will bring a number of players in both the 3D and VR fields to our attention. Samsung, Google, Nearpod, and Best Buy will likely be showing their popular VR solutions. Sensavis will return with their excellent 3D visualization content. A stalwart in the 3D and VR industry, Eon Reality will exhibit for the first time at FETC. And the venerable zSpace will be back in the house with their unique desktop virtual reality. (zSpace has won best of show at two consecutive ISTE conferences.)

Four workshops will be offered with a VR meme: two by Samsung, one focused on Google Expeditions, a do-it-yourself virtual reality content creation workshop by Eon Reality, and my own in-depth VR workshop, described below.

Concurrent sessions will offer a few interesting opportunities to learn about VR in education. One district will be presenting about their Nearpod immersive project, while innovators from North Carolina State University will do a deep dive into desktop virtual reality, focusing on zSpace technology. I will also be doing a session on Virtual Reality and a surprisingly positive connection to early learning/reading, entitled “See to Achieve: Virtual Reality, 3D, Vision, and Learning.”

My Sessions
Of course, I have to do a shameless plug for my own workshop. The FETC 3D VR Bootcamp (EDW070) is a distinctive experience, a very non-traditional workshop, to say the least. This workshop uses both a flipped learning model and a fishbowl approach to make for the ultimate in personalization. It will be offered from 5-7:30 pm on Thursday, January 26.  This highly popular
workshop will help you dig deeper, and go beyond the hype. We will explore 3D VR content, low cost options for VR headgear; teaching strategies; instructional weaknesses in the technology; how to deal with VR vision discomfort; managing VR in the classroom; disinfecting headgear; zSpace and their award-winning desktop VR; VR visualization spaces; and, of course, next-up developments to you can expect to see. Please join us!

January 2, 2017

Headaches Resolved!

In the last two posts I have both highlighted some recent Estonian Research and consulted international experts on the matter. (Please refer to the last two posts for background.) 

Now it's my turn to weigh in: so, what are we to make of this Estonian study? I would suggest three big takeaways:
  1. 3D cinema may be the stimulus, but it is not the etiology (cause).
  2. Anyone with difficulties viewing 3D cinema (such as headaches) has just received an informal vision test. It’s a lesson the industry still has not learned in its push for “the next big thing.” 
  3. What may be true about watching 3D cinema will also be true about content viewed with stereoscopic virtual reality headgear. (This helps explain why more than 20% of my undergrad students at the university experience headaches, dizziness, or nausea when viewing virtual reality content.)

December 26, 2016

3D and Headaches (2)

In last week's post, we introduced a recent Estonian study claiming that 3D cinema can contribute to headaches, and by association, this would hold true for experiencing virtual reality. In confronting this concern head on, I interviewed some international medical experts in the field of 3D, stereoscopic, and virtual reality vision. Find their analyses below:

Dr. Simonson
Dr. Jennifer Simonson, clinical director of the Boulder Valley Vision Therapy center and Senior Research Optometrist for Gerull Labsan  (OD, FCOVD) is an expert in using 3D to diagnose and treat vision disorders (and headaches). She explains the 'headache' problem in this way:
"This study takes in to account eyesight, but not vision. The key difference between 3D and 2D is the amount of coordination required of the eye muscles to align and focus the eyes at multiple distances. It is also more cognitive work in the brain for processing the difference in information presented to each eye to combine two different images into 3D perception. Stereopsis - depth perception - causes common 3D Vision Syndrome symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision and tired eyes. When a person has difficulty seeing 3D in a movie theater, it is commonly due to a vision problem with the coordination of the eyes. A normal movie is viewed on the screen, but in a 3D movie, the images appear to float off of the screen. Even with normal eyesight, if there is a difficulty with tracking, eye teaming, or focusing a person will be symptomatic with 3D Vision Syndrome."
Dr. Simonson concludes: “It may not be the media itself, but the visual dysfunction which contributes to headaches.”

