October 30, 2017

Cool VR @ SXSW

The predictive education bazaar that we know as SXSWedu is held each year in Austin, Texas in the Spring. 

Over the last two years, virtual reality made its presence known in a big way at SXSWedu. The diversity of approaches and angles is mind-boggling, such as:
  • Mike Cuales and Bethanne Tobey (North Carolina State University) talking about the use of 360 spherical video as a teaching tool .
  • Ilan Bren Yakov (MidCET) demonstrating the empathy-creating potential of virtual reality by placing your own head/vision in the body of a dog, chasing cats and living a dog’s life in general.
  • Carlos Castaneda (University of Chihuahua MX) demonstratingvirtual reality combined with gesture control (using a jerry-rigged Leap motion controller creatively mounted on VR headgear.
  • Renee Hobbs (University of Rhode Island) demonstratingthe Google Cardboard phenomenon.
  • In their presentation, “Virtual Exchange Meets Virtual Reality”, Grace Lau and Hanna Weitzer (Global Nomads Group) introducing their innovative project combining virtual reality with distance learning, called “Reimagine: Syria”. " (In this project, students from Los Angeles were dropped into a virtual reality recreation to understand the realities of the Syrian Crisis, and then later, were connected with actual refugee youth in Amman, Jordan in a live skyped session.)
  • Jennifer Holland (Product Manager for Google Expeditions) and Benjamin Scrom (Project Manager, Google) conductinga two-hour workshop entitled“Explore Your Worlds with Google Expeditions”, designed to take students “places a school bus can’t go”. 
  • Dr. Jennifer Simonson and Len Scrogan providing a medical perspective about the intersection of virtual reality, reading, learning, and healthy vision for children. 
  • Emory Craig, (Director of eLearning at the College of New Rochelle) and Maya Georgieva, (Co-Founder, Digital Bodies) [see their interesting web site] conducting a workshop raising fundamental questions about future media, storytelling, and narrative using this new medium. 
  • Lizzie Edwards (Education Manager, Samsung Digital Learning Programme [Samsung Digital Discovery Centre at the British Museum]) describing the museum’s effort to host a “virtual reality” weekend in which families were able to explore the Museum’s first virtual reality environment—a bronze Age round house—set within a realistic landscape, and showcasing 3D scans of real objects from this period in history.
  • The Digital Media Academy demonstratinghow they help students learn to create virtual reality environments through their community-based programs.
  • A college demonstrating how they use virtual reality as a recruiting tool to attract new students to their campus by featuring innovative virtual reality walkthroughs of their innovative learning spaces, experiencing the look and feel of the campus before having to commit to a college site visit.

As you can see, VR can take on numerous roles in education. In a few months I will provide a preview of virtual-reality sessions being offered at the upcoming SXSW 2018 conference.

October 23, 2017

Case Study Conclusion 2

Taking a more contrary point of view, I see a number of problems with the Chinese VR study we have been covering for the past month:  
  • I am concerned any time I see for-profit sponsors/authors of a research project. (Both sponsors of this study are commercial interests.) Although the findings are helpful, it is clear to me that this study was designed to promote the expanded use of VR learning, not merely understand it. Little chunks of uncensored hyperbole spread throughout the study leave me with this sense.
  • The study has an extremely low sample size, or low n, ensuring that the findings cannot actually be as conclusive as suggested.
  • The low sample size, along with the small number of HTC Vive units employed brings into question the scalability of implementing this technology in actual school settings, where student numbers are higher, and equipment costs would clearly skyrocket.
  • The focus on retention is troubling. This is low-lying fruit in the minds of educators. We want deeper learning, critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis. Two-week retention tests also seem contrived. Why not a month or two months?  
  • The type of testing that was administered remains unstated. What kind was it? Multiple choice testing? Essay writing? Performance testing? Previous research in this field suggests that students using visualization technologies perform better on essay-type tests (requiring higher-order thinking) than they do on multiple choice tests (requiring factual regurgitation).
  • The refrain throughout the study is that VR works well in education and produces positive academic results because it is FUN. Is that notion the best this research can offer as an explanation for the value of this technology? I think not. Game research suggests that challenge, competition, and noble failure are more motivating to us than fun; recent neuroscience or brain research might point to curiosity, storytelling (narrative), relevance, vividness, and novelty as the primary motivators working in and through VR technology.  

