January 15, 2018

Whoosh! VR

One of the most under-emphasized areas in the booming field of virtual reality involves user-generated content. I’ve noticed at many tech conferences that a keen interest for student-created content options is resonating at an all-time high, especially for folks in higher education.

Enter WhooshVR. Having exhibited in the past at CES and other events, these folks are chiefly known for Whoosh3D, a 3D-enabled 9H tempered glass screen protector which comes with its own app.  Whoosh3D enables a conventional smartphone or tablet device to create, convert, stream, and display 2D and stereo 3D content, in a glasses-free format.  But WhooshVR is a pleasant addition to their platform, something I see as having high potential in the education market.

Basically, WhooshVR is an app that enables a conventional phone to capture a 2D photo with a single click, convert it to 3D VR format, and create tilt-view VR photos and video, whereby the edges of the frame expand beyond one’s peripheral vision. Its current photo capture constraint is 140 degree FOV with a phone’s camera and 180 degrees with a fisheye lens.  Interestingly, all photo capture is via a single photo shot; I do not need to rotate the phone or exhibit socially awkward photo capture behaviors, thank goodness. According to Simon Gemayel, CEO of 3DVT: “We're changing the face of  VR content by shifting people from being content consumers to “content creators” simply by using their phone – the camera we all carry around in our pocket – and using it in a way which is natural to human behavior; photo capture with a single click.” He gleams:   “This is a powerful change in paradigm.  Never before has 3D and VR3D been so simple, so affordable, and so accessible. “

The introductory app is free, yet basic. (In the basic version of Whoosh VR, photos are captured through the app and viewed on the app’s library.) The upsell version will also allow users to access VR and 3D content on YouTube.

I have been playing with the WhooshVR app at work and home, experimenting with both fish hook and other lenses. From the perspective of the consumer, I see this as a low-cost and non-complicated way to capture 3D pictures (and soon, video), enjoying the ability to click through a mass of images using my VR headgear or the auto-stereo display. I can print what I see on a either a color printer or 3D printer and can email or post my images from the app. From an educator’s perspective, I like the hands-free use, enabled through gaze control on an onscreen dashboard. The intuitive dashboard allows immediate depth editing, zooming, and quick visual tweaking. In my way of thinking, it provides an easy way for the youngest children, or beginning students at higher levels, to jump right into the fray, using a tool I consider a valuable precursor to more sophisticated and time-consuming content generation tools. It’s pretty slick.

January 8, 2018

The Counterpunch

Wrapping things up from the last few weeks of posts, let’s pursue a contrarian position on the VR phenomenon. Linda Bush (a past academic referenced in the last two posts and now working as an executive director for a Pearson)  suggests (as most traditional educators will): “There will always be a place for personalized, interactive traditional classroom instruction.  She continues: “I am a bit of a fence sitter, although a fairly engaged one.” She ended with a cautious note: "the pedagogy should drive the application of our technology, not the other way around." 

But, at the conferences, some striking comments by the Mark Christian of the Pearson immersive technologies group seemed to counterpunch. Talking about wearables in specific, he admitted that VR is would see growth in 2017, but soon, it will start to dip. At that time, many more AR applications will be released and these will greatly outnumber VR applications. He explained: “We had some great success with VR, but I'm personally and professionally more interested in AR. AR is the future.” 

January 1, 2018

What Higher Ed Wants

Linda Bush (a past academic now working as an executive director for a Pearson) recently reported on a VR survey she conducted informally.  Here are the informative findings from this survey of faculty and student priorities for AR/MR/VR. 

Apparently, students:
  • don't want to lose human interaction
  • want to share in learning, and not be isolated
  • want to learn how to make it themselves (creating the apps)

When presented with the same survey, university faculty offered an identical set of responses to those above, but added the following pedagogical desirables:
  • knowing how to use it in the classroom
  • resources that are easy to “plug into” curriculum
  • true enhancements to what educators are doing today, not just add-ons
  • customization capabilities
  • the need for control
  • remembering what our priorities are

December 25, 2017

Another Perspective

Linda Bush (a past academic now working as an executive director for a Pearson) recently gave some solid insight on VR at a recent conference.  And it's always useful to see what Pearson, the huge educational publishing conglomerate, thinks about the AR/MR/VR market and where they are placing their business bets.