Dr. Sheedy
That brings us to Dr. Jim Sheedy ( OD, PhD.), Director of the Vision Performance Institute at Pacific University, and an internationally recognized researcher. Dr. Sheedy worries about sample size, and he also points to vision disorders as the culprit, not the 3D stimulus itself:
“The findings presented in the article by Braschinsky et al., concerning 3D Cinema and Headache, cannot be conclusive because of the poor response rate of 21.6% (1293 respondents of 6000 questionnaires distributed).   Despite this shortcoming, the results are interesting.  The subjects were asked only about the symptom of headache.  We know that subjects with disorders of the visual system have symptoms such as eyestrain, double vision, blurred vision, and others related to the eyes.  The subjects in the study by Braschinsky et. al. were not given opportunity to differentiate these symptoms from those of headache."
Dr. Sheedy concludes: “The results are those that would be expected on the basis of vision disorders and the symptoms they cause.”

Dr. Maino
Dr. Dominic Maino (OD, MEd, FAAO, FCOVD and  Professor, Pediatrics/ Binocular Vision, Illinois College of Optometry/Illinois Eye Institute Distinguished Practitioner, National Academies of Practice, Leonardo da Vinci Award of Excellence in Medicine) offered his view in more detail, wondering about the five main points of the Estonian study:

1.)  Can 3D movies provoke headaches?  Dr. Maino explains: 
“I found it interesting that the reviewer did not say 3D movies actually caused the headache, as was often stated in earlier articles on this topic. Current research indicates that a faulty binocular vision system (vergence (eye teaming), accommodation (focusing), and oculomotor (eye movement)) dysfunction appears to be etiology of the headache when viewing a 3D stimulus.”
2.)  Do individuals who view 3D movies report headache during or after the movie 1.61 times more often than 2D movie viewers?  Dr. Maino concurs: 
“Those with binocular vision dysfunction are not usually adversely affected by 2D movies, so this finding should come as no surprise. “
3.)  Are the people at risk are mostly younger? Again, Dr. Maino agrees: 
“Younger populations typically have a higher rate of functional vision problems.”
4.)   Are 3D movie visitors with a previous history of headaches 4.17 times more prone to get a cinema-induced headache? Dr. Maino suggests: 
“Those with a history of headaches may also have undiagnosed vision problems as their non-3D movie related head pain.”
5.)  Is risk the highest for persons with a history of migraine headaches?  Dr. Maino explains: 
“Migraine headaches can have many different triggers. These triggers can include stress, consumption of different foods and how light is perceived (e.g. flickering) by the individual. A dysfunctional visual system is known to cause stress as well. Also those who experience migraines may just be more in tune and sensitive to all head pain no matter the etiology.”
Dr. Maino, in concluding, recommended that readers pursue more information on this topic by exploring the public health report issued by the American Optometric Association: 3D in the Classroom (http://aoa.uberflip.com/i/203445-3d-in-the-classroom ). He also recommended that folks having difficulty seeing 3D cinema find doctors who can help by going to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development website (COVD.org) or the American Optometric Association website (AOA.org). 

Next week I will provide some of my own thoughts and conclusions on this matter...

December 19, 2016

3D Gives Me Headaches

I have to confess: something scared me. It scared me a lot. The source of my fear could be found in a recent Display Daily entitled “The Relationship Between 3D Cinema and Headaches.” What scared me were the cross-technology implications of the original Estonian study cited in this article. You see, the title could easily have been reworded in this way: “The relationship between 3D Virtual Reality and Headaches.” Given that much of the virtual reality world is also stereoscopic, I doubt the findings for a VR study would have been any different. And that’s not at all a helpful recommendation for a technology just now getting its legs in the industry.

So, I tapped into some high level expertise in order to bring a medical and scientific perspective to the table on this matter. I contacted some of the leading vision health experts in the world, asking them to respond to the Estonian research, hoping their advice would rescue us from this unwanted pseudodox. In next week's post, you will find their thoughts about this Estonian research, lest it be bruited about further. Stay tuned...

