May 29, 2017

Critical Friend

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. 

May 15, 2017

Where to go from here

The 3D/VR industry itself can help us move away from the unwarranted bandwagoning.  (See previous three posts.) Moving beyond the gratuitious hype of the exhibit hall booth, the VR industry can perform some of its own heavy lifting. Yes, the 3D/VR industry can speed up the momentum of VRin education.  How you ask? It can be stimulated by: 
  • simplifying the technology; 
  • establishing reasonable technical standards; 
  • training school-facing distribution and support people; 
  • implementing insightful and transportable case studies; 
  • developing interesting use cases; 
  • conducting both action research and more rigorous educational research; 
  • providing recognition programs and publicity for successful educators; 
  • providing recognition and momentum for effective educational s3D/VR content creation by carving out an educational category in industry awards; 
  • providing platform stability and consistency; 
  • committing to unceasing drip marketing and consistent messaging via social media; 
  • deemphasizing hyperbole; and 
  • talking to educators.

Yet, sadly, much of the industry is following hard after 3D, 4K and UHD in search of the “next big thing” for the education market. Déjà vu all over again.

May 8, 2017

Waiting for GenZ

Trying to push 3D VR to Generation X is like waiting for Godot. I find that, as far as 3D VR is concerned, older generations can take it or leave it. And for those Generation Xers in educational leadership positions, their timorousness can easily translate into defensive gatekeeping. (Their idea of the “next big thing” now demands  1:1 tablets and open educational resources.) 

Not so with Generation Y and Z. They enjoy 3D VR and yearn for more. (Except for those who cannot comfortably 'see' it, due to a personal vision issue.) Some of the heavy lifting required to move 3D VR toward its true educational promise will come from these younger generations, as they acquire more influence over the years. For now, they are nearly invisible.

May 1, 2017

Heavy Lifting

As 3D VR (see the post from two weeks ago) moves aggressively into the educational space, I remain worried. My extensive conversations with folks in the ed-tech or related industries suggest that these people are not interested in the heavy lifting required to push an innovation out of the trough of disillusionment upwards into Gartner’s slope of enlightenment and plateau of productivity.  This unwholesome attitude, this notion of 3D VR as a windfall, somehow sticks in my craw.

Again, they hope for the downwards gravity of an avalanche, anticipating that the “next big thing” in education will rush at them, money in hand. No, selling 3D VR in education will require some heavy lifting. It will require hard work to get this right. And Google cannot do it on its own...