Bush played the role of a critical friend, yet at the same time revealing the inner thinking of a large publishing company, by asking: “Where do we see the most promise and potential; and how do we not lose time and stray too far by getting caught up in the shiny object of the moment.” She explained: “Every day I talk to faculty that wants a more immediate immersive learning experience for their students; they want experts students can go to at any time and interact with and learn.”

Still, Bush realizes that “almost every content area imaginable can be enhanced, improved, or fixed in some way with an AR/MR/VR experience.” “I have never heard the word ‘WOW’ expressed so much, as when students are viewing VR.” She added: “With AR/MR/VR in education I see an opportunity for synergy in which the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts; and we are approaching an incredibly exciting time, if we remember what our priorities are.”

Bush went on to provide some interesting higher ed survey data, and not all of it positive. Come back next week for a compelling follow-up post.

December 18, 2017

Experiential Learning

With the AR/MR/VR market expected to hit $150 billion by 2020, schools, colleges and universities are now getting the hard sell on making an investment in the “next big thing.”  But wherein lies the hype, and wherein lies the reality? 

Fridolin Wild (a senior research fellow at Oxford Brookes University, who leads the Performance Augmentation Lab [PAL], recently spoke out a conference very much in favor of the VR phenomenon. 

He reminded the audience that we now live in “the age of experience, which follows the age of commodity and the age of services.” Virtual-reality, as used in education, provides such a “memorable and personalized experience.” 

What do you think? Is VR really bringing us, kicking and scratching, into the world of experiential education?

December 11, 2017

Ready or Not

The hallmark movie revolving around a VR theme and setting, Ready Player One, is coming out soon. Here’s a trailer:

Everyone in VR circles is touting this as a vehicle for advancing and promoting the use of VR worldwide. But have you read the book? Seen the ending? Is this wishful thinking? The conclusion of it all (spoiler alert) is not what these VR advocates suppose. I suspect they have not really read the book in its entirety. What do you think?

December 4, 2017

The VR Landscape

Ever wonder how big the VR phenomenon is becoming? Who is jumping into the VR pool? Here’s the data: The VR Fund recently evaluated in excess of 3,000 companies, identifying 450 that met a rigorous criteria (funding, revenue, press coverage, and/or partnership levels) for inclusion in this infographic.

November 27, 2017

VR production suggestions

We continue from last week's post:

For students making their own content, the team from NYTedu makes a number of suggestions:

Storytelling matters. Have students put the story first.

Presence matters. “Take us there. Mecca. Antarctica. Yes, take us to an environment, but instead of just seeing it, put us in the middle of it." And don’t just focus on a single experience, but find a way to focus on all that surrounds you.

Comfort matters. VR designers consider the participants as a “guest, not as a viewer." Design "as if you were literally holding your viewers heads." Kevin Alster recommends avoiding the PPS or "potential puke shot” in the design of VR content.

Journalistic integrity matters. “Be a journalist" first. That means designers need to "look and listen more” and “take time to decide what to tell your guests."

Learning matters. The speakers noted the importance of learning learn from each project you undertake. Each time you create, "come up with more…improve over time."

November 20, 2017

Make the Content

At a recent SXSWedu conference in Austin, however, some of the activities being conducted in the field of user-generated content came into clear sight. Kevin Alster, a learning designer, and Dr. Audrey Heinesen, the VP for product development, both working for the School of the New York Times, provided a presentation on the topic of best practices for user-generated VR content.

At the School of the New York Times, students, budding entrepreneurs, and other interested individuals are able to work with the award-winning New York Times VR Team to learn how to create VR content from scratch. Teaching virtual reality at NYTedu includes design, development, and production in the process, but after running their programs for a full year, they identified some interesting best practices in educational VR content development.