December 12, 2016


Some pundits feel that 3D in education has peaked. But it didn’t seem that way at all at ISTE 2016, where 3D technologies evidenced their strongest and most mature presence in the history of that event. The ISTE 2016 educational conference, with over 16,000 in attendance hailing from 76 countries, is the largest ed-tech conference held in the U.S. 3D was well represented in both the exhibit hall. Here are some of the players we saw in action in the expo hall:
AVRover. 3D stalwart AVRover, offering their mobile 3D classroom platform, maintained heavy crowds and high interest every time I passed by. They are now partnering with DTI (see below entry) in offering an autostereoscopic lab platform that can provide a 3D visualization ‘breakout’ experience, taking AVRover content into the computer lab or classroom centers. Doug Smith, CEO of AVRover explained:  "AVRover and DTI are working together on a technology where educators will teach one-on-many using a mobile AVRover with a screen. In this scenario, the teacher manipulates stereo 3D objects for the students; but then the students can go to multiple workstations in the classroom or in a lab and can work on that same content, with autostereo, glasses free monitors.”
Dimension Technologies. Co-located in the AVRover booth, Dimension Technologies, Inc featured their autostereo display platform. Having worked with NASA for over twenty-five years, DTI just received a new SBIR Phase II E grant from both NASA and Boeing to build a glasses-free 3D display for aerospace. Tom Curtin, Director of Business Development, pointed out: “Education is a natural fit for this technology.” The cost to the customers is expected to be a 60% premium over traditional displays. 
Eureka. They offered a strong presence showing mesmerizing mono and stereo 3D content to passersby. What’s new? It seems like DesignMate is rebranding itself in the U.S. as the more internationally known Eureka.in.
Sensavis. Sensavis, a 3D visualization content company, ran a vibrant booth featuring some of their newest 3D simulations. It seems like they are showing a new simulation at each successive show, a remarkable pace for new content development.
Sterling Pixels. Sterling Pixels, a veteran 3D content company, broke away from the hidden corners of past booth locations to find themselves in a prime spot with much better visibility for this impressive company. 
Unity3D. Unity3D came to the exhibit floor with a fresh, vigorous vision to reach the education market. 
Visible Body. Although traditional 3D anatomy provider Cyber-Anatomy was noticeably absent from ISTE 2016, VisibleBody offered their rich visual anatomy lessons for STEM educators.

zSpace. Again winning Best of Show at ISTE 2016 from Technology & Learning magazine, zSpace continued in stride impressing large numbers of booth visitors. For a deeper dive, take a look at my most recent article with District Administration magazine entitled “Broadening the Impact of Technology.”

December 5, 2016

Unity3D Invests in Education

Unity is the well-known development platform for games, virtual worlds, virtual reality, and interactive simulations. Unity 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. Increased fascination with gamification, virtual reality, STEM, and student-created content helps explain a recent swelling of customer interest for Unity. Unity3D, the manufacturer of Unity, has recently announced some education-specific breaking news:
A refreshed mission. Unity3D 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  recently formed a dedicated Global Education unit. 
A certification for education program. This includes Unity-certified developer courseware, certification exams, and even certification events. 
A training and certification partner programUnity 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. It will be fun to see where they take us.

November 28, 2016

3D @ ISTE 2016: Sessions

Some pundits feel that 3D in education has peaked. But it didn’t seem that way

at all at ISTE 2016, where 3D technologies evidenced their strongest and most mature presence in the history of that event. The ISTE 2016 educational conference held just this summer, with over 16,000 in attendance hailing from 76 countries, is the largest ed-tech conference held in the U.S. 3D was well represented in a number of conference sessions:

Five concurrent sessions featured 3D at ISTE 2016 (all showcasing 3D design technologies), yet the strongest 3D presence and audience could be found in the panel presentation sponsored by the ISTE 3D Network. This panel featured comments by Pavel Solin (University of Nevada-Reno), Tom Adams (Costa Rica), Len Scrogan (University of Colorado-Denver), Kristin Donley (Monarch High School, CO), and Mattias Bostrom (Sensavis), followed by discussions and breakouts. Professor Solin spoke about the importance of student-created design for promoting 3D; Mr. Adams spoke about 3D printing and its role in school ‘makerspaces’; and this author spoke about the morphing of 3D technology into the current VR meme. Most notably, Kristin Donley summarized some of her recent research on using passive 3D displays with high school students, while Mr. Bostrom spoke of the potential of stereo 3D visualization in world-wide classrooms, providing a number of insightful teacher anecdotes.

