Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Oculus Redemption! How does it compare to the Vive now?

Last Spring, after driving for an hour across town to demo the Oculus Rift CV1 at Best Buy I was surprised when the 20-something-year-old kid asked if I would like to purchase one.  Even though most preorders hadn't yet shipped, he informed me that there had been an inventory problem.  While their computers said that they didn't have any in stock, he actually had 6 in back and would gladly sell me one if I wanted.

I hadn’t officially preordered Oculus’ headset; however, I’d been lurking in the shadows of the VR scene for years.  My excitement towards VR had definitely started as a kid way back in the 80’s. I had been rooting for Oculus all the way from the beginning with their Kickstarter campaign.  The only step left was to pool my limited resources and buy it.

 I found it humorous, but not too surprising in retrospect, that even though thousands of people had waited years to get their hands on Oculus' consumer version that I was being offered cuts in the preorder line by this acne-laden kid.  One quick walk around the block to consult with my wife on making a fairly big impulse purchase and I was back to pull the trigger; after all, it must be fate that had brought me to this precipice and all that I could do now was take the plunge.

Oculus had me right where they wanted me, I was finally experiencing many of the VR experiences I had seen in demo videos and read about.  This was it . . . or was it?

My hyped up, much anticipated VR dreams quickly deflated a few weeks later when I was at a conference and tried out a demo of the HTC Vive.  HTC and its motion-controlled-goodness surpassed almost every aspect of the consumer VR experience.  I immediately had buyer’s remorse which even led me to post up some ads on Craigslist trying to unload my new toy in an effort to swap out for the Vive.  Not even a nibble. 

Actually, if Craigslist prices were any indication, I had just gotten on the wrong side of the VR arms race.  
The continued depreciation of the headset as well as my VR experience resulted in my joining the masses of other Oculus owners who were doing the next logical thing, what else could we do?  We waited for the release of the Oculus Touch controllers.

The future is finally here, I’m happy to report that with the addition of the Touch controllers, my VR excitement level has gone from a 5 back to a 10.  It’s often been said that competition is healthy for the market and I’m glad for what Vive has done to jumpstart VR and add variety.  I also look forward to the competition in years to come that hopefully results in a faster turn-around and more innovation by way of VR technology.  Round 1 goes to Vive.  Round two without a doubt goes to Oculus.  I’m officially back on with team oculus.  I can’t really think of any way in which the HTC Vive outperforms the Rift except maybe with the addition of the front camera. Here are a few of my observations as to why the Rift is currently the hands-down winner.  I should note that I have since had a lot more experience with the Vive and tested out most games that support both.

Ways in which Oculus is beating the competition:
  • The guardian system.  I was pleasantly surprised when setting up for Touch that the guardian system seemed more polished and helped keep me more  aware of my surrounding space. I especially appreciate the hand blobs that intensify as I approach my boundaries.
  • The controls are more natural and precise. That's not to say that Vive isn't fairly intuitive, I would say that the difference is that Vive is more intuitive for people with a gaming background whereas anyone can pick up the touch controllers and not even really know how they're doing it, it just works.
  • Comfort and design.  This is where Facebook's Oculus really stands out.  This isn't really a surprise given the head start that Oculus had in designing their product.  While impressive that Vive seemed to take the quick route to producing an amazing and comparable product, now that Oculus' offering is complete, they are hard to even place into the same ballpark.
  • Software.  The Oculus store and the experience hardly skips a beat.  While I have experienced a few hiccups with sensors disconnecting, the current build of the Oculus software is rock solid on my setup.
  • Screen.  I notice a bit of white glare on the Oculus with really intense whites but other than that the screen is clearer and more vibrant than the Vive.  I’m sure this has been debated to death and the specs are surely out there but from a real-world standpoint, I can simply say that Oculus is better.
  • Tracking system.  Oculus claims that you need 3 sensors to have full room scale VR.  I’m not convinced that if you were to wall mount the Rift cameras in the same configuration as the Vive that you wouldn’t get very similar results with just two cameras.  I think that Oculus’ line of “VR is meant to be a seated experience” was simply poor sportsmanship on their part.  However, at the current state of the technology, I don’t really see much benefit in trying to create 360 experiences when more often than not the cord starts to get tangled around the user’s feet.  I find myself quickly adapting to find ways to keep my forward orientation in VR just to avoid all the confusion that comes with turning around in circles.  This will definitely change when VR is freed from cords.
  • Games.  Oculus is double dipping here but the results are beneficial for the consumer.  In my experience, almost all Vive games work with Oculus and Touch whereas the opposite is not true.
  • Sound.  This one seems simple but I haven’t seen a single person try to get out of the Vive experience who doesn’t inadvertently drop their headphones to the ground while taking off the headset.  Oculus’ effort to build in audio was a great decision.
  • Weight.  Again, I’m sure the specs are readily available but the Rift feels almost too light in the hand considering the money it costs while with Vive definitely starts to get uncomfortable after any prolonged wear.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Using Google Earth VR for Education