According to Dr. Heinesen, students become excited with “full-on engagement and presence in VR,” but that doesn’t last. Certainly, “VR is just so cool—then we see a drop off.”

 What I learned from NYTedu is that, while the content industry dawdles forward, another revolution is slowly gathering steam. Students are heartily learning to craft their own content. Dr. Heinesen concludes: "We have to move from consumers of high quality content to producers of high quality content.” “[We have to] be conscious creators, not conscious consumers.” Watch out, VR content industry! You may play second fiddle. 

November 13, 2017

Not Much Content

While recently perusing my LinkedIn feed, I encountered this softly repining graphic:

Of course there's more than a smidgen of truth in the notion being alluded to here. I completely get it. Lots of talk at VR conferences, not much content, though. But there may be some sleight-of-hand at play here. While everyone's eyes are on production companies, and their inability to churn out content fast enough for our virtual appetites, the real action is taking place behind the scenes, and on a hugely grand scale. You see, no one is paying attention to the users themselves, many of whom are busy creating the content needed to speed the virtual reality revolution along its way. That's a big mistake, to not pay attention to user-generated content. I guess you could miss if, if you weren't paying much attention. For more insight, see next week's post.

November 6, 2017

The Dark Side of VR

At a recent conference, I saw how virtual reality made its presence known with a collective shout. In today's post, I will spill the other part of the story: “the dirty, grimy, unspoken part.” Here we go...

I left the conference in Austin with an uneasy feeling. It’s that queasy uneven feeling you get when bandwagon carelessly thumps into powerful innovation. No—virtual reality’s coronation pathway to the palace of ed-market success is not paved with gold bricks—at least not just yet. Here’s a reasoned look at why:
  • Nearly all of the VR sims I viewed struggled with granular, lower-resolution imagery; resolution far less sharp than students demand;
  • Most of the VR sims I viewed demonstrated noticeable latency; and latency issues can lead to the distasteful “virtual reality sickness” phenomenon.
  • I witnessed an over-dependence on spherical photography for content, or at least defined as VR content.
  • Nearly all of the VR sims I viewed were passive observational experiences (viewing), and not particularly interactive.
  • In every single session, the presenter(s) grumbled about the need for more educational content. Clearly, there is not enough educational content available for critical mass adoption in schools and universities. Period.
  • Not a single presenter I interviewed had a proper answer to address the vision issues associated with binocular viewing of stereo virtual reality experiences. One presenter naively suggested that the solution depended solely on improved VR content. 
  • Nearly all VR presenters haled from university-level programs or the corporate world, not K-12.

As a result, I left the halls of the Convention Center, writhing in palpable uncertainty, the kind that occurs when hype collides with potential; when exposure to exciting new technology meets with equal parts shudder and disdain. 

October 30, 2017

Cool VR @ SXSW

The predictive education bazaar that we know as SXSWedu is held each year in Austin, Texas in the Spring. 

