Oculus Go and Education – Part Deux

Yesterday, I wrote about my early impressions unboxing and using the new Oculus Go and considered the potential impact on K-12 education.  Today I had the opportunity to take some students into VR with the Oculus Go.  As part of a science lesson with science teacher, @JudeaTarn, we took students on roller coaster rides.  Originally, we’d planned on using the HTC Vive exclusively, but I thought this was a great opportunity to put the Oculus Go into students’ hands and let them give some feedback.  This also allowed more students to have access to experiences at the same time, allowing time for each student to ride the coaster.  The feedback was 100% positive!  We used the EPIC Roller Coaster app, a moderately realistic experience (this is mobile VR, after all).  After an exciting ride on a rusty mine cart or on a tour of a dinosaur-style theme park, you have a great opportunity to chat about forces and motion.

After providing roughly 20-30 students through three headsets, around 45 minutes to an hour of solid use, each showed about 66% battery remaining.  Schools using these at any scale will want to invest in some power strips to keep them charged!

Again, still giving the Oculus Go a thumbs up for K-12 use.  I should get commission from Oculus/Facebook, too.  I imagine I sold a few future Christmas presents today, too.

-Lucas

Oculus Go – A Practical VR Solution for K-12 Education?

Our Options Prior to the Oculus Go

I’ve been exploring Virtual Reality and its applications for K-12 Learning for many years now.  Inspired by a passion for games and learning alongside visions of exploring the moons of Jupiter or Tut’s tomb as imagined by Earnest Cline in Ready Player One, I’ve been playing in  this space since the Oculus DK1 was available to developers.  Today, I’m supporting three HTC Vives, two Oculus Rifts, and a PSVR in schools across my district.  Each comes with its own strengths and weaknesses.

High-End  VR

The major strength of high-end, computer-driven VR is the level immersion afforded by the experiences and six-degrees-of-freedom (6DOF) VR.  Great experiences are driven by powerful computers and graphics cards and the ability of the system to detect the position of the headset and hands in the rendered three dimensional space.  An obvious drawback for K-12 implementation is the expense associated with the hardware ($399 for the Oculus Rift and $499 for the HTC Vive) and the cost of a computer to support it (easily $1000+).  On top of this, one… -ONE- student can be immersed in the experience at a time.  That’s not to say they’re not worthwhile investments.  A secondary display and a centers-based approach can make them work in the hands of a creative teacher.

Mobile-Based VR

Several schools in my district have explored phone-based VR using a variety of headsets and devices like the iPod Touch.  Here, you’re still looking at a $200+ investment for the iPod Touch (which is a versatile device outside of VR applications) and whatever headsets you choose.  VR isn’t the primary function of any these sorts of devices and experiences vary widely.  Many districts are exploring Google Expeditions sets, too.  Though sold with education in mind, prices can range from over $3000 (for ten students) to over $9000 (for 30 students).

Enter the Oculus Go…

Those were our major options until just a few days ago when Facebook launched the Oculus Go.  Available at $199 for the 32GB option and $249 for the 64GB option, this is a standalone (no phone or computer required) option for virtual reality.  Everything’s built into the headset.  …and I just unboxed one yesterday.  Here are some early pros/cons and thoughts for the future:

Pros:

  • The device is well-packaged and seems solidly designed.
  • It’s at least as comfortable as any other VR headset I’ve used (Vive, Rift, PSVR, GearVR…), though the PSVR might be just a bit more comfortable for me, personally.
  • The visuals are great.  The view is actually just a but better than the Rift.  No obvious screen door effect.  Less “god rays” caused by the lenses.
  • The controller works fine, feels great, and is very responsive.
  • The user interface is beautiful and incredibly intuitive.  Turn it on and you’re in… in seconds.
  • Supports some Bluetooth game controllers.
  • Headphone jack on the side!
  • Eye glasses spacer is included.
  • There are 1000’s of experiences already available.  Many are categorized as educational.
  • The price.