Google has done it again! 

I've talked a little bit about Google Expeditions before but Google Earth VR really takes things to the next level.  It's almost as if way back in 2004 when Google first introduced Google Earth, it had VR in mind.  After all, in the last decade+ tons of resources have gone into Google Earth to make it more interactive and complete.



At first, individual users and organizations were encouraged to model buildings and cities in 3D which were in turn added to the globe.  Now, Google implements a type of auto generated 3D mesh across whole cities to more accurately and completely depict the 3D settings around the globe.  This visual from Wikipedia shows the current state of 3D imaging within Google Earth.

Viewing Google Earth VR from the educational lens starts to look pretty exciting.

In many aspects, the world in which we live seems to become increasingly small; however, the constraints experienced in education are ever-present.  While I'm not going to argue that VR is a perfect replacement for experiencing the world first hand, the ability to provide a quick an easy entry point is invaluable.  Whether checking out a scene on the other side of the world or even on the other side of town, Google Earth VR has the potential to be implemented extremely easily into the daily activities in the classroom.

Imagine teaching kids about architecture and allowing them to fly around the globe and see the sites where architectural styles were first invented.  Think about what it means to be able to fly around each of the world's cities and begin to understand the products of any culture or group.  Now extrapolate ten years into the future and imagine the types of experiences that will be available.  I believe full-heartedly that we are at the dawn of educational experiences that haven't even been imaginable until this point.  Still not catching the vision of this development?  Watch this promo for the app and then find someone with a VR setup to try it out, you won't regret it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Augmented Reality takes me back to the good ole’ days.

I grew up in a rural farming town in the Northwest.  


In most ways my childhood was idyllic despite a much simpler technological era.  We didn’t have the Internet in our home until I was in my teenage years.  The family would occasionally gather around a 19” TV in the evenings but living in a small town meant that we would only get 3 channels with any reliable reception.  I’m sure that young adults even ten years my junior are now asking the question, “what did you do with all your time?”

One of the perks of living on the outskirts was that, upon moving to the area, my parents had purchased 2 acres of property.  A small cherry orchard out back of the house was my source of entertainment for many of my childhood years.  Digging shallow ditches in the ground and using a hose as our water source, my older brother and I could easily spend several hours a day playing in the mud.

What does any of this have to do with Augmented Reality?  I feel pretty strongly that augmented and virtual realities have the potential to come full circle in pairing technology with real life experiences.  There are at least a dozen logistical reasons that my children can’t have the same experience of playing unattended in the mud that I once enjoyed.  I realize that at this point I start to date myself as I talk about the good ole’ days but bear with me.  I am not proposing that we move away from technology as a society but rather we embrace the aspects of technology that allow all of us to get back to a place of creativity, learning, playing, and inventing.


So, do you want to play in the mud again?  Build yourself an augmented reality sandbox based on the work done by Oliver Kreylos.  To prove my point, you can watch this video of me playing in an AR sandbox.  Or better yet, don’t watch it and go create your own to play in.  After having this installation in my middle school library, I can attest to the fact that kids are still kids and they still enjoy the benefits of simply playing around.  Oh yeah, if you’re not following the playing in the mud and sand analogy, insert any other thing you’ve ever experienced or can imagine, that is the power behind AR / VR.



Saturday, November 5, 2016

Photogrammetry and Me - 3D Models from Photos

As I type this post, my computer wants to auto correct the word photogrammetry; I promise I didn't make it up.  Actually, photogrammetry is hardly a new concept but it is one that I feel hasn't received the attention that it deserves.  The basic premise is to use various static photos and lots of computing power to map out an area in 3d space.

