Take up of Classroom VR

Another article, based upon a pretty cool infographic produced by the minds at Samsung. I still don’t see their device as true VR, as it is more about creating immersive video than interactive experiences. I like the info they presented, but they missed the mark on one key element that is keeping the VR uptake in schools low; COST. Yes cost. as with most things in life (especially with technology  One key point that is constantly missed is that in the classroom we need multiple devices to make it an effective teaching tool.

NOTE: I have decided that when I am writing I’m going to divide VR headsets into two categories; Headset VR (phone based headsets) and Immersive VR (HTC Vive, Occulus Rift, etc.)

Headset VR

In reality, we cannot rely on students owning specific models of phones or having specific apps for that allow them to use Video VR headsets. This means that to ensure use, schools need to provide the phones and the headsets. Class sizes in most classrooms is between 27 to 30. Which means we need, at minimum, of 15 devices. This is still not ideal, since you really want one to one, with a few spares for “technical difficulties”. I would estimate this at around $400 a set, as a phone that is capable will run you about $300. This is a low ball figure, which I suspect in reality is much higher.  The cost quickly adds up; a set of 30 headsets would cost $12,000. And that for one class set. At my school, we would need more than one set, for the technology to be actually taken up; we have between 7- 9 classes each at year 7, 8 and 9.

Immersive VR

This is a completely different kettle of fish. The headsets themselves run from $900 to $1500 AUD  Each headset requires a high spec gaming computer, which is in the range of $3000. So using some dodgy rounding, we are looking at approximately $4000 a set. Immersive VR also requires a fair amount of open space, about 2.5m by 2.5 is the minimum. Lets ignore this factor though, as room setup for VR is now going to be a topic for future blogging (maybe! Eventually I might do it). Ideally, again you would want one to one, so this time we are looking at $120,000 for a class set. Even at a ratio of one headset for 4 students, your are looking at $30,000.

Final Thoughts

I love the idea of VR in the classroom. The potential that is there is amazing. I don’t think it is financially viable at the moment. Immersive VR, as a classroom tool, is out of reach. You would need a purpose built area for it, besides the massive cost of setup. at the moment, the best option we have will be Headset VR.

There are still a few barriers to get it into the classroom, but these (according to rumours and the internet) are coming down. The reality is we only need one thing; cross platform software that allows any device to be used. This means we can buy a set of generic headsets that fit any phone, with maybe a couple of spare devices.

#teachICT #edTech #VRed

Whiteboards, Projectors and TVs in the Classroom

I was reading this article about replacing white boards with TVs, and it got me thinking. I really don’t like the idea of it. I’m not a constant white board user, as an IT teacher, but do use it on occasion. I use my laptop, projector and OneNote instead, as I am lucky enough to have a touch screen and a digital pen. I get to distribute my scribbling to my captive audience, and they can focus on the discussion instead of trying to copy my notes.

But that is me. Not everyone has the resources or inclination to adopt this approach. Not everyone wants to. Yes HD is nice, 4K more so. Yes TVs are easy to use and work much better than projectors in a bright space. But I would still rather have a projector any day.  Until TV are the size of a whiteboard, a projector will trump them. I’ll finish with a question “What would you do if the power goes out, and you had no whiteboard?”

BYOD: Yes or No

I was recently asked for my thoughts on BYOD programs. If you do a quick google, you will find heaps of discussion, debates and arguments about BYOD. There are people on both sides of the issues. After reading a number of these articles and discussions, it became clear to me that there is no answer that will not be contentious. What it really comes down to is personal opinion. So here I go……….

For me, BYOD is reality (if not a necessity) within the current education funding model. Here in Australia, like many other countries, we do not receive the funding we need to do things like 1 to 1 computers. The reality of information and computer technology is that it is;

  1. Expensive to buy in the first place
  2. Expensive to maintain
  3. Becomes outdate quickly

In the corporate world, funding for computer technology is linked directly to financial outcomes and benefits. For example; we will be more productive with the current version of software; our computers are too slow, so it is time to upgrade. By spending money, they often generate money. I know this is a simplistic view, but I cannot be bother going into more detail in regards to corporate economics and mentalities.