Over the last two years, virtual reality made its presence known in a big way at SXSWedu. The diversity of approaches and angles is mind-boggling, such as:
  • Mike Cuales and Bethanne Tobey (North Carolina State University) talking about the use of 360 spherical video as a teaching tool .
  • Ilan Bren Yakov (MidCET) demonstrating the empathy-creating potential of virtual reality by placing your own head/vision in the body of a dog, chasing cats and living a dog’s life in general.
  • Carlos Castaneda (University of Chihuahua MX) demonstratingvirtual reality combined with gesture control (using a jerry-rigged Leap motion controller creatively mounted on VR headgear.
  • Renee Hobbs (University of Rhode Island) demonstratingthe Google Cardboard phenomenon.
  • In their presentation, “Virtual Exchange Meets Virtual Reality”, Grace Lau and Hanna Weitzer (Global Nomads Group) introducing their innovative project combining virtual reality with distance learning, called “Reimagine: Syria”. " (In this project, students from Los Angeles were dropped into a virtual reality recreation to understand the realities of the Syrian Crisis, and then later, were connected with actual refugee youth in Amman, Jordan in a live skyped session.)
  • Jennifer Holland (Product Manager for Google Expeditions) and Benjamin Scrom (Project Manager, Google) conductinga two-hour workshop entitled“Explore Your Worlds with Google Expeditions”, designed to take students “places a school bus can’t go”. 
  • Dr. Jennifer Simonson and Len Scrogan providing a medical perspective about the intersection of virtual reality, reading, learning, and healthy vision for children. 
  • Emory Craig, (Director of eLearning at the College of New Rochelle) and Maya Georgieva, (Co-Founder, Digital Bodies) [see their interesting web site] conducting a workshop raising fundamental questions about future media, storytelling, and narrative using this new medium. 
  • Lizzie Edwards (Education Manager, Samsung Digital Learning Programme [Samsung Digital Discovery Centre at the British Museum]) describing the museum’s effort to host a “virtual reality” weekend in which families were able to explore the Museum’s first virtual reality environment—a bronze Age round house—set within a realistic landscape, and showcasing 3D scans of real objects from this period in history.
  • The Digital Media Academy demonstratinghow they help students learn to create virtual reality environments through their community-based programs.
  • A college demonstrating how they use virtual reality as a recruiting tool to attract new students to their campus by featuring innovative virtual reality walkthroughs of their innovative learning spaces, experiencing the look and feel of the campus before having to commit to a college site visit.

As you can see, VR can take on numerous roles in education. In a few months I will provide a preview of virtual-reality sessions being offered at the upcoming SXSW 2018 conference.

October 23, 2017

Case Study Conclusion 2

Taking a more contrary point of view, I see a number of problems with the Chinese VR study we have been covering for the past month:  
  • I am concerned any time I see for-profit sponsors/authors of a research project. (Both sponsors of this study are commercial interests.) Although the findings are helpful, it is clear to me that this study was designed to promote the expanded use of VR learning, not merely understand it. Little chunks of uncensored hyperbole spread throughout the study leave me with this sense.
  • The study has an extremely low sample size, or low n, ensuring that the findings cannot actually be as conclusive as suggested.
  • The low sample size, along with the small number of HTC Vive units employed brings into question the scalability of implementing this technology in actual school settings, where student numbers are higher, and equipment costs would clearly skyrocket.
  • The focus on retention is troubling. This is low-lying fruit in the minds of educators. We want deeper learning, critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis. Two-week retention tests also seem contrived. Why not a month or two months?  
  • The type of testing that was administered remains unstated. What kind was it? Multiple choice testing? Essay writing? Performance testing? Previous research in this field suggests that students using visualization technologies perform better on essay-type tests (requiring higher-order thinking) than they do on multiple choice tests (requiring factual regurgitation).
  • The refrain throughout the study is that VR works well in education and produces positive academic results because it is FUN. Is that notion the best this research can offer as an explanation for the value of this technology? I think not. Game research suggests that challenge, competition, and noble failure are more motivating to us than fun; recent neuroscience or brain research might point to curiosity, storytelling (narrative), relevance, vividness, and novelty as the primary motivators working in and through VR technology.  

For me, all types of research matter… I prefer to read and report on all of it. Each study, survey, action research effort, or anecdotal collection provides us with the clues, contacts, and stepping stones to learn more. Each enables us to grow wiser, gather fresh insight, and seize upon new perspective. So there you have it. As I pondered this research study, I remembered the Hindi proverb: “Even a drowning man catches a straw.” Yes, the results of this study are all “good to know.” They advance our knowledge another step or two forward.

October 16, 2017

Case Study Conclusion 1

For the last three weeks, we have been examining a case study on using virtual reality for instruction within the Chinese schools. Although the authors conclude: “Students from each grade level achieved more progress by VR-based learning than traditional teaching”, my own feelings are mixed. 

