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.

  • 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.


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.