Cons:

  • The battery life is short.  Reports are two, solid hours, so it’ll need to be put back on charge between uses.
  • Three degrees of freedom – This limits some of the capabilities of the VR as only head motion (rotation, not position) is tracked.
  • No Bluetooth headphone support (at this time).
  • Reports are that lenses are prone to scratching and sunlight damage.  This would be something to watch in classroom implementations.
  • No native YouTube app… yet.
  • No enterprise management solution that I’m aware of…. yet.

Early Thought and Questions:

  • From a district-level perspective, whenever I consider the deployment of any device at any sort of scale, I wonder about account and content management.  Can I have multiple devices registered to a single account?  How does content work with multiple devices, especially paid content?
  • Where are the apps/experiences that allow students to CREATE?  There are some out there for modeling and painting and I’ll be testing those out.  Those are the things I’ll be exploring next.  This device really shines as a content consumption device.
  • The tight integration/association will probably give some schools/districts pause, but I believe there are workarounds.
  • There’s a solid selection of VR content in the Oculus Store that would be great in classrooms.  Aside from the obvious 360 degree video, there are several offerings that are clearly designed with education in mind – The Body VR, Titans of Space, etc.

With those points in mind, my early recommendation is to give this a definite thumbs up for small-scale deployments (a few devices at a school) and a “maybe” for anything larger.  I think the Oculus Go is potentially going to bring many more people into VR and that will only drive advancements!   It is certainly a device I’ll be recommending to my schools who want to add VR technology to support student learning.

-Lucas

(Edit – A few more observations.  I’m actually setting up three of these devices.  Though no phone is required, the Oculus App is used to initially set the devices up and get them initially connected to WiFi.  Through the app, I can individually “manage” each device.  After setup, each is paired with the same Facebook account.  Setting up a Facebook account just for this purpose might be a good idea.  I’ve not tested paid apps yet, but once attached to the FB/Oculus account, it seems that the library of “purchased” apps is available on each.)

We All Want To Be Ms. Frizzle

I want to be Ms. Frizzle when I grow up. When I think about the ideal classroom, the Magic School Bus quickly comes to mind. This show (which is getting a reboot soon on Netflix) is what good learning is all about. Seriously! Can you imagine being able to take your students literally anywhere, any time, to do, just about anything? Learning should spark a sense of wonder. The experiences we create and share with our students should be the first spark that spurs them to want to dig deeper and explore more.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote about some early experiences with the Oculus Developer Kit.  I was immediately struck by the possibilities.  Fast-forward to today, I’m excited to share that we’re making it happen!  Through a partnership with foundry10.org, we’ve launched our first VR Space in Surry County Schools at Meadowview Magnet Middle.  Getting started with VR in schools doesn’t require a dedicated space, however, as part of library makeover, we wanted to create a space that kids would beg to be in.  What once was a dusty book storage room has been transformed into a state-of-the-art space where we, like Ms. Frizzle, can take our students anywhere!

Part of the challenge has been educating our teachers and administrators about the technology.  VR is hot stuff these days and there’s a wide-range of gear.  Some schools are starting to explore the possibilities with phone-based VR using tools like Google Expeditions.  This is a great way to bring VR experiences to many students at once, however, the experiences lack the immersive quality of high-end computer-driven VR like you might experience with the Oculus or HTC Vive.

Thanks to foundry10, our space utilizes the Vive.  The Vive takes VR a step further in that it allows for what’s been dubbed room-scale VR.  Simply stated, this means you’re not confined to a chair for your experience, but can actually move about the room while immersed in a VR experience.  Take a step forward in the room and you move forward in the virtual world you’re exploring.  And, don’t worry.  A virtual grid materializes in front of you if you get too close to a wall.  We started with hands-on experiences for our teachers.  Simply having a great first experience seems to spark teachers’ imagination for the possibilities.  Our Lead Digital Learning and Media Innovation Facilitator, Alicia Ray, has been working closely with Meadowview teachers to match the growing variety of VR experiences to the curricula they teach.  From there, teachers are scheduling times to bring their students into the media center (another bonus) to rotate through selected experiences.