November 21, 2016

New VR/AR Competition

New U.S. Department of Education VR/AR Accelerator Competition

“Seeking next-generation educational simulations that strengthen career and technical skills.”

The U. S. Department of Education recently announced a $680K competition, the EDSIM CHALLENGE, for individuals or groups to develop new and immersive VR/AR experiences for use in education. In this multi-winner competition, 5 finalists will receive $50,000, while 1 grand prize winner will receive $430,000. In addition, Samsung will offer a Galaxy S7 Edge, a Galaxy Tab S2 9.7″, a Gear S3 watch, a Gear VR headset, and an Oculus Mobile software developer kit (SDK) to each of the five finalists. Additional prizes will likely be announced later. The deadline for First Round Submissions is 4:59:59 PM ET on January 17, 2017.
 “Successful simulations will pair the engagement of commercial games with rigorous educational content to prepare students for the 21st century workforce” and will “help define the future of applied learning.”
This opportunity is open to a wide audience, but note the all-important specifics here: “[They are] looking for concepts for immersive simulations that transfer academic, technical, and employability skills.” In the application, they specifically ask: “How might your simulation fit into a future ecosystem of simulations for career and technical education (CTE)?” Digging deeper reveals that this competition is being offered under the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) (can you say “vocational education?”) Plus, there's the '"applied learning" notion mentioned above. 

So it appears to me that any VR/AR submittal in the arts, social sciences, literature, or in elementary school content will likely sit on thin ice. That’s my thinking.

November 10, 2016

Immersive VR Meetup in LA

Are you in the LA vicinity on December 3rd? If so, please join us for a the Los Angeles VR and Immersive Technologies MEETUP being held at noon at the Creative Technology Center.

In this eye-opening gathering, I will introduce some controversial topics that will appeal to the interests of all corners of the VR industry–and will unwrap some completely unexpected conclusions.
Three things you didn’t know about VR (and were afraid to ask):
“Why does VR make people sick?” (and is there anything I can do about it?)
“Is VR bad for children?” (or is there something quite hopeful here?)
“Where is all the educational VR content hiding?” (Marco?…….Polo!)
Then the small-group discussions will start, with your own contributions making for an enlightening mashup. You’ve simply got to be there to help unpack this all-new idea set.

October 31, 2016

Sensavis Rising

Since we were on the topic of Sensavis last week, let’s continue. What’s new with this 3D company?

New Content.  Always striving to improve their suite of educational simulations, Sensavis
has added a robust segment to their treatment of DNA studies. This includes a comprehensive drill-down look at the entire DNA replication process, moving beyond DNA structure and including captivating simulations on replication, transcription, translation, repelling molecules, and the G-C & T-A molecule.

New Customers. The company has evidently brought some new educational customers to the table, including a school district in Tennessee and the Ministry of Education in Singapore. Apparently, much of the new content coming out was developed for the Ministry of Education in Singapore (but will be made available for all customers). In Singapore, the content is produced centrally, with the Ministry using Sensavis’ simulations to record their own educational videos. The resulting mixes are then utilized in over 180 schools in Singapore.

Personalizing 3D. Sensavis appears to be reaching entirely new markets by taking a new tack: enabling schools and teachers to record their simulations and produce their own videos, with voice annotation and flexible navigation of each simulation.  Mattias Boström, a past school principal and currently Director of Product Development for Sensavis, observes “The most important thing is that teachers don’t generally like to be told what and how to teach. Therefore we have added the capability for teachers to create their own simulations or walkthroughs.”

Fredrik Olofsson, CEO and President of Sensavis, provided an example: “One thing we see happening in Sweden—and all over Europe—is that we have a lot of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries coming into Europe right now, and not many schools have Arabic speaking teachers on staff. So we just signed a contract with a local municipality to help them centrally develop videos for students.”  He adds: “One teacher in Finland has students record simulations and then teach the class for a coming session.” He beams: “Schools are starting to talk about having older students develop videos for younger students.”