Let's begin with some positive points. This Chinese study:
  • offers a laudable focus on education. (We need as much insight as we can get into using virtual reality for educational settings.)
  • tackles a perfect subject area—astrophysics—and asks the perfect question: “Will visualization (in this case VR) help students learn this difficult and abstract content?”
  • is smart to focus on stubborn, recurring learning challenges. (Using a promising technology to tackle an “easy” topic is simply unimportant.)
  • takes a closer look at the notion of measuring learning efficiency, which here is defined as reducing the amount of reteaching necessary to push students toward content mastery. More studies should look at this solid “return on investment” for teaching with VR.

October 9, 2017

Case Study, Part 3

Continuing with the theme from the last two weeks, we now want to focus on some of the qualitative findings coming out of the Chinese VR case study:

As is common in other case studies I have examined, students in this study are entirely enthusiastic about the use of virtual reality in science instruction. “The introduction of the latest VR technology into education is very fascinating to students, who are looking forward to seeing VR-based teaching integrated in their classes,” report the study’s authors. 

Notably, the female students were more likely to recommend VR instruction to others than the male students were. That’s a pleasant surprise.

Students and teachers were also polled about which content areas they would most like to see peppered with VR content. The chart below shows their preferences. (In the U.S., I sense there would be higher interest in mathematics and social sciences.)

Overall, this study concludes on a high note: “Every child is a genius in his or her own way. VR can be the key to awakening the genius inside.” 

October 2, 2017

Case Study, Part 2

The Chinese case study introduced in last week's post provides both quantitative and qualitative findings.

Quantitative Findings
At first blush, the use of VR in teaching seems to have a positive effect on test scores: The average score of the VR group was 93%, while the traditional instruction group evidenced a 73% average.  The lowest Score of VR group was 75%, while the lowest score in the first post-test for the traditional instruction group was 40%. In another measure, the VR group demonstrated a 27.4% growth in scores.

Interestingly, the study spent some time analyzing learning efficiency: only one student in the VR group required repeated teaching and follow-up testing to achieve mastery, which, accounted for 10% of the group members; in comparison, six students in traditional teaching group required reteaching, accounting for 60% of those students. According to the researchers, this suggests a certain level of spent-time learning efficiency that advantages schools with limited resources.

The use of VR in learning also appeared to offer positive results for knowledge retention. In the second test, administered two weeks later, the average score of the VR group approached 90%, while that of the traditional teaching group settled in at 68%. According to the authors, this suggests that knowledge taught in a traditional fashion is more inclined to be forgotten quickly.
The study also unmasked, according to the researchers, an unexpected discovery: “The average score of C students in the VR group reached 88%, 15.8% higher than that of the A students in the control (traditional) group.” The researchers concluded: “Every student has a special gift. As we found in the experiment, the right teaching method helps to discover children’s unlimited potential.” Incidentally, past U.S. technology studies in the arena of 3D learning and visualization harmonize with this discovery: many technologies have a greater impact on struggling students than they do on highly successful students.

In next week's post, we will uncover some of the qualitative findings in this case study.

September 25, 2017

VR in Ed Case Study

A Case Study - The Impact of VR on Academic Performance, published jointly by the Beijing Bluefocus E-Commerce Co. and the Beijing iBokan Wisdom Mobile Internet Technology Training Institutions offers some promising, although limited, insight into the use of VR in education.

The experiment sought to show the difference between traditional teaching and VR-based teaching in astrophysics, along with impact upon student learning.

The authors explain that, in astrophysics, students cannot really “conduct experiments” like they would in other classes. “Students can only try to understand it through their imagination and teacher’s explanation.” The study assumes that VR-based teaching is “vivid and interactive,” making it entirely possible for students to understand abstract concepts “in a three-dimensional way; conduct simulated operations; and let students experience the scenarios at different cosmic velocity.”

Another assumption was that VR would support both theoretical knowledge as well as practical skills training by providing an immersive learning experience, enhancing students' sense of active involvement in class, and simply making learning more fun. The authors kvetched: “Most students lack interest in boring teaching and learning.” Enter virtual reality.