There’s an exciting variety of explorations our students are trying, too.  Our social studies students have been exploring the world with Google Earth VR, stepping inside the Roman Coliseum or walking the streets of London.  Our science students can travel through the body’s circulatory system or deeper, still, into individual cells.  Likewise, we can take them scuba diving for an encounter with a Blue Whale in Wevr’s the Blu.  We’ve explored Saturn’s rings in Titans of Space and we’re soon hoping to let students build their own unique worlds with Vivecraft (a VR-ready Minecraft mod) and physics simulator, Modbox!  The exciting thing?  We’re just seeing the beginnings of what’s possible.

Perhaps I’ll be Ms. Frizzle after all.

If you’d like to know more about the resources we’re putting together for high-end VR in schools, check out the VR Page on the SCS Digital Learning Wiki.

EPIC Teaching Academy

Most of my past projects have focused on leveraging games and gamification in the K-12 classroom with students, however, a project specifically for teachers is long overdue.  EPIC Teaching Academy, turns the attention to educators and their professional development.  Though, I’ve tossed these ideas around for awhile and even built a loose framework, my new district, Surry County Schools, is truly the right-place, right-time to launch this project.  There’s been incredible support.

The EPIC Guild BannerSo, what is EPIC?  It’s really the result of some conversations and observations over the past several years in my primary role as a provider of teacher professional development.  The catalyst was a conversation two years ago at EdCamp Raleigh.  There, a group of educators from across the state including Bill Ferriter (@plugusin), Bethany Smith (@bethanyvsmith), and many others talked about what we, as educators dislike about professional development and what we really want in  our PD.  It was an incredible conversation, as most are at EdCamps.

Of course, I have my niche passions within the education arena, so instantly began to see opportunities to leverage a playful, game-like approach as a solution to many of the problems the group had with typical professional development.

EPIC Teaching Academy is program I’m developing, using 3DGameLab as a platform, that will offer players (yes, players) the opportunity to explore professional development topics of their choice to a depth of their choice.  These learning quests will increase in complexity and commitment as players progress through successive quests as they progress toward unlocking an official badge showing their mastery of a particular topic.  These badges can be shared through the educator’s website, social media, and/or badging system like Mozilla’s Backpack.

Of course, my ultimate goal is to move beyond simple gamification toward truly game-like experiences.  Perhaps a hidden Easter Egg (a la Ready Player One)?  Perhaps we’ll divide schools into teams like a local Hogwarts to host some fun, competitive learning experiences?  Likewise, a hope is that our educators, through this experience, will gain a greater understanding of the merits of an approach like this, ultimately paving the way for student badging.  Here, my friend, Dr. Bron Stuckey (@bronst), has offered some great starters and inspiration!

Tomorrow I’ll begin recruiting district teachers to participate in a pilot beginning in February.  Along the way, I hope to collect some data, pre- and post-, of their attitudes toward professional development overall and of the EPIC experience.

Here’s a presentation that I’ll be sharing that explains the program in a bit more detail:

 

 Time for some fun!

-Lucas

UPDATE (2/2/15):  The pilot launched today!!  Out of 50 available slots, 47 were filled.  There are a good mix of elementary, middle, and high school teachers along with media specialists, administrators, counselors, and others.  40+ quests are available to our teachers at launch and two official badges:  one for Twitter as a tool for growing your PLN and one for professional blogging.  There are 30+ Achievements and numerous Awards, too.  In total, nearly 2.0 CEU’s worth of content is out there for them to explore.  Lastly, yes, I was able to develop a hidden game-with-the-game with clues and activities hidden throughout!  More updates to come as we move forward!

-Lucas

A Hero’s Journey: From Azeroth to Tyria (Guild Wars 2)

The WoWinSchool Project continues to amaze me.  What began in 2009 has grown, evolved, and continues to engage students in unique and exciting ways.  The keys are tapping into relevance and creating a space in which what our Heroes learn relates to the context of their experiences.

The curriculum that Craig Lawson and I wrote for the program and released in June of 2011 has resonated with other pioneering educators around the globe.  This year has been no exception.  With the more affordable, dynamic MMO’s entering the market and game-based learning gaining the attention of district-level decision makers, more Lorekeepers (teachers) are taking up the banner and guiding a new generation of student-heroes into this adventure in learning.