Perhaps a more simple application of a similar type of technology is photo stitching.  This function is present in most mobile camera apps that are able to create panorama or photosphere pictures.  Photogrammetry adds it's secret sauce to account for information about the depth of the image after which it can create a 3d model or scene.

123D Catch by Autodesk is one of the easiest and most polished examples of this software.  

Here's a quick capture I did on my desk at work.  The post it notes are to help with reference and you can see that the process captured a little bit of the surrounding area as well.  From here, the model can be imported into another Autodesk app like Meshmixer to be cleaned up.  The whole process is extremely easy for anyone, even young children, to master.


Where to go from here?

This same principle is being used to create larger 3d scans of entire scenes.  Check out the model below of a scene stitched together using drone footage.  I find this type of scan particularly intriguing and can't wait to experiment with my students. Stay tuned for more posts on the subject :).  Comment below and join in on the conversation if you have experience using photogrammetry in the classroom or have plans to do so.


Once you have created a 3d model of a real world model or scene, bringing those images into Virtual Reality is getting easier and easier.  Check out some of my other posts about using VR viewers to show 3d models.

Sketchfab and the Wonderful World of WebVR
Dynamic 3D Viewers for VR

Additional resources for those researching photogrammetry:

https://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Destinations

http://store.steampowered.com/app/489180/

Friday, October 14, 2016

Does virtual reality really have a place in education?

I've recently had a few opportunities to work with some colleagues who are trying to infuse VR components into their curriculum.  For me, watching people experience VR is hugely motivating.  I love seeing kids engage in a lesson that they otherwise wouldn't because VR gives them a different mode of experiencing the content than the traditional methods.

The goal isn't to recreate reality but to create brief opportunities to escape it.

Particularly in a school setting, virtual reality allows kids a chance to focus in on what they are learning and can help pull them away from some of the distractions in their everyday lives.  It sounds almost counterintuitive but the distraction of VR somehow allows kids to focus more.

Is VR a gimmick?

I feel like the same could be said about almost every new "technology" that has ever been developed in the history of humankind.  I'm sure that there will always be a certain amount of resistance to doing things in new ways.  However, I do find it interesting that kids don't ever seem deterred by that more adult thought process.  For kids, virtual reality is just a reality--another way of connecting to technology and something to be explored.

In each and every opportunity I've had to work with kids using VR in an educational setting, I'm reminded of the place that VR has in education.  It has the power to excite, the power to engage, and the power to transport.  VR is one of the technologies on the cutting edge of innovation and creativity, exactly what we aim to inspire in our students.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Cospaces.io and their Secret Recipe to Educational VR

Anyone who knows my opinions on VR or has read through some of my blog posts knows my mantra when it comes to the usefulness of VR in education; it has to involve the ability to create.  Being able to easily create VR experiences from within the classroom that are custom-tailored to the lesson on hand is transformational. 

Recently I had the chance to partner with a teacher inside the Spanish classroom to take Cospaces for a spin.  This thing has some pretty amazing potential!

Having taught Spanish for 9 years, I felt like I had a dog in this fight. 

The rough outline to the lesson went as follows:
  • Brief introduction to what Cospaces is and a five-minute tutorial on how to navigate with the touchpad on the student Chromebooks.
  • Group kids into groups of 2-3 students.
  • We were using this activity as review of vocabulary so a quick reminder of the vocabulary that the kids were working on.
  • The bulk of the time spent was in creating “virtual flashcards” that represented the words that the kids were learning in VR.


Since this was the debut performance of using Cospaces.io at our school, we mostly wanted to get a feel for management and ease of use.  I’m happy to report that both of those things worked out fine in a class of just over 20 and another class of 35 students.  The kids were incredibly engaged throughout and came up with some pretty cool displays of their flashcards.  I had prepared by bringing a crate of google cardboard viewers but found it easier to simply walk around and show the kids their projects in real time by loading it up on my phone for them to view on the Gear VR.

The good people at Cospaces were kind enough to unlock one of their beta features for me that allowed me to create a template for the kids to work from and then share a link so that we could skip signing up for accounts.  Basically the whole class worked out of my single account which also made it nice in the end to have all the student work under my single account.



Next steps.

