Want to Take Your Students to Saturn? Strap on The Oculus Rift!

riftdk1For over a year, now, I’ve been following the development of and talking to educators about a piece of technology, that, in my view, could have a huge impact on learning experiences for our students.  It’s the Oculus Rift.  The Oculus Rift is a head-mounted virtual reality display that provides a stereoscopic, 110 degree field of view with responsive head-tracking.  In other words, you put this thing on, and you’re looking around inside a digital world.  Of course, virtual reality has been the promise of science fiction for years, from Star Trek’s holodecks to The Matrix.  Despite previous efforts in years past, the technology simply couldn’t deliver on science fiction’s vision for virtual reality.

All that’s changing, today, though, as technological advances in display capabilities, coupled with motion sensing, and of course, faster computers with better graphics, are making the dream of immersive digital experiences a reality.  Though marketed primarily as a gaming device (and what an awesome gaming peripheral!), I believe the Rift holds some pretty awesome potential in the classroom.oculus-bms

For several months, now, I’ve been talking about the technology and the ways I think it could impact learning.  For example, imagine taking students in a virtual time machine back to ancient Egypt at the height of its glory.  As you walk with them through busy streets and markets, filled with the sights and sounds of the time, imagine that your tour is interrupted by characters (played by others in this multiplayer experience) who sweep you and your students up in a playable (and educational) mystery adventure!  Remember the 60′s flick, Fantastic Voyage, in which a team of doctors enter a spaceship and are shrunk to microscopic scale and explore a man’s body?  Wouldn’t it be great to take your Anatomy class inside the eye or the brain?  Better yet, imagine a set of tools that would allow your students to easily build and prototype models and concepts and to experience (and share) them in an immersive 3D world? As described in this article, some developers are already looking at the Rift’s potential in education, and that’s exciting!

Flying through space with the Oculus RiftThe technology is on our doorstep and I suspect will be mainstream within five years.  Rumors are flying regarding when the Oculus Rift will be released in a consumer model, but it’s already possible to purchase a developer kit.  After riding the fence for months wondering whether to wait for the consumer version or buy a developer kit, I finally decided to take the plunge and it arrived this week.  Within minutes I was exploring a cozy home in Tuscany and moments later, flying through the solar system in the Titans of Space demo.  I even explored one of our Minecraft servers with a version of Minecraft (called, Minecrift) and walked amongst our students’ creations.  The technology is amazing.  But, I’m a fan-boy and a geek, so I had to see if my non-gamer co-workers would react the way I did.  I fired up Titans of Space and called them down to my office.  The response was unanimous, “Oh…. WOW!  Oh…. This is amazing!!”  The next day I took it out to one of our schools and let a science teacher try the same demo.  ”My students need to have this experience.  This is incredible!”

So, how long until we have these in the classroom?  Let’s look at some barriers.  The better your graphics card and processor, the better experience you’ll have.  Most of our classroom computers aren’t powerful enough to support the Rift, at least not with fluid frame rates.  For a classroom implementation in the next year or so, I’d suggest a station-based approach in which three or four Rifts are paired with powerful desktops or perhaps a strong gaming laptop.  (Our WoWinSchool Alienwares could handle some of the low-end demos fine.)  Another issue, though one that the developers are likely to overcome in the consumer version, relates to the seemingly imperceptible differences in the time it takes between your head’s movement and the display’s updated image response.  With prolonged use this can cause what’s been dubbed VR sickness, a queasy, dizziness akin to motion sickness.  As one of my co-workers, who rode one of the virtual roller coasters can attest, it’s very real!

Today, I’m not the only Oculus Rift fan in the district.  Everyone who’s experienced it has had a similar response. Experiencing the immersion, educators are quickly making the connections to learning.  The four walls of the classroom are less of a barrier than ever!

-Lucas

The Town of SpringHaven

There is a small village on the outskirts of a mountainous region, perched on a plateau overlooking the sea.  It sits in the shadow of a great castle adorned with great towers, fortified walls, and topped with a roof made entirely of blocks of pure diamond.  SpringHaven, as the locals call it, is a quaint village in a vast, largely unexplored world.  Shopkeepers and an ever-patrolling lad named Drakia, add to the activity and bustle, but real life is breathed into this town, and the surrounding regions, when the world’s architects are there.  I’m talking about the learners who are actively creating and building this living, breathing virtual world in Minecraft.  I merely provided them with the canvas, but they are the true artists who are making this year’s newly re-designed survival server come alive.

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This year, we’ve re-launched our district’s survival Minecraft server with an emphasis on building community among our student-players.  If the first few weeks is any indication, they have embraced that call.  They designed our starting area, the town of SpringHaven, the great Diamond Castle that overshadows it, and are working to create a unique world, all their own.  Another goal of this year’s project is to increasingly hand over the leadership and ownership of this community to the learners.  We’ve instituted a challenge/rank system, offering players the ability to “level up” by actively contributing to the design of the world and participating in the community-building projects and contests that we will be rolling out.  We’ve also incorporating some exciting new plugins, including MCMMO which allows players to level up skills like Mining and Archery.

Just last night, we just launched our first event, a community build (a collaborative, server-wide building project), called “The Town of Deadwood!”  In the spirit of the Halloween season, players are invited to build a deserted, and haunted town, each choosing a different component to be responsible for, and working to add it to the town’s deserted streets.  By participating, they earn community participation points and can advance their “status” on the server as a contributor.  Want to see our event flyer?  You can find it here:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/16Ry36DMAIarAKirE-3UECM6tCmDfubZ6s9Seu8r-iPk/edit.

