July 20, 2018

Virtual Reality and education: some thoughts

I spent a very interesting evening this week at a Vancouver VR Community event at Mobify‘s headquarters in downtown Vancouver. Mobify is a provider of progressive web apps for e-commerce and has a really cool area for events such as this one, with lots of open spaces.

Vancouver is part of a growing North West Pacific Silicon Valley, and there are now over 500 members of the Vancouver VR community, which indicates how much activity and development are going into VR, at least in this region. 

The event was a mix of show and tell, and an opportunity to play with and experience some VR programs. Most of the applications available to play with at the VR event were typically combat games (including a very realistic one-on-one boxing encounter) but I was more interested in possible educational applications (although the boxing app might come in useful on a dark night on campus).

I particularly enjoyed using Google Blocks, a free software program for developing 3D models, that was being demonstrated by  Scott Banducci who runs a company that hosts VR events (VRtogo). With the headset on and a couple of hand-operated panels that include a colouring palette and tools for moving and stretching objects, it was easy even for a novice such as me to create in a few minutes a really cool 3D model of a plane. There is an excellent introductory video on the Google Blocks web site that explains the process. 

This was my first visit and I hardly knew anyone there (I was the oldest person by at least 40 years). I was hoping to meet someone from one of the many educational institutions in the Vancouver area who might be interested in using VR for teaching and learning but most of the people there not surprisingly were developers or producers of VR. Nevertheless this seems like a great community of practice and I strongly recommend anyone in the Vancouver area interested in the educational use of VR to join. The next event is at Mobify at 6.15 pm on August 22.

In the meantime, here are some of my thoughts about the use of VR, for what they are worth.

  1. VR is not just a fad that will disappear. There are already a large number of commercial applications, mainly in entertainment and public relations, but also increasingly for specific areas of training (more on that below). There is already a lot of excellent, off-the-shelf software for creating VR environments, and the cost of hardware is dropping rapidly (although good quality headsets and other equipment are still probably too expensive for required use by large numbers of students).
  2. What killed earlier two-dimensional VR developments such as Second Life for widespread educational use was the high cost and difficulty of creating the sets and contexts for learning. Thus even if the hardware and software costs for VR are low enough for individual student use, it is the production costs of creating educational contexts and scenarios that are likely to inhibit its use.
  3. Thus most suitable educational applications are likely to be where the cost of alternative or traditional ways of learning are too expensive or too dangerous. In particular, VR would be good for individual, self-learning in contexts where real environments are not easily accessible, or where learners need to cope with strong emotions when making decisions or operating under pressure in real time. Examples might be emergency management, such as shutting down an out-of-control nuclear reactor, or defusing a bomb, or managing a fire on an oil tanker. However, not only will the VR environment have to be realistic, as much attention will need to be paid to creating the specific learning context. The procedure for defusing the bomb and the interaction between learner and the virtual bomb must also be built in to the production. Thus VR may often need to be combined with simulation design and quality media production to be educationally effective, again pushing up the cost. For these reasons, medicine is a likely area for experiment, where traditional training costs are really high or where training is difficult to provide with real patients.
  4. Having said that, we need more experimentation. This is still a relatively new technology, and there may be very simple ways to use it in education that are not costly and meet needs that cannot be easily met in traditional teaching or with other existing technology. For this to happen, though, educators, software developers, and media producers need to come together to play and experiment. The VR Vancouver Community seems to me to be an ideal venue to do this. In the meantime, I can’t wait to see Bad Cookies Pictures VR horror movie when it comes out! Now that will be an immersive experience.

And since originally posting this, I have been directed to the blog post of Ryan Martin, a trainer on Vancouver Island, who has come up with a more comprehensive list of ways to learn through VR, with some excellent links.

If you know of other examples and are willing to share them, I will add the links to this post.


Online course showcase for Vancouver area

The Justice Institute of BC and Vancouver Community College are co-hosting an online showcase for post-secondary institutions in the lower mainland to showcase their “best” online courses.

Where and when: November 30, 2011 | 9:00-3:30 p.m. JIBC Theatre, McBride Avenue, New Westminster, BC.

For this year’s showcase proposals are invited that focus on design decisions that are made because of the particular needs of students in the following categories:

1.  Accessibility:  Proposals are requested  that demonstrate design considerations of students with specific needs in terms of learning, mobility or physical challenges. Proposals that focus on design considerations that take into account student’s technological, geographic or life/work/education constraints are also invited.

2.  Mobile learning:  Proposals that demonstrate how we are designing in consideration of the growing space that mobile learning occupies in conjunction with or independent of desktop learning.

3.  Online courses in post-sec and beyond:  Proposals that demonstrate your “best” with a focus on design considerations made because of the particular needs of students.

Note. Proposals are also invited from the private training sector, non-profits, and NGOs to capture a broader range of students.

Proposal Submissions:  deadline November 15, 2011

Register to Attend (FREE!):  http://bit.ly/qbry2P 

Submit a Proposal:  http://bit.ly/nhVPUk

For more information go to: http://onlinecourseshowcase.wordpress.com/

I went to last year’s showcase and there were several presentations of really innovative and relevant applications of technology for teaching. Get your faculty/instructors to come if you can!

Conference: The Future of Online and Blended Learning: Strategy, Policy, and Practice

Vancouver in winter - not October!

Vancouver in winter - not October!

The Future of Online and Blended Learning: Strategy, Policy, and Practice

October 24-26, 2009, in beautiful Vancouver, Canada

The keynote address is by Chuck Dziuban, the Director of the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Central Florida

This conference is sponsored by the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education (CSSHE), the Collaboration for Online Higher Education and Research (COHERE), and the Centre for Higher Education Research and Development (CHERD). It ends as the E-Learn 2009 conference http://www.aace.org/conf/elearn/ is beginning just a few blocks away.

Virtual schools conference, Vancouver, 2009

LearnNowBC announces the Virtual School Society’s 2009 Annual Spring Conference Learning: Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime. This event will take place from April 22 – 23 2009 with a pre-conference session scheduled for April 21 in face-to-face format. For more information go to: http://www.learnnowbc.ca/educators/Conference/conference2009.aspx

Expanding Access to Information: User Perspectives and New Technology

When: February 18, 2009

Location:  Vancouver, BC (Executive Hotel Vintage Park, Vancouver BC, 1379 Howe Street, Vancouver BC

Sponsored by Langara College CILS (BC College & Institute Library Services)

This workshop for library employees and disability service providers will explore equitable access to information, focusing on the BC College experience. This session will update your knowledge of alternate formats, delivery systems and national networks. There will also be a demonstration on using the JAWS screen reader accessing a library catalogue and on how people with learning disabilities perceive the written word. CILS employees will update your knowledge of available services in British Columbia.

Registration:  Free to all participants.  Lunch will be provided.  Transportation and accommodation are the responsibility of the registrants.

Target audience:

·         Post-secondary librarians, library technicians and other staff involved in reference, circulation, media, information literacy and interlibrary loan services for students with disabilities.

·         Disability Coordinators, transition planners, assistive technology specialists in the post-secondary system in BC.

·         Information Technology workers.

·         Public librarians in B.C.

To register, please contact Elizabeth Chong
Tel:     (604) 323-5628
Fax:     (604) 323-5577
Email:  echong@langara.bc.ca