April 24, 2017

Short Deadline!

Don't you love short headlines? There is currently a competition running with $50,000 in prizes up for grabs for solving public safety challenges that affect millions of people. Interested? 

Introducing the Virtual Public Safety Test Environment Challenge. The competition offers a total prize of $50,000 USD for the design of a physical measurement environment that uses immersive virtual reality tools for testing new first responder technologies. 

Find out more and sign up to the Virtual Public Safety Test Environment Challenge. https://herox.com/NISTvr

- The submission deadline is May 3rd, 2017 so don’t dawdle! -

April 17, 2017

TEDx Shanghai

Ni hau, 

If you live or work in the Shanghai area, I will be presenting at TEDx Caohejing Park Salon on the "Great Virtual Reality Mystery Caper," a journey of curiosity and gumshoe sleuthing as we attempt to solve one of the biggest mysteries surrounding  virtual reality and your vision health. 

Just in case there is an opportunity to have coffee or shake hands with you while I am in Shanghai from May 16-22, I decided to post this. https://www.ted.com/tedx/events/22296

April 10, 2017

Chasing the Hype

At every conference I attend., I try to either interview or investigate what is currently happening with the big “3D players” of the past—some of the largest vendors selling to the education market four-five years ago, when the hype was at a high point. 

These days, these firms are not featuring 3D in their booths. Frankly, many of these sales people and manufacturers felt burned and betrayed by the educational market. They expected an avalanche of 3D sales and got only a dusting of 3D snow; they anticipated a gold rush of activity and only extracted a few nuggets. Their viewpoint, as expressed to me, was simple: if 3D doesn’t generate considerable volume in sales in the education market, they must move on to new and more attractive opportunities. These well-meaning manufacturers, integrators, and sales reps live for an avalanche mindset, delighting in the hopes of selling the “next big thing.”


Unfortunately, these folks fell for the trap illustrated in the well-travelled Gartner Hype Cycle.  They built their business sandcastles in the ebb tide of inflated expectations, only to lose their faith as the flood tides of disillusionment washed away their expectations.  The “next big thing” never panned out, at least in the realm of 3D in education. As VR now moves aggressively onto the world stage, will things turn out any different? See next week’s post for an answer.

April 3, 2017

Before and After (2)

The evidence of the informal action research (cited in last week's blog post) gives us some useful insight as to how 3D learning actually works in a classroom. Here are samples of before and after (before 3D visualization, and after) with Ms. Hillman's students:
Water cycle before
Water cycle after
Another before/after

Another water cycle after
The Lesson Learned.
Perhaps one fourth grader described it best: “you can picture it in your head better." Ms. Hillman beamed: “the visualization is so rich that it provides an experience unlike anything you can provide through teacher talk, or even hands-on investigation.” She added : “[3D simulation] takes students on virtual field trips to places they would otherwise never be able to go; the color, imagery, and the depth is attractive and captivating.”

Holli Hillman then asks the reader a clever rhetorical question: “The difference in visual understanding speaks for itself, right?” Right. 


March 27, 2017

Before and After 3D

It’s important to periodically unpack some of the emerging research on 3D, VR, and other dynamic visualization technologies. In today’s post, we are highlighting some informal, classroom-based “action research” effort conducted in a Minnesota elementary school.


One of first questions people ask me about 3D, VR and HD visualization technologies) concerns its instructional effectiveness. “What is the difference some of these technologies make in learning?” “How effective are these technologies with young learners?” they ask. “Action research”, as it is called, is informal research conducted in live classrooms by practicing teachers. It can provide very useful empirical insight about learning with technology. The next two posts highlight one story worth our attention. (Later I will report on a similar study using VR that had identical results.)

The Problem.
Holli Hillman, a 4th grade teacher in Minnesota knew that her new 3D visualization technology was having an impact on young learners, but she needed a way to demonstrate that learning effectiveness to the leaders who funded her classroom grant. Accountability was expected. Ms. Hillman decided to conduct a focused action research effort, showing before and after examples of actual student work.

The Backdrop.
For her project, Ms. Hillman used stereo 3D projectors, along with science simulation content in her fourth grade classroom over several years. Typically, she used age-appropriate parts of 3D simulations, but would mute the software, providing her own personal voice as narrator.  Ms. Hillman would have the children watch each simulation—regularly pausing the simulations for timely discussion, comments, and questions—and then have the students watch the simulation again to allow for optimal comprehension.

The Protocol.
In her effort to create a before and after perspective, Ms.Hillman followed a specific protocol:
I taught the water cycle using books, posters and discussions; kids were then asked to draw their visual understanding of the water cycle. A few months later, I completely retaught the water cycle using the stereo 3D simulations only (not the books and posters.)  Again I asked the kids to draw their visual understanding of the water cycle.
Through her action research, Ms. Hillman wanted to compare the two treatments. How did the children fare? See for yourself in next week's posting.

March 20, 2017

Sham Wow!