The recording that is becoming so popular with educational customers is enabled through a Microsoft plug-in, Office Mix. Office Mix enables teachers or university lecturers to record screen content directly into PowerPoint. Olofsson grins and posits: “Imagine seeing our full HD, high-quality, interactive rendered 3D content in a classroom PowerPoint presentation. Full HD video.” Videos recorded with Office Mix can be uploaded for free into the cloud, then linked or embedded within other resources. This enables the content to be viewed on smartphones, tablets, or low-end laptops. Once uploaded, Mix provides a bevy of analytics and assessment features. 

October 24, 2016

A Case Study

Selling to Schools: A Case Study

Sensavis, the Swedish 3D content company, is experiencing more success at reaching educational customers with their 3D educational science content, the 3D Classroom, than many other content producers I know.  I wanted to discover why, so I spent time interviewing Mattias Boström, a past school principal and currently Director of Product Development for Sensavis,  and Fredrik Olofsson, CEO and President of Sensavis, with this goal in mind.

What I discovered was that Sensavis pursues a different strategy than most companies do. And I think that the folds and creases of this strategy can be informative for any industry hoping to penetrate the stubborn education market.  Here’s what I learned:

It’s all about the teacher. The centerline strategy of Sensavis appears to be their focus on meeting the needs of teachers, not just supporting the curriculum or providing content directly to students. It’s the teacher that matters to Sensavis. For example, “most companies add a lot of text and voiceover to their products, because they want to appeal directly to the student”, suggests Bostrom, who is also an experienced school principal. Sensavis content “leaves room for the teacher”, he explains.  

It starts where the customer is at, not where the technology is at. Most educational customers don’t have the technical wherewithal to broadly implement stereoscopic 3D. As a solution, schools and colleges are urged to invest in the rendered 3D content and make the move to the far superior stereo 3D content when they are ready. (The Sensavis content is provided in both rendered and stereo format, upon purchase.) Rendered 3D can support a variety of classroom formats: flipped, blended, online or face to face settings, without requiring the school to invest in additional hardware. A good example is the Tanglin Trust School in Singapore, which uses both rendered and stereo 3D in the classroom, as needed. 

It’s all about rightsizing. Sensavis has  enabled their content to run on minimal devices, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro and  ordinary teacher computers. I saw their newest simulations running on a Surface Pro, using a minimum i5 processor, 8 gigs ram, while running Microsoft operating system 8 or X with a 64bit installation. Their 3D sims can be run in either rendered 3D, or be connected to a 3D projector/display to run in stereo 3D. Even the rendered 3D is lifelike, full HD, fully interactive content. “We wanted to be able to install our simulations on any teacher’s computer”, explains Boström. 

It’s about user-created content. Oloffson explains: “What really attracts schools is the video recording segment of the product, which enables students and teachers to create their own educational videos.” He explains: “Teachers can manipulate any process in the recording. We recognize that teachers don’t generally like to be told what and how to teach. Therefore we have added the capability for teachers to create their own simulations or walkthroughs.”

It’s about pricing. Sensavis’ pricing strategies are also teacher friendly. That makes sense. If teachers can’t afford it on their own, or teachers pass on to leadership that a product is unapproachable, that’s the end of it.

It’s about sharing. In the U.S., teachers are isolated, One of the innovative developments now under design by Sensavis is the creation of a private cloud-based solution that can house teacher- and student-created animations, sharable across schools, districts or states.  This approach eliminates the need for each teacher, each school or each district to recreate the wheel with teacher-developed content? Why not store and share the best?

October 17, 2016

Selling to Schools (2)

The five models of school decision making introduced in last week's post should prompt some worthwhile deliberative thinking. If your company is going to sell 3D or VR to schools—hardware, content, services, or solutions—can you see beyond the calmly mesmerizing river currents of what you may already believe about the educational market? Can you instead peer deeper and recognize the tremendous hidden complexity inherent in selling to schools? Here are some important questions you should ask yourself about selling to schools:

  • ·        Do we really understand the diversity of the school market? (See this insightful infographic)
  • ·     Do we have the best situational strategies in place to sell effectively to educational customers, based on the models in our previous post?
  • ·      How will we know if, in fact, we are using the right strategy for our target marketplace?
  • ·      Do your marketing plans display an “all the above” strategy for reaching the education market? (Again, I am referring to the models listed in last week's post.)
  • ·      Most importantly, do your sales reps really understand the complexities outlined in the these models, and know how to navigate these waters?
In selling to schools, do you just see a placid and unremarkable river?