The study was conducted at two full-time high schools in Beijing, with equal numbers of male and female students. They represented from A to C students in their normal classroom performance. The students were divided into groups for this study: one group adopted VR-based instruction (defined as thirty minutes of VR-based teaching), while the other group approached the content from a traditional teaching perspective (defined as thirty minutes of lecture and PowerPoint).  The same teacher was employed in all groups to avoid any experiment deviation caused by the professional difference among teachers. Immediate post-tests were then administered after the teaching to contrast both the academic performance and learning efficiency between the two groups. A second test was administered two weeks later to see if new knowledge was retained. Three HTC Vive virtual reality headsets were used in this study.

See next week's post for the surprising conclusions...

September 18, 2017

Sensavis Refreshed

What's new these days with Sensavis, the 3D content manufacturer? I followed them over the years, and their recent efforts have lent themselves to a fresh perspective, a rebranding, if you will.

Sensavis continues their U.S. messaging, recalibrating their 3D offering in a smart way. Their previous product, called The 3D Classroom, is now simply called 'Sensavis'. This makes sense, because the nomenclature 3D sounds old-school these days, having been effectively replaced by a newcomer to the mat—VR. (See my past post about this evolution, "What's in a Name?") 

At the same time, Sensavis has reshaped and refocused their mission: “teach, create, activate.” This notion can be translated as better teaching (through visualization), easy content creation, and actively involving students in their own learning. A nice reverse move! Student content creation is the newest meme coming out of educational circles, and Sensavis is wise to make this transition.

September 11, 2017

Beyond the Cool

Every month, I have occasion to meet with many innovators in both the 3D and VR industry—especially with many of the innovators bringing new products, displays, and solutions to the U.S. or Eurasian market. My experience thus far is that they are largely unaware of the seminal work conducted by the American Optometric Association found in See Well, Learn Well

In my experience, most innovators new to the VR scene don’t have a satisfactory answer for the educator or consumer with the concern that “this gives me headaches” or “will this hurt my children?” (The common responses are overly dismissive: “don’t let those children use the technology”; or “there is no problem at all.”) I continuously ask exhibit hall representatives about this issue, and to date, few are able to respond well. Plainly, VR strategists cannot expect success if they are oblivious to vision health issues involving so many customers, as discussed in the previous four posts. 

Just because 3D virtual reality headgear is cool, or the stereoscopic 3D 360 content is eye-popping and captivating, that doesn’t make it impervious to what we know about the vision challenges of children or customers. No, the vision issue didn’t just go away with the advent of the next big technology. The takeaway here is that companies will never sell VR or other advanced display technologies in a sustained fashion unless they also handle this vision health issue well. You can start by reading or re-reading the American Optometric Association’s seminal report on 3D vision health, See Well, Learn Well.

September 4, 2017

The Missing Link

In last week’s post I mentioned there is a bigger problem, one that helps explain why VR may not provide a comfortable viewing experience for a larger subset of viewers. The guilty party is our own vision.

Vision. This is actually the elephant in the room. This is a lesson not learned. Any VR experiences that are stereoscopic can induce symptoms such as soreness, dryness of the eyes, fatigue, headache, eye irritation, blurred or double vision, dizziness or nausea. That’s quite a list. Simply stated, if our eyes are unable to see 3D, and these kinds of symptoms occur, it is an indication of an underlying vision issue. It is not necessarily the fault of the content, the VR experience, or the hardware. It's your vision. Any student with myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism, convergence, alignment, accommodation, tracking, or suppression issues can experience viewing problems with VR.

This is a bigger deal than you think; let me quantify it for you. I often demonstrate VR experiences at adult party gatherings, conference workshops, and my own undergraduate classes. In all of these settings, approximately 20% experience discomfort when viewing a stereoscopic virtual reality experience. (Medical experts suggest that the 3D vision syndrome affects anywhere from 14-20% of the population, worldwide.)

And since I constrain the user viewing approach and my selection of content, this is solid evidence of stereopsis problems, not virtual reality sickness or misguided content.) Also, since most people don’t avail themselves of regular vision care, most people won’t know they have these problems until they strap on their VR headgear.