Last week, I wrote that "virtual reality is virtually—everywhere." I lamented that I often have an uneasy feeling. Here's my surpise conclusion:


VR-themed conference presentations often leave me with that uncomfortable “Sham Wow” feeling. (Sham Wow was an ill-famed infomercial in the United States, a hyped-up advertisement that featured Vinnie, the sales hawker promoting a ‘miracle’ cleaning towel. Speaking rapidly and rhythmically, with his rich Bronx accent and gel-spiked hair, Vinnie whittled away every excuse you could muster against buying his amazing product. Then the obligatory customer testimonials followed. But the viewer was always left wondering if s/he was being ‘played.’)


At every conference I attend, I am confirmed in the notion that VR is still having its own Sham Wow moment. (Watch the commercial, but substitute the phrase “VR” every time you hear the phrase “Sham Wow” for a surreal experience.) As a result, I leave most conferences 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. Sham Wow. 

March 13, 2017

That Uneasy Feeling

Virtual Reality seems to be making its presence known these days with a collective shout. At conferences, virtual reality is virtually—everywhere. From a marketer’s perspective, this is a dream-come-true: the excited potential of virtual reality in the education space. But still, I have 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 view struggle with granular, lower-resolution imagery; resolution far less sharp than students demand;
  • Most of the VR sims I view demonstrate noticeable latency; and latency issues can lead to the distasteful “virtual reality sickness” phenomenon.
  • I worry about an over-dependence on spherical photography for content, or at least defined as VR content.
  • Nearly all of the VR sims I view are passive observational experiences (viewing), and not particularly interactive.
  • Everyone I know grumbles about the need for more educational content. Clearly, there is not enough educational content available for critical mass adoption in schools and universities. Period.
  • Only a rare presenter has a proper answer to address the vision issues associated with binocular viewing of stereo virtual reality experiences. Typically, I hear the argument that the solution depends solely on improved VR content or enhanced hardware. 

Come back next week for my suprise conlusion on "that uneasy feeling."

March 6, 2017

Fishbowl

The annual SXSWedu phenomenon has rapidly outpaced the TED talk as the most innovative, fresh, and prognostic venue for envisioning the future of the education and technology marketplace. This year, the SXSWedu® Conference & Festival will be held in Austin, Texas from March 6-9. 

The following ed-market trends emerging at SXSWedu are noteworthy, appearing in great frequency and with strident emphasis at this trailblazing conference:
  • STEAM education
  • Virtual Reality
  • MakerSpaces
  • Coding
  • Learning Space Redesign
  • Re-designing Schooling
  • Social Justice

The remarkably stout presence of the virtual reality meme, one totally expected, now appears to be one of the biggest ed-tech footprints at 2017 SXSWedu conference. This meme has literally doubled or tripled since last year. 

If you are in the neighborhood, I’ll be presenting on Wednesday at 11am in Salon H of the JW Marriott hotel. Joined by Dr. Michael Duenas, the Chief Public Health Officer from the American Optometric Association, we will be pushing past the hype and executing a “deep dive” with our joint 2-hour workshop, Fishbowl: Virtual Reality in Education. See this link for a preview. This unique “deep learning” session addresses the challenges, logistics, scaling, classroom management, research, pedagogical strategies, and vision health (medical) issues surrounding the roll out of VR in U.S. classrooms. No breathless cheerleading here. Just the heavy lifting.



February 27, 2017

Good-Better-Best

Here is an insightful chart, which succinctly summarizes what we know to date about the instructional effectiveness of 3D (and to a lesser extent VR and HD visualization technologies):



It is interesting to note that the buzzwords of ‘engagement’ and ‘retention’ – the low-lying fruit—are  the most frequently and popularly employed terms for marketers and business development managers. For educators, however, the remaining categories are the findings that really draw their attention. The Good-Better-Best findings are very important to experienced teachers and educational leaders alike.

In the last few years, there has been a flurry of activity on the research front for 3D VR, and visualization technologies. But these reports and findings have little traction in the press, often replaced by more populist sound bites preferred by reporters and editors.  

For me, all types of research matter. I am not a purist. For example, when the European LiFe studies were first released---many experts I spoke with mocked them, due to their lack of rigor.  Not me. I prefer to read and report on all of it.

Each study, survey, action research effort, or anecdotal collection provide 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. Each grows our database of knowledge. 

February 20, 2017

The Research Chase


One of first questions people ask me about 3D (and sometimes VR or HD visualization technologies) is about instructional effectiveness and research. “What is the difference some of these technologies make in learning?” “How effective are these technologies with young learners?” they ask.

Of course, a key issue is “What kind of research are you talking about?” In school environments, there are many types of formal and informal research. There are survey data, focus group reporting, and case studies. There is also anecdotal evidence, which can provide very useful empirical insight, when collected well and over time. There is action research, informal classroom research, and even research on fidelity of implementation—how to implement well.  There is industry-conducted  research, sponsored external research, and independent research (if the latter exists!) There is also planned research, which is also quite insightful, because we get pre-knowledge about the upcoming purpose or key research questions being asked in an upcoming study.


