The annual SXSWedu phenomenon remains one of the most innovative, fresh, and prognostic venues in the U.S. for envisioning the future of the education and technology marketplace. Clearly, the 2017 SXSWedu conference held in March exhibited two thematic ‘darlings’: social justice and VR/AR/MR technologies. Both themes were hugely present, weaving their irresistible charms into conference sessions, playground exhibits, startup competitions, and even the exhibit hall. And of course, these two themes [social justice and VR/AR/MR] sometimes found an astute nexus, combining themselves into such demonstrations as a pair of Global Nomad VR presentations on promoting international social consciousness through VR-delivered empathy; and the use of popular hip-hop messaging through modern video and VR media by Rapport Studios.
But the main notion I want to convey is that VR/AR/MR (and chiefly, VR) was ubiquitous: as I declared previously—a conference ‘darling.’ But something else changed this year. The whole notion of virtual reality in education is becoming a bit more mature. A tad more thoughtful in nature. We are witnessing (as relates to VR in education) a phenomenon we educators call the “critical friend” role. A critical friend communicates accurately, candidly, yet constructively about the strengths, weaknesses, and potential ‘in-the-field” pitfalls associated with a technology, aiming for improvement, success, and greater potential. Other than the sheer numbers of presentations on the VR/AR/MR theme, a palpable wave of critical thinking about this new educational medium is now emerging. What has changed is this: almost every presentation at SXSWedu was equal parts critical assessment and excitement for VR/AR/MR technologies in schools. No more Sham Wow. Let’s get down to business. I mean education.