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.