It was truly a neat experience being able to let the kids create a VR experience that they could view immediately.  Engagement was super high for a simple activity that was useful in practicing their vocabulary.  The next steps will be to have the kids develop a narrative in Spanish and work in groups to create a few slides that tell a story in Cospaces.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Using Aurasma in Any Content Area

I will be the first to admit that Aurasma is a bit of a deviation from the regular topics on this blog.  Personally, when I think of augmented and virtual reality, they seem more dissimilar than anything that they might have in common.  While VR seeks to recreate real-life experiences in order for the user to experience a reality that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, AR seems to simply add to our experiences. I guess I would tend to think of the two as opposites on the same continuum.
With that distinction out of the way; Aurasma, where have you been all of my life?

The process is actually really simple. 

Think of QR codes on steroids.  The user simply takes a picture or screenshot to set as the "trigger" image.  Step 2 involves creating an "overlay" or the image/video that will appear when the user scans the first image. Over the course of the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to introduce Aurasma to numerous teachers, students, administrators, and parents alike.  What usually ensues is kind of a mind-blowing experience.

On the part of the educator.

There is an immediate turning of mental gears as the experimenter begins to think of all the ways that the engaging technology could be applied to what they already do.  In my opinion-the sign of a perfect educational technology.

For the student.

The level of engagement is unprecedented.  Maybe it has something to do with the recent Pokémon Go craze or perhaps it is the idea that the sum is a much greater experience than the individual parts.
One of the teachers that I work with, Mr. Smith, did a quick poll of his kids and found that they all preferred giving their presentation in video format using Aurasma as opposed to presenting in front of the class.  Watch him model the project in this short clip.

The beauty in this is that the kids have now presented many times to their peers, parents, and other teachers, simply because their projects are posted in the hallway as a new digital-age display on the walls of our aging school.

Even parents can see the power in this disruptive technology and are quick to download the app in order to share in what is going on in the classroom.  Is Aurasma in the classroom a good idea?  I’ll let you be the judge of that, it’s easy enough to try out yourself.  Aurasma, I just wish I had found you sooner.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Sketchfab and the Wonderful World of WebVR

In the last couple of weeks, I set out on a journey that would lead me to a better understanding of WebVR and its awesomeness.  A while back I did a post about 3D viewers for VR, at the time Sketchfab had released an app for Gear VR and Oculus.  After trying out the app on both platforms I was left somewhat underwhelmed.  The app curates only a few models and lets you view a sample of what is available on Sketchfab but leaves the rest of the online experience out of the equation.  Well, the good people at Sketchfab must have had a bigger vision all along since they have since integrated a WebVR experience directly into the entire Sketchfab universe and it is amazing.  Not only can you peruse the entire collection of user-created content available on Sketchfab but you can upload your own 3D models in almost any 3D format.  Sketchfab even supports some simple animations a la Lifeliqe, did I mention that they are all available now?  Check out a video of Sketchfab WebVR in action.

What is WebVR?

In simple terms, WebVR allows online apps to talk to your VR display and provide VR directly from a web browser.  It’s actually pretty amazing to think about what is possible these days through the web. (I spent a big portion of my teenage life waiting for AOL to load pages on a dialup modem.)   For more information about WebVR, visit WebVR.info or MozVR.com.

Setting up WebVR?

This step presented some challenges and proved to be the most difficult part of enjoying a WebVR experience in Sketchfab.  There are 3 main ways to access WebVR, I will outline my experience with all three.
Mobile WebVR.  Supposedly, most new smartphones include WebVR capability in their browsers.  I tested this with Samsung Internet on the Gear VR.  Setting up this browser was fairly easy.  It required loading up the Internet while in VR and going to the following address: internet://webvr-enable
While it was easy to enable, the Sketchfab experience left a lot to be desired.  It was probably due to my aging hardware (Note 4) and the fact that Samsung Internet doesn’t use the newest version of the WebVR APIs.  The obvious benefit of mobile VR is its accessibility.  It is by far the easiest way to get the Sketchfab experience into the hands of a bunch of students in an educational setting.

Firefox Nightly.  Mozilla has done a ton of work to support the WebVR infrastructure in a PC environment.  This process is supposed to be as easy as downloading the most current version of Firefox Nightly and then running a WebVR enabler addon for Firefox.  I was never able to get this working even after downgrading to previous versions of the Firefox Nightly.  I suspect that it isn’t playing well with the newest Oculus drivers for my Rift CV1.  YMMV


Chromium(experimental Chrome builds).  This was the method that eventually got me up and running on my PC.  By installing the newest chromium build and then “enabling WebVR” from the about:flags menu, I was ready to go.  If you are interested in getting this up and running on your PC, I highly recommend you follow the simple guides that can be found on WebVR.info.

