Pointful Education

Introducing myself and others to Virtual Reality

When I first started working with our curriculum team and subject matter experts on a course on Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) applications and careers, I knew it would be beneficial for me to personally try the technology. After trying some of the simpler “cardboard” variety goggles attached to a smartphone, I sprung for an HTC Vive VR System. Since setting it up, along with family and friends, I have been able to utilize the VR technology to create art, battle robots, explore terrifying haunted houses, and fly around on a rocket pack. Even my young daughter, under supervision and in short spurts, loves the immersive nature of the games she plays on VR. She even recently told me that she wants to be a “VR creator” when she grows up… either that or a Lego builder.

I was particularly amazed at how quickly young kids and teenagers intuitively picked up the controls and were able to master the technology; much quicker than I was able to! Young people are naturally drawn to new technologies. Our goal at Pointful Education in creating a course on AR and VR is to

1) provide students exposure

2) build an understanding of the technology

3) and create a pathway for where the technology is going, and the opportunities it will create.

Students are naturally curious about this new medium and how it will be used in their education and careers. They see science fiction movies like Ready Player One, which, while dystopian, introduces some incredible applications that many find exciting.

The next big thing?

VR and AR systems are still very new and emerging, though progress continues to be made. Some have predicted it will be the next mass media device, eventually replacing or superseding the clunky handheld devices we know as smart devices. Recently revealed concepts of Apple’s AR glasses demonstrate what this might look like.

When will VR meaningfully impact education?

I was recently asked when I think VR will really hit its stride in education, and honestly, I still don’t know. But again, progress is being made by a variety diverse groups and companies. One that I have discovered that is doing VR education well is Interplay Learning. They have created unique VR content specific to the domains of HVAC repair and solar panel installation. Another company I have gotten to know is FluentWorlds, which applies the technology of VR to language learning. Students benefits from an immersive experience much more so than flashcards (even if they are flashcards on an app!)

For those of us who straddle both the CTE (Career and Technical Education) and online learning worlds, one of the biggest hurdles is the hands-on component of many aspects of CTE. With limited supplies, expensive materials, and the need for social distancing, VR applications provide a tantalizing possibility to give students a safe, risk-free environment to get as close to a “hands-on” experience as possible. For example, just last year, a juvenile detention center introduced a welding program utilizing virtual reality technology. (https://newsadvance.com/news/local/new-welding-program-helps-teens-in-lynchburg-detention-center-forge-path-to-promising-future/article_ac8b5a04-2e65-56d5-9693-04ec252d003a.html)

Making sure the new opportunities provide broad access and equity

One final caveat is the question of access to technology. As COVID19 forced the shutdown of physical school buildings in the spring of 2020, the issue of equity in access became a front-and-center issue (though it has been an issue for much longer). Questions around deploying hardware like laptops, and providing students reliable access to the internet were and are tremendous challenges. When done well and to its fullest potential, the technology associated with virtual reality and augmented reality is not cheap. As with any new technology, we must find ways to overcome hurdles and get it into the hands of those who need it most, so that all students can equitably benefit from the exciting possibilities of VR and AR.

We are excited for the students who will be taking Pointful Education’s elective course this fall on Augmented and Virtual Reality Applications. It is a fantastic starting point for those who may grow up to be VR creators!