The adaptability of the learning quests in the curriculum makes it suitable for games beyond World of Warcraft.  In Pender County Schools, our programs have made a significant transition to a new world.  The subscription fees associated with WoW have, historically, made it cost-prohibitive for many would-be additions to the program.  As our allotment of 60-day subscription cards began to dwindle, I began to research viable alternatives that might allow us to continue our momentum.

I experimented with Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic, and though they have merits, both, at the time, were subscription-based, and in my experience, didn’t provide the epic-level experience we’d had in WoW.  I began following the developments of ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 and held out hope that this might be the one.  A month after release, I was convinced.  Around this same time, LeVonda Vickery from the REACH School in Oregon, contacted me regarding her desire to use our curriculum with Guild Wars 2.  So, I wasn’t the only one thinking about the possibilities!  Guild Wars 2 would take us and our program forward, providing our heroes with deep, story-driven content, while adding a huge layer of community-driven experience I felt had always been lacking from World of Warcraft.

We conducted a test to see how well it would fit with a group of five students in Cape Fear Middle’s SAGA class.  Their feedback was very positive and the game performed acceptably on our newest Dell desktops (with integrated graphics) and beautifully on our Alienwares.  After discussing with our school-based Lorekeepers, we agreed.  “It’s time to move to Tyria!”

All of our 30+ Heroes have now embarked on a new adventure in Tyria.  GW2’s emphasis on character and story during character creation really sets the stage for focusing on a player’s role in the bigger picture of world events.  The unique level-adjusting system means that players who have outpaced their guild mates in level can go back to support their lower-level friends while still being challenged.

GW2’s focus on guilds also creates unique opportunities for our student guild, The Legacy, to engage with the larger server community.  The perks that guilds earn for gaining influence points (by working together in the game), allow for students to have a greater say in the direction of their community takes.  A great example of how we’re taking advantage of this is with our recent guild emblem contest.

Already, more schools have joined or expressed an intent to join the program in the near future.  The Legacy Guild is growing!  Exciting possibilities are on the horizon!

-Lucas

Everything I Need to Know About The Future of Education I Learned from Science Fiction

The future is coming.  Are you ready?  I am and I’m excited about what it holds for education!  As if it weren’t already clear that I’m an unabashed (and rather proud) geek, you might suspect that my favorite genre of literature is science fiction.  And, you’d be mostly right, though the number one spot is also shared with fantasy literature (big surprise, huh?).  Last week I wrapped up Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  It was a blast!  A mashup of 80’s pop culture and gaming with a healthy dose of dystopian cyberpunk, it really is this 80’s kid’s dream novel.

When consuming media, though, I find it difficult to take off my educator-glasses. So, as I’m reminiscing about the days of the blips and beeps of the mall arcade and the tabletop PacMan at the local Pizza Hut, I’m also paying close attention to what Cline says about education.  I highlighted several passages because they got me thinking…  Want to know what school will be like in the future?  Maybe science fiction holds the key!  Then, I reflected on other science fiction I’d read or seen in the movies.  What if?  Here are some possible futures:

 

Virtual Worlds for Learning – from Ready Player One by Earnest Cline (2012)


"Then, one glorious day, our principal announced that any student with a passing grade-point average could apply for a transfer to the new OASIS [the virtual world in Cline's novel] public school system.  The real public school system, the one run by the government, had been an underfunded, overcrowded train wreck for decades... ...every kid with half a brain was being encouraged to stay at home and attend school online."

 

This is a future that both excites and worries me at the same time.  However, look at the pressures our public schools are facing.  Imagine a system that was free, accredited, and offered experiences like these:

 

"...since the buildings were just pieces of software, their design wasn't limited by monetary constraints, or even by the laws of physics.  So, every school was a grand place of learning, with polished marble hallways, cathedral-like classrooms, zero-g gymnasiums [way cool!], and virtual libraries containing every (school-board approved) book ever written."

What person wouldn’t want to experience a learning environment like that?  Aside from the physical and monetary constraints on today’s schools, consider this, more personal statement by Parzival, the main character in the novel:

 

"Best of all, in the OASIS, no one could tell that I was fat, that I had acne... ...Bullies couldn't pelt me with spitballs...  No one could even touch me.  In here, I was safe."