I’m thrilled at the level of engagement and ownership I’ve seen so far.  I can’t wait to see what’s next!

-Lucas

Another Collision…

You know, aside from the gas money, I don’t mind my commute to and from work each day.  The morning commute, especially, is a time when I can think, listen to music, and talk with my Dad.  Today, I had a particularly interesting time of thought and meditation sparked by a song on my Spotify “Video Game Music” playlist.

As I pulled out of my daughters’ elementary school, I tapped shuffle play and waited to see what’d come up.  The first song, a haunting and sad melody called “Lament of the High Born,” from World of Warcraft was the first track, but it was the second track that set my thoughts in motion.  The song was “Baba Yetu,” an incredible, vocal track entirely in Swahili from the opening of the Civilization IV introduction.  I’ve listened to this song countless times, either while actually playing Civilization or in this playlist.  Listen to it yourself:

I listened closely to the vocals, with no idea what the lyrics were about, but began to think about some recent conversations Elizabeth and I have had about Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven.  As the the sounds of the singers filled my little car with passionate and moving words, I thought of the verse in Revelation that describes this scene:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10, NIV)

I imagine what Heaven will be like.  I know it won’t be this boring and misguided vision we’ve been sold over the years of monotony, clouds, and harps.  My God is a redeemer.  He’s not just a redeemer of people, either, but a redeemer of art, music, culture, and so much more.  I began to imagine what it might be like to be a part of a great celebration in Heaven.  Perhaps there would be a Southern Gospel performance, afterwards, perhaps Switchfoot might lead the crowds in worship, and maybe the next world perform a song such as “Baba Yetu,” teaching us the lyrics in Swahili.  (It’s not like we won’t have time to learn new languages!)

I was then reminded of some of C.S. Lewis’ writings on Heaven:

“In the truest sense, Christian pilgrims have the best of both worlds. We have joy whenever this world reminds us of the next, and we take solace whenever it does not.”

Heaven will be a place of ongoing celebration.  A place of purpose.  A place of meaning.  My imagination continued to think about how this massive crowd might worship Jesus and celebrate that real, unending life He bought for us, as the song came to a close.  “…every nation, tribe, people, and language.”  Diversity unified.

I hit pause and let that simmer for a mile or so.  How awesome.  And then, I wondered… “I wonder what that song is really about?”  So, I looked it up on Wikipedia and found the lyrics in Swahili and English.  Again, I’ve heard this song countless times, but today was the first time I ever investigated the words.  Look for yourself:

Swahili

English

Baba yetu, Yetu uliye

Mbinguni yetu, Yetu amina!

Baba yetu Yetu uliye

Jina lako e litukuzwe.

Utupe leo chakula chetu

Tunachohitaji utusamehe

Makosa yetu, hey!

Kama nasi tunavyowasamehe

Waliotukosea usitutie

Katika majaribu, lakini

Utuokoe, na yule, muovu e milele!

Ufalme wako ufike utakalo

Lifanyike duniani kama mbinguni. Amina.

Our Father, who art

in Heaven. Amen!

Our Father,

Hallowed be thy name.

Give us this day our daily bread,

Forgive us of

our trespasses

As we forgive others

Who trespass against us

Lead us not into temptation, but

deliver us from the evil one forever.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done

On Earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.

 

 

…I see what you did there, God.

-Lucas

 

Games in Education 2013 Is Here!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  The Games in Education Symposium, held annually in the Albany, New York area is one of the best games and education conferences out there for K-12 educators!  It’s pure awesome.  They bring out great people to speak and lead hands-on workshops and offer it at no cost to area educators.

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I’ll be sharing some crazy stuff that’s been percolating in my head lately, sharing the work we’ve been doing in our school district, and of course networking with all of the awesome educators who’ll be attending.

If you’re looking for resources from my presentations, they’re under… you guessed it!  Presentation Resources, above.

-Lucas

This…

Found this on Imgur…  It pretty much sums up why simply punching in and out will never be sufficient for me…

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Now, go do something awesome.

-Lucas

e-Virtuoses/Gamification Summit 2013 – WoWinSchool Presentation

Here are my slides from my presentation at the 2013 Gamification Summit in San Francisco, CA and the 2013 e-Virtuoses Conference in Valenciennes, France:

For more information about this and other education/gaming projects that I’ve done, check out the links on the right of the site!

-Lucas

MMO-School Project Wins 2013 GAward for Best Use of Engagement Techniques in Education


Yes, that's Gabe Zicherman presenting the award!  Cool!

What an honor!  Last night I had the opportunity to take the stage at the 2013 Gamification Summit to receive GAward for Best Use of Student Engagement Techniques in Education for the MMO-School Project (#wowinschool).  This is award is really about the student-heroes, our Lorekeepers, the brave teachers who’ve taken on this incredible journey, and the many school leaders who have fostered environments that allow innovative experiments like this to grow.  A massive thanks goes out to Mr. Craig Lawson, the co-author of the curriculum, Peggy Sheehy, early adopter and champion of the cause, and the many others who’ve brought us to this place.  What does the future hold?  Who knows?  Education in the U.S. is ripe for disruption and change.  This project simply represents a possibility.  For now, we’ll keep on exploring new worlds, polishing our reading and writing skills, learning leadership and communication, and of course… growing into the Heroes we’re destined to be.

-Lucas

 

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NCTIES 2013!! Game On: Play to Learn

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So, needless to say, I’m pretty excited about this year’s theme for the conference.  There are a number of fantastic sessions related to games and learning.  My session resources can be found here:

Game on!

-Lucas