Monday, September 5, 2016

What is an appropriate age for VR?

When I first introduced VR into my classroom using the Gear VR I did what I usually do with most new technology in the classroom.  I sent an email home about it.  Call me old fashioned but I'm the type of teacher who is constantly running through worst case scenarios in my mind.  I could just see it, the whole class was having fun trying out virtual reality and then before you know, I have a kid going into an epileptic shock.  I figured that a quick email home to my parents giving them the ability to opt out would be sufficient protection to start using it in the classroom.  Overly cautious?  Perhaps, but it makes me feel better about what I'm doing.

So what is an appropriate age to start using VR in the classroom?  I will preface this by saying that by no means do I consider myself well-versed in the effects of VR on the adolescent mind.  I tend to think that an overabundance of caution is needed with something like strapping a smartphone within an inch of your eyes.  Luckily, the companies themselves have given us a little bit to go on.

Gear VR and Oculus Rift

Both of these have put out a statements saying that they are not suited for kids under the age of 13.  In fact, when both of these devices run Oculus home, there is a warning that you must click through in order to proceed using the technology that states 13 as the magic number.  In one statement, Oculus' Brendan Iribe pointed out that the age limit was set to align with Facebook's policy of 13 years or older requirement.

HTC Vive

In contrast to Oculus' wares, the HTC Vive has never specifically mentioned an age limit for its headset but has instead said that the hardware is not intended for children.  It's hard to say if they will ever adopt a specific age limit but most of the headsets available include some type of warning about making sure to take breaks particularly if any discomfort is experienced.

Cardboard

In this context, I'll assume that all cardboard viewers are basically the same and the Google Cardboard name encompasses a very broad range of mobile VR experiences.  Google has stated that kids should be supervised by adults while using Cardboard and that it is not intended to be used for long periods of time.
Like any good Dad I decided to do a little experiment and strap on a cheap Cardboard style viewer to my 2-year-old and see what happened.  I should preface that my wife and I try to limit our screen time and while my older kids have tried VR experiences it is never for longer than about 5 minutes at a time.

Conclusion

As a public school teacher, I certainly don't try and tell any of my kids' parents what is best for their child.  For that reason, I suggest open communication between you and the parents of your kids prior to using VR experiences.  Obviously towards the end of high school this becomes more of a moot point.  Moderation is probably key and my opinion as an educator is that most VR educational experiences shouldn't last longer than 5-10 minutes anyway in order to stay engaging.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Getting Started with Google Expeditions

If you are an educator who has been seeing some of the hype lately that surrounds virtual reality, you may be wondering how you can get started in the classroom.  There are several hurdles involved with getting a meaningful virtual reality experience up and running in the classroom; however, Google has graced us with a classroom VR tool that is fairly easy to use.

The first obstacle you might encounter to having VR in your classroom will be hardware.  

Thankfully, there are now a myriad of different cheap VR viewers available for purchase online.  I am not a huge fan of the cardboard viewers that are actually made out of cardboard, like anything else in my middle school classroom, if it can’t be wiped down with antibacterial wipes, I won’t touch it myself.  Instead, I would spend between $15-30 at the time of this posting to purchase a more robust plastic viewer from Amazon.  A quick search for cardboard viewer will yield many results, since most of the manufacturers are located in china a quick sort by consumer rating might be more beneficial than relying on the specific branding.  

If you can’t afford to purchase enough for the entire class, you could possibly focus on enough for a center of 5 students and rotate them through the activity.  If you are looking for an even more high fidelity experience, you could try the Gear VR.  The downside is that Gear VR only works with specific versions of the Galaxy handsets.  I should also point out that Samsung has a warning suggesting that kids be at least 13 years or older to use the Gear VR.


Once you have procured the necessary hardware, you are ready to get started with Google Expeditions.  

There is plenty of documentation on how to get this Google Expeditions up and running so I won’t spend much time on those details.  Suffice it to say that you will need a teacher “guide” device that will not be run in VR mode along with any students running the same app as “followers” who will have the more immersive experience of VR.  In my tests, I had no problems with my network and the devices finding each other.  One huge advantage is that the app will connect to a router and communicate with your devices even if there is no Internet connection present.  As long as the teacher “guide” device has downloaded the expedition that you plan on using, you should be fine.  This is a great workaround for some pesky school networks that don’t always play nice with personal devices.