In schools, we make do with what we are given. Funding is limited and constantly being cut. It is a reality of our education system. In Victoria we blew something around $200 million dollars on the failed ultranet project (I’m not going to go into why, I prefer not to remind myself of that debacle.). Coming back to BYOD programs, school like them because it puts technology in the hands of our students, that we don’t have the funding for. It is as simple as that. As educators, we know students need school computer skills, more now than ever before in history. BYOD allows devices to get into student’s hands, making them more likely to become digital residents.

I guess it the geek in me, but our current students are growing up in a world where the use of technology is embedded in everything around us. Technology is not going away, and skills with it will be essential in the workplace of the future. When I say the future, I mean tomorrow, not some distant place years and years down the track. BYOD programs help us educate kids, and not just in the use of technology itself. By having a device worth hundreds of dollars which is the student’s personal property, we instill thing like “taking responsibility for your belongings” and “the value of money”.

I know BYOD sounds expensive, but in reality there not that bad. A reasonable laptop computer sits around $500 to 600 Australian. It seems like a lot. But ask yourself, how much did you spend on that shiny smart phone? Or your kids PlayStation or Xbox? Or iPad /tablet? We routinely spend money on electronics that’s entire purpose is entertainment. I do. You probably do.

The second we (royal we, in this case a given school) tell our student body the “you need to buy a computer device for school”, we get push back and a thousand questions (yes that is a cliché and hyperbole, but you know what I mean). This is fair. We pay taxes and expect schools to provide everything. A long time ago schools did. Once there was a time, now lost in history, when schools had money to invest in their facilities and tools. We could access money to build and buy resources, by justifying the why. Now we cannot; this is the reality of education at the moment. Funding limitations dominate, over shadowing the resource needs to achieve our mandated outcomes.  BYOD has come out of this environment; it is a child of a social change (the rise of computer technology in everything) and a decline in funding. Ask yourself “what I could do with half a million dollars in my school, if they said here, use this to improve your technology”.

Personally I like BYOD programs, because I don’t see the funding model changing. I would love to hand students a new laptop every 2 to 3 years. I lie to myself about this occasionally, but know that in truth, it is not going to happen; I am a realist.  BYOD is our solution at present. I think of BYOD as chance to help prepare students for the future. Make them responsible for something that they need to have and will find it really frustrating not to have. Give them a tool that will let them research and develop the skills they will need in the world.

I’m a yes for BYOD, until there is a better solution.

First Impressions- HTC Vive

Wow. I never thought I would say this, but I have experienced a bit of tech that will shift paradigms. The potential of this technology is game gaming. I was very impressed, as the experience far exceeded my expectations.

Now that my gushing is out of the way, it is time for me to say something with substance. I was lucky enough to spend some time in an HTC Vive over the last few days (about 4 hours so far). This thing is amazing. The environments are so clear and immersive, that I easily lost track of time and my physical location. I have used Google Cardboard and Samsung VR, but my experience with the Vive has changed how I define what true VR is.

Phone based VR, is OK. It doesn’t need to be knocked about or down; it provides a immersive experience and some level of interactivity. It has limitations though. With phone VR you get to be inside an environment, but I have found, that you never loose the sensation of viewing the environment, always feeling apart and disconnected somehow from the experience. I have found you never “feel” fully immersed in phone VR.

I was expecting only an extension of the phone experience when I put on the Vive. I was wrong. I soon found myself feeling completely immersed in the environment, the illusion only broken by the chaperone system, when I strayed too close to edge of virtual “play space”.  This happened to such an extent, that at one stage, I tried to pick a virtual object off a virtual table, and ended up falling through the table. I had forgotten that nothing, that wasn’t me, was not physical and could not actually be touched.

So what does this mean for education?

I think the classroom use has enormous potential. I am struggling putting what this means into words, but will give it a go. VR is a new medium for artists. It is a way to see and experience most anything. It removes the limitation of physical location from the classroom. You can visit anywhere, in any time period (once someone makes the content that is!) You can also view things in a way that it is just not possible to do so in a classroom. Scale is what you decide and perspective is determined by you.