October 10, 2016

Selling to Schools (1)

The challenge of selling 3D or VR to schools reminds me of a flowing description I penned in a soon-to-be published book:

Imagine a river, deep and fast, charging downwards through a majestic canyon, slowing to a crawl as it ambles its way through a lush green valley. Although a winding river may at first seem unremarkable in its flow and function, it is actually teeming with hidden complexity. Upon closer inspection of a river we unveil a lively, changing, and connected environment, one consisting of currents, undercurrents, pools, eddies, meanders, weirs, swells, and even flood cycles.”

My careful analogy is this:  like rivers, selling 3D or VR to schools is never that simple. Much like a river, selling to schools offers hidden complexity.  In a recent discussion between a group of educators and ed-tech industry folks at a large national conference we all agreed that, in education, there is no single homogeneous customer.  To the contrary, the decisions for procurement of technology by schools can be labeled according to these diverse models:

Model 1: The district makes nearly all of the decisions. Students and teachers don’t. All purchasing is strongly controlled and filtered by organizational gatekeepers.
Model 2: The district makes the decisions, but does so in collaboration with teachers; teacher advice is solicited broadly or sought individually through teacher representation on adoption committees. I have even seen the gatekeepers overruled by these collaborators.
Model 3: Purchasing decisions are logically split. The district may be the decision maker on a core portfolio of resources, while individual schools can still go ahead and buy anything else. In other words, the district makes make some decisions, (with or without collaboration from teachers); schools can do the rest. And yes, school-level gatekeepers can be just as protective as their district counterparts—especially if they happen to be a school principal or a powerfully influential lead teacher.
Model 4: Purchasing decisions and authority are splintered. The district purchases items they perceive as enterprise-important; the schools can acquire items that are community-important; lead teachers or department heads can procure essential departmental or grade-level resources; and—wait for it—teachers can supplement through own classroom budgets. This approach is, of course, far more complex than the previous models; it’s an open playground, not a walled garden.
Model 5: Students or teachers create their own. Although this rarely applies to hardware acquisition, it is a phenomenon we see in schools in the arenas of content and services: students or teachers create the content as opposed to purchasing it; or students and teachers provide technical services within the school as opposed to procuring it from the outside.

October 3, 2016

Gimmick or Godsend (2)

In the research presented in last week's post. Dr. Green is now moving toward some new research along two probative dimensions: First, she explains “we are hopeful that through our research we can guide publishers towards some heuristics for creating 3D VR because at this point it seems like they are publishing what they think we need [for augmented  reality and virtual reality extensions].”  Second, Dr. Green’s team hopes to use these heuristics to develop an even more effective rubric for removing the ‘wow’ factor from resource consideration. Dr. Green laments: “Google cardboard VR is putting people INTO a virtual environment, but there is no inquiry involved.” She is certain than gamifying some of this VR content will also help. Identifying these requirements in a rubric is key in both regards.

The Side Story.
Although the efforts of Dr. Green initially involved a small sample of preservice educators, current samples of educators are much larger. And as a result, they are also starting to notice some other interesting observations. Anecdotal at this stage, these casual findings are certain to lead to additional research questions for 3D content in the near future. 

It is beginning to appear that AR/VR resources in classrooms may:
  • make it easier for the students to recall their learning.
  • enable students to notice things in 3D format that they would not see in the 2D format. (Students then feel compelled to go back to the book to find the answer themselves).
  • facilitate comprehension of abstract ideas. (For example,  Dr. Green describes a teacher who tried and tried to explain to students what the dark side of the moon was about: acting it out, drawing pictures—but nothing seemed to help the students understand until they saw the 3D image. “All of a sudden it clicked with them.”)
An interesting question and hypothesis she would like to posit in the future is: “Why is 3D effective in the classroom?” Does 3D visual learning reduce the cognitive load on learners?” These are all good breadcrumbs to follow.