May 28, 2018

Will VR impact student outcomes?

As virtual reality grows increasingly bullish today, the key question now becomes “Is it really worth it?" In a past SXSWedu conference session entitled "Will VR really impact student outcomes?” this topic came under long-deserved consideration. The scholarly panelists included Eric Sheninger (Fellow, ICLE or International Center for Leadership in Education); Jennifer Holland, (Senior Program Manager for Expeditions and Classrooms, Google); Elizabeth Lytle, (Director of Education and Product Experience for zSpace); and Rebecca Girard, Science chair, Notre Dame High School, Belmont CA).

Sheninger delicately warned about the current tendency to view “VR as a miracle.” Too much time is spent, he suggests, merely “exposing students” to it. And too much effort is expended on excitedly identifying "what is possible" with this new technology. He suggested we need to look deeper and think more effectively about virtual-reality as it will play out in schools. “We need to take a critical lens about this. We can’t let this become another gimmick,” he argued.

The last two speakers, Holland and Girard, together attempted to answer the key question: "Will VR really impact student outcomes?” They highlighted some of the ‘observed’ benefits for students when using virtual-reality in the classroom:
  • deeper questioning
  • a better sense of scale
  • conducting experiments not possible due to safety, distance, or time constraints
  • increased motivation
  • learning that is extended outside of the classroom
  • better comprehension of concepts
Although these observed benefits represent only low-lying fruit, and are typical to most informal studies and industry-sponsored case studies, they still remain informative. The most interesting refrain coming from students and teachers is the notion of “deeper questioning”, a theme we have heard echoed for the last seven years in other related 3D visualization studies.

May 21, 2018

VR for the Crayon Crowd

When I first saw this technology on display, I knew I had to write about it. I knew our readers needed to know about it, not just because this technology embodies two important trends now impacting education, but also because you really want to try this with your own children or grandchildren. Yes, it's that cool. Really.

This post is about VR for the youngest among us. The crayon crowd. This project emerges from North Carolina State University’s respected Immersive Experience Lab. One among many projects in this lab is the Panoform project. Payod Panda, the lead designer and developer for the Panoform project, explains the value proposition for their solution in this way: “When you think of kids, they really want to create things, but there is no way for them to create [easily] in VR right now.”

So how does Panoform work? Panda’s workflow explanation, along with the pictures shown below, helps explain exactly how Panoform is quite unique: "From our perspective, this is a tool which can let people create VR environments in a really quick way. So you just sketch on the template we have, you take a photo of it, you crop it, go to our website, and you then upload that photo. On a desktop, the website allows you to view your sketch on a flat screen, but the real magic happens when use your phone to do it—after loading your sketch on your phone, just switch to VR mode and put it in a VR viewer (like the Google cardboard). Instantly, you are teleported to the center of the sketch you just created." 

And here's the big change for the crayon crowd: Panda continues: "This is a complete shift in the way you look at a 'sketch'—you just went from creating a paper sketch, which is typically a tiny window into a world you imagine, to an environment that you are inside of and that you can look around in—all using paper and crayons.” 

Interestingly, Panoform is currently provided to schools, educators, and in my case—grandparents—free of charge. Considerable thoughtfulness has been applied to this product in its design, at least for education, in that schools can create their own private directories for storage of student work.  Aside from being a tool for artistic VR creation, the Panoform team is also thinking of ways for using the tool in middle- and high-school curricula for subjects that can benefit from the modaility of spatial thinking. 

Panoform represents a continued and formidable echo of the user-generated content theme, albeit at a much lower grade level. Panda explains: “Our main idea is to get more kids to become ‘creators’ of the art form more than ‘consumers’ of the art form.” Although the technology is neither new nor proprietary, it also represents a creative 'rethinking' of existing technology. No doubt, we are increasingly in the business of producing little geniuses.