Ever wonder why students are drawn to video games and virtual worlds?  Do you think, given the option to customize the appearance of their avatars that they’d hesitate to choose this kind of schooling over the traditional brick-and-mortar alternatives?

In later passages Parzival explains his experiences exploring ancient Egypt, touring a beating human heart (a la The Fantastic Voyage), and visiting Jupiter’s Io to watch a volcano erupt as Jupiter loomed on the horizon.  Imagine being able to have these sorts of experiences with your own learners!  Sleeping in class?  I doubt that would be an issue.

 

Personal Tablet Computing – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)

It’s interesting that I actually read Ender’s Game after I’d first used an iPad.  So, as I read passages like the one below, I was amazed at the author’s vision of learning in the future:

 

"Ender doodled on his desk, drawing contour maps of mountainous islands and then telling his desk to display them in three dimensions from every angle...
The bell rang. Everyone signed off their desks or hurriedly typed in reminders to themselves. Some were dumping lessons or data into their computers at home. A few gathered at the printers... Ender spread his hands over the keyboard near the edge of the desk and wondered what it would feel like to have hands as large as a grown-up's... Of course, they had bigger keyboards - but how could their thick fingers draw a fine line, the way Ender could..."

Already, tablet computers like the iPad are becoming frequent sights in our classrooms.  Their ability to provide technology-enhanced learning, individualized to a learner’s needs is powerful.  What might the future look like if every student had access to these devices to support their learning?  In some places, that future is already here.

 

Game-Based Learning – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)

Consider the Battle School from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.  Through rigorous game-based simulations, students in Card’s world learned standard curricula as well as military strategy.  Schools around the world are starting to pay attention to video games and how they can be effective tools for teaching.  (This blog has examples!)

 

Digital Learning/Research Assistants – Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson (1992)

Imagine what classroom learning might look like if each student had a personal, digital assistant to help them as they learned, adjusting to their specific learning styles, and helping them as they researched online.  In Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash, the main character, Hiro, has a computer program dubbed “The Librarian” who takes the form of an avatar and helps him as he researches a mystery that’s plaguing hackers in cyberspace.  Consider this interchange between Hiro and his assistant as they piece together information that each of them has collected:

 

"He believed that Babel was an actual historical event. That it happened in a particular time and place, coinciding with the disappearance of the Sumerian language. That prior to Babel/Infocalypse, languages tended to converge. And that afterward, languages have always had an innate tendency to diverge and become mutually incomprehensible - that this tendency is, as he put it, coiled like a serpent around the human brainstem."
"The only thing that could explain that is - "
Hiro stops, not wanting to say it.
"Yes?" the Librarian says.
"If there was some phenomenon that moved through the population, altering their minds in such a way that they couldn't process the Sumerian language anymore. Kind of in the same way that a virus moves from one computer to another, damaging each computer in the same way. Coiling around the brainstem. "
"Lagos devoted much time and effort to this idea" the Librarian says "He believed that the nam-shub of Enki was a neurolinguistic virus"

When I consider these elements I think about my iPhone and that quirky little personality that resides within, Siri.  The thing that makes Siri amazing is not that it can recognize your speech or conduct basic information gathering for you, but rather that it’s the beginning stages of tools that can make sense of what we are saying/asking.  This is beyond speech recognition.  This is semantics.  What if each of your learners had one of these?  This wouldn’t supplant a teacher, but would foster individualization and differentiation.  At the same time, this we can always direct students to Siri for those “Bloom’s Basement” sorts of questions.

 

If you haven’t read these novels, you really should.  Not only do they have interesting predictions about the future (and the future of learning), they’re great reads!  There are probably countless other examples from science fiction.  Perhaps you’ve got some?  Leave a comment and share!

 

-Lucas

Games in Education 2012 – Presentation Resources

Games in Education 2012 is underway.  Already, incredible ideas and resources are being shared by educators from across the country who are bringing game-based learning to their students!  Today, I’m presenting on a new project, SAGA (Story and Game Academy).  It’s always my goal to give teachers resources they can use to get started with games in their own schools when I present.  All of the links and resources from today’s presentation can be found here:  http://edurealms.com/?page_id=613.

Game on!

-Lucas