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.