The rest is pretty self explanatory.  I was able to talk my son into demoing the software with me.  He has played around quite a bit in VR and so has lost a little bit of the WOW factor when it comes to the technology but he still admitted that it would be awesome if he were able to use the app in school. Check out the video if you’re interested.  You can also check out my other post about creating your own video content for educational VR.

Monday, August 22, 2016

VR’s Place in the Makerspace

I’ve recently decided to take on a different responsibility at work.  Whereas before I was teaching middle school technology classes, I will now be the Library and Instructional Technology Teacher.  I still get to work in classrooms and help infuse technology into the different curricular areas but I will no longer have my own class.  I have some mixed feelings about not having my own load of students as I’m starting off the school year.  In years past, at this point, I have been able to access student rosters and started memorizing names of my 200 or so students.  Instead I’m focusing now on professional development, roll out of 1:1 Chromebooks, and how to partner with teachers on their various technology goals and endeavors.

One area that I want to emphasize a lot this coming school year is finding opportunities small or big to continue using VR in the classroom.  As part of my new job, I will have the opportunity to start up a makerspace at our school.  For anyone who has read some of my other blog posts will know that my idea of VR in the classroom revolves around its ability to engage students beyond just using it as a presentational tool.  I’m super excited to explore VR as a maker/creator tool in education.  I was recently reading some comments from Kerry Gallagher about her thoughts on VR in the classroom in her reflection after the ISTE educational technology conference this summer.  Hopefully she doesn’t mind me quoting her article on EdSurge.  She postulates:

“Why not show students how to create with VR and AR? One student could incorporate guided virtual reality into a presentation or lesson she shares with their classmates about a historical site. Another student could find photographs of places or inventions he wants to study and then create augmented reality-triggered videos of himself explaining what he’s learned. A couple of years ago, my high school students created their own scavenger hunt with QR codes, and loved learning from one another that way. We can expand that idea to virtual and augmented reality.”


Something about this really resonates with me.  In a sense, I don’t ever feel like my job as a teacher is complete until my students are able to complete a product or produce something.  For me, the knowledge isn’t fully ripe without a concrete application that at least approximates what people do every day in the “real world.”  Even better is if my students are actually contributing to the real world now.  This is what I find so compelling about VR.  The ability for kids to create in a 3D immersive space and bring those experiences to those around them.  I think it is still a little too early to even know exactly what that entails or which pieces will fit efficiently into what teachers are able to do in the classroom but I have a feeling that it will be transformational.  I for one am excited about what this year has to offer.

If you are interested in following more of my journey and my random ramblings about using VR to create in the classroom, check out some of my other posts about VR video content creation, VR app development using Unity, or a quick primer on using dynamic 3D viewers to show off student work in VR. As always, feel free to join in the discussion, I love talking educational VR with all like-minded teacher tinkerers.

Monday, August 15, 2016

SpeechCenter VR, a True Educational Experience

There are several apps that have entered the educational VR scene.  I’ve written about Labster before and had a chance to check out other apps from Lifeliqe and Unimersiv. SpeechCenterVR actually seems like more than a demo with its finished courses that aim to guide the user into becoming a better public speaker.

SpeechCenter VR is currently available for the Gear VR and the website lists plans of coming soon to Google Cardboard.  What gets me really excited about SpeechCenter VR is something different than the public speaking curriculum.  In fact, I’ve been watching closely as some other social platforms have released for VR.  To name three others, AltSpaceVR, vTime, and LectureVR are a few that have given users the ability to communicate in a 3D virtual world. 

So what is SpeechCenter doing that could actually propel it into the K-12 classroom?  

The app gives users the ability to setup spaces where virtual avatars can convene and discuss any number of topics.  One feature that educators will love is the ability to set up and moderate private groupings of users into a meetup within SpeechCenter Vr.  Here is a list that parent company Cerevrum, Inc gives for other
ideas on using SpeechCenter in education:

  • A debate club can benefit from the public speaking lessons by practicing its speeches and sharing them with fellow classmates and coaches to obtain feedback.
  • Students can practice their interviewing skills and obtain feedback from fellow students or from faculty/staff at the career services office.
  • Students may use SCVR to hone either their presentation or communication skills.
  • Schools can have students from different campuses convene in a virtual meeting room to review progress, discuss presentations, and record the meeting so that a group member who could not make the meeting can quickly get up to speed.
  • Structure presentations in a knowledge-sharing platform for students.