For me, all types of research matter… I prefer to read and report on all of it. Each study, survey, action research effort, or anecdotal collection provides us with the clues, contacts, and stepping stones to learn more. Each enables us to grow wiser, gather fresh insight, and seize upon new perspective. So there you have it. As I pondered this research study, I remembered the Hindi proverb: “Even a drowning man catches a straw.” Yes, the results of this study are all “good to know.” They advance our knowledge another step or two forward.

October 16, 2017

Case Study Conclusion 1

For the last three weeks, we have been examining a case study on using virtual reality for instruction within the Chinese schools. Although the authors conclude: “Students from each grade level achieved more progress by VR-based learning than traditional teaching”, my own feelings are mixed. 

Let's begin with some positive points. This Chinese study:
  • offers a laudable focus on education. (We need as much insight as we can get into using virtual reality for educational settings.)
  • tackles a perfect subject area—astrophysics—and asks the perfect question: “Will visualization (in this case VR) help students learn this difficult and abstract content?”
  • is smart to focus on stubborn, recurring learning challenges. (Using a promising technology to tackle an “easy” topic is simply unimportant.)
  • takes a closer look at the notion of measuring learning efficiency, which here is defined as reducing the amount of reteaching necessary to push students toward content mastery. More studies should look at this solid “return on investment” for teaching with VR.

October 9, 2017

Case Study, Part 3

Continuing with the theme from the last two weeks, we now want to focus on some of the qualitative findings coming out of the Chinese VR case study:

As is common in other case studies I have examined, students in this study are entirely enthusiastic about the use of virtual reality in science instruction. “The introduction of the latest VR technology into education is very fascinating to students, who are looking forward to seeing VR-based teaching integrated in their classes,” report the study’s authors. 

Notably, the female students were more likely to recommend VR instruction to others than the male students were. That’s a pleasant surprise.

Students and teachers were also polled about which content areas they would most like to see peppered with VR content. The chart below shows their preferences. (In the U.S., I sense there would be higher interest in mathematics and social sciences.)

Overall, this study concludes on a high note: “Every child is a genius in his or her own way. VR can be the key to awakening the genius inside.” 

October 2, 2017

Case Study, Part 2

The Chinese case study introduced in last week's post provides both quantitative and qualitative findings.

Quantitative Findings
At first blush, the use of VR in teaching seems to have a positive effect on test scores: The average score of the VR group was 93%, while the traditional instruction group evidenced a 73% average.  The lowest Score of VR group was 75%, while the lowest score in the first post-test for the traditional instruction group was 40%. In another measure, the VR group demonstrated a 27.4% growth in scores.

Interestingly, the study spent some time analyzing learning efficiency: only one student in the VR group required repeated teaching and follow-up testing to achieve mastery, which, accounted for 10% of the group members; in comparison, six students in traditional teaching group required reteaching, accounting for 60% of those students. According to the researchers, this suggests a certain level of spent-time learning efficiency that advantages schools with limited resources.

The use of VR in learning also appeared to offer positive results for knowledge retention. In the second test, administered two weeks later, the average score of the VR group approached 90%, while that of the traditional teaching group settled in at 68%. According to the authors, this suggests that knowledge taught in a traditional fashion is more inclined to be forgotten quickly.
The study also unmasked, according to the researchers, an unexpected discovery: “The average score of C students in the VR group reached 88%, 15.8% higher than that of the A students in the control (traditional) group.” The researchers concluded: “Every student has a special gift. As we found in the experiment, the right teaching method helps to discover children’s unlimited potential.” Incidentally, past U.S. technology studies in the arena of 3D learning and visualization harmonize with this discovery: many technologies have a greater impact on struggling students than they do on highly successful students.

In next week's post, we will uncover some of the qualitative findings in this case study.