Imagine seeing the whole solar system at once, in scale. Now walk through it, to find earth. Now make earth so big, it fills the room. Step back and realise, that the sun is off behind you, huge, but in scale to your enlarged earth. Your between them.

Sounds a bit like a commercial, but I did that last night. It was my wow moment, when I saw the potential in VR to change the world.


Defining VR for Education

In teaching, we love our technological toys. Well, in truth, we love the idea of technology, and wish we had the budgets to indulge our ideas and play with the toys available to the corporate world. Our reality is that we are limited by funding constraints and do not generally have access to newest and best tech toys. So why am I talking about VR and education you may ask? I believe that VR is going to change the face of education. Not now, but in a future that is not too distant. VR comes in a variety of forms, many of which are accessible to schools and teachers within are constraints. So onto defining VR.

The best place to start when discussing VR is to first define what VR is. VR is an acronym for virtual reality, but beyond that the definition becomes very convoluted. Some define VR as “the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. Unlike traditional user interfaces, VR places the user inside an experience. Instead of viewing a screen in front of them, users are immersed and able to interact with 3D worlds.”  Dr Brian Jackson on What is Virtual Reality? [Definition and Examples]. Others, like the Virtual Reality Society define it as something that “entails presenting our senses with a computer generated virtual environment that we can explore in some fashion”.  These are but two examples of definitions for VR that are out there, as many different versions are available across the web.

A few commonalities come out of the collective maelstrom though;

  1. VR uses computer technology
  2. VR immerses users in an artificial environment
  3. VR allows for users to interact with the environment

These three characteristics, in my humble opinion, are the essentials of what is virtual reality is. It is a computer generated environment that allows user to interact with it. This definition strips away many of the complexities in the debate around “what is VR”, creating a simple definition that feels more workable, especially in an educational context.






Burnout and Change

I was reading this article this morning, while having my second coffee, and it made me think about my own experiences with teacher burnout. I myself have experience this and have seen it happen to many colleagues. We get tired and frustrated, much as our students do.

Near the end of any given term, the pressure ramps up and we get tired and stressed. It is a natural response. This is a form of burnout, but one easily solved with a week of sitting at home and sleeping in. This article talks about the big summer break resets, but for me misses the mark slightly and does not address one of the best tools available to us; change.

Change. Yes Change. Life Change. Career Change. Lifestyle Change. Change is a great tool for combating burnout. Ask to teach something new. Change your personal style. Change schools. Change roles. I have only been in the teaching game for 5 years, but have observed that a simple change, if embraced, can negate burnout and actually reverse it.  Every educator I have met chose this life because at one stage we were passionate about teaching. We loved our jobs. We loved our careers. In our hearts we always will. Change can be a means to rekindle that feeling and light the fire instead of burning out.

For me, change comes in the form of technology and exploring how I can use it in the classroom. When I feel the weight of teaching on my shoulders, I escape into technology. I seek out something new, and attempt to implement change. Someone told me recently that I am an “agent of change”. I have no clue what that means, but will assume that it is a good thing.

The First Post

This is my very first post, so I figured I would answer the big question; Why a Blog?

The answer is pretty simple. This blog came out my increasing use of Twitter and it’s limitation of characters. months have I really started using it. I never saw the point to Twitter, as my many RSS feeds pretty much did the same thing. Then one day, I started to become involved in conversations around education, and I glimpse some of Twitter’s potential as an active means of engaging with my colleagues world wide. As the months passed I soon became an active member of Twitter and it super-succeeded my RSS feeds. I soon found I wanted to say more on topics than I can tweet, so I decided to expanded my ability to record and share my thoughts with the wider world. Thus a blog was born.

I am no expert, but I have been told that know what I am talking about, at least when it comes to using and teaching ICT. My intention is to share my ongoing journey into this field, developing a better understanding of pedagogy and how information technology is interacting, impacting and developing in the classroom.