Here are a few other ideas not listed on their website:

  • Teachers could present material in a flipped classroom from the comfort of home.
  • Foreign language students could meet with other language learners from around the world to practice and engage in the target language.


The future of educational VR is still largely unwritten but it is awe-inspiring to experience the emerging technology and consider just how much it might change how things are done.  Checkout my brief review if you want to see what this app looks like on the inside.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Unity for VR Education = Winning

Back a few blog posts I did a short write up about how some of my students used Unity to build a basic app for the Gear VR.  Well, since we started that project last year in school Unity has been at it in grand style.  Actually, I probably should have done some more research when writing that last post because Unity has been on this and has exactly what we need to start teaching / learning VR development in Unity.

Fundamentally, content creation needs to play a huge role in educational VR for it to be successful.  
I personally subscribe to the notion that technology is only a useful tool in education if we can leverage it in order to inspire our students to be creators.   Otherwise, VR threatens to be merely another content delivery tool (i.e. film projector, television, Smartboard, etc.)  In order for educators to be able to justify the tool, students have to actually use it to enhance the curriculum. 

It isn’t enough that VR is engaging and immersive and pure awesome. 
These things alone don’t substantiate the use of time and resources in the classroom.  Instead, the learning experiences that come from deliberate experiences in VR will be able to achieve a relevance that has been hard to accomplish in the past.  Allowing the students themselves to help develop these experiences is even better.

Let’s get to the awesomeness.  
This type of an activity would be great for kids as young as middle school age but could also be the groundwork to an advanced class on VR development.  Since Unity has provided these projects as a template, a teacher could teach any part of the development workflow or use the template to build out an entire app or game in VR.  Oh yeah, have I mentioned yet that Unity is completely free?  The latest updates to Unity have made it easier than ever to jump into VR and a lot of the tools and assets that you need to get started are already baked in.


Process:
  • Download Unity
  • Use the Asset Browser in Unity to locate the VR Essentials Samples.
  • Load a Scene from the Assets you just downloaded. 
  • At this point, if you own an Oculus Rift, you can simply preview these scenes by hitting the play button on your scene.  Alternatively, you can build the project for the GearVR and compile the .APK file from the scenes that Unity has provided.
Next steps.  
Once you are setup with the correct developer environment and have your VR goodness coming through, start exploring and playing around with the assets.  Have your kids modify the template projects and customize them.  Here you can see a video of me after playing around with Unity for about half an hour.  I am not a developer and have only minimal experience with programming and design software.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Will VR be a Staple in the Art Classroom?

I’m lucky enough to work at a STEAM school.  I know, I know, there are so many variations of
STEM that it can seem a little bit daunting sometimes but I think STEAM is where it’s at.  For the uninitiated, the STEAM brings the Arts into the mix of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  Since I have taught World Language for a big part of my teaching career, hence the señor moniker, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the importance of the arts in education.  As a huge educational technology proponent I have often thought about how technology can impact the creative side of education and the inherent need that most humans have to create new things.  That’s quite possibly the aspect of VR that excites me most.  IMHO, VR has the potential to make our digital interactions much closer to our more natural creative processes.
Since I don’t have touch controllers as of yet (any HTC Vive or Oculus Touch contacts out there that want to get me some samples?  I would be more than happy to demo them :) I can only speak theoretically from some of the developments in this area.  There are two fairly compelling proofs of concept that already exist.

 Google Tiltbrush

Built to work with the HTC vive motion controllers, this simple drawing program lets you draw in 3 dimensions.  There isn’t really any way to describe this any better.  Even watching videos doesn’t do the experience justice.


Medium

Oculus Rift has yet to release its Touch Controllers but they have been partnering with a VR sculpting application called Medium.  Some artists recently took to demoing the technology at the Comic-Con conference and it looks amazing.  Could this type of technology work its way into the standard Art classroom?  I don’t see why not, it’s an extremely compelling way to think about designing naturally in 3 dimensions.  It makes me want to start teaching art!


KingSpray Graffiti Simulator

How about graffiti art?  This demo is pretty killer.  I challenge you not to watch the entire 3 minutes of this video oohing and awing and thinking about what you would spray on your own virtual brick walls.