Then, of course there is capital ‘R’ Research—the gold standard—with control groups and rigorous evaluative processes.  The most expensive kind, I must add. And let’s not forget my favorite type of research: the meta-analysis, or the compilation or big picture of what we have learned from many dozens of previous research studies.

But back to my kick-off sentence:  Regarding modern visualization technologies, the first question educators typically ask me is “How much does it cost?” But the second question invariably targets the effectiveness, or research, question. Of course, providing an answer for this question in the spare seconds that the listener is willing to offer becomes a difficult proposition, to say the least. I usually offer to send the requester an insightful chart, which succinctly summarizes what we know to date about the instructional effectiveness of 3D (and to a lesser extent VR and HD visualization technologies). I'll show you this chart in next week's post.

February 13, 2017

Mursion


One of the newest and most interesting arrivals at this year’s ed-tech expo halls is Mursion, a company that designs customized training simulations held in virtual space. A San-Francisco-based company with a satellite office in Orlando, Mursion does not produce off-the-shelf content for virtual reality. Instead, they use their simulation engine to customize specific solutions for their customers. In my interview with Brentt Brown, Mursion’s Director of Business Strategy, he explained his company’s footprint in this way: “We focus on creating a virtual environment where professionals practice and rehearse fundamental interpersonal skills for high-stakes careers.” Here are a few examples showing how that actually works
In Education. Many of their customers asked them to develop virtual reality simulations enabling prospective teachers to practice classroom management (classroom discipline) skills. Others employ their engine to build VR simulations for rehearsing essential teaching techniques, such as how to more effectively use questions to elicit deeper student thinking. 
In Hospitality. Best Western Resorts and Hotels recently used Mursion to train and provide performance assessment for their globally distributed workforce of more than 15,000 front desk staff, focusing on front-line customer service acumen conducted via live simulation role playing. 
In Medicine. Another customer is using the Mursion simulation engine to help medical and hospital staff rehearse in a realistic VR environment the delivery of information to patients receiving unfortunate findings from recent diagnostic tests. 
In Industry. Mursion helps clients create multi-avatar environments that enable trainees practice facilitating team meetings or manage interpersonal conflict that is impeding job performance
And there’s much more in the works. In the near future, Mursion will enable the creation of a simulation that populates a virtual classroom with student avatars with differing learning challenges, including language-diverse, ADHD-diagnosed, and autistic-spectrum students; a simulation that helps educators improve how they communicate with parents; and a simulation for autistic students that will help them practice their social skills.

Using its modular and cost efficient simulation engine, Mursion offers their customers a cost/benefit ratio that appears noteworthy. According to Brown, “most simulations require three-hundred hours of design work to produce one hour of simulation for classroom delivery.” With the use of the Mursion development templates, however, "the cost of designing most simulations is less than $1000 (or about eight hours of development time)." Mursion is also aiming to organize a marketplace or clearinghouse of role-playing simulations (designed by current clients) to offer even more cost avoidance to future customers.
Consistent with a trend I’ve been seeing across the education spectrum, Mursion is preparing for the immersive VR world as well. While most of Mursion's current clients experience simulations on a 2D screen (usually a flat screen TV or a laptop), all of Mursion's simulators can easily be rendered to run in 3D via a head-mounted display (HMD), such as the Oculus Rift. Mursion expects that over the next few years the majority of its clients will transition to fully immersive experiences on HMDs. 

January 30, 2017

New Tools

Here are two tools for your consideration:


Bubbli                           WhooshVR



Enjoy!

January 23, 2017

NETP, zSpace, & VR

In last week's post, we highlighted some of future trends predicted in the National Education Technology Plan (NETP). Most notably to our blog readers, the interactive three-dimensional imaging software trend spotlights a well-known company frequenting U.S. educational conferences: zSpace. Quoting from page 16 of the 2016 NETP:

Interactive three-dimensional imaging software, such as zSpace, is creating potentially transformational learning experiences. With three-dimensional glasses and a stylus, students are able to work with a wide range of images from the layers of the earth to the human heart. The zSpace program’s noble failure feature allows students constructing a motor or building a battery to make mistakes and retry, learning throughout the process. Although the content and curriculum are supplied, teachers can customize and tailor lesson plans to fit the needs of their classes. This type of versatile technology allows students to work with objects schools typically would not be able to afford, providing a richer, more engaging learning experience.
It's important to realize that some visualization technologies, like zSpace, can multi-task in their purpose: they can serve several educational agendas at the same time.Take for example the NETP’s four categories for future technologies that offer educational promise (remembering that 3D visualization is mentioned in only the third category):
Increased use of games and simulations. The zSpace curriculum itself is designed around a rich collection of STEM-based games and simulations. 
New ways to connect physical and virtual interaction.   The “near-holographic” zSpace hardware platform makes the content appear not on a screen, but in the students’ own personal space, manipulated by a physical stylus. And the cooperative (paired) learning approach promoted by the zSpace STEM Lab also brings a physical presence and process to the visualized lesson. 
Interactive three-dimensional imaging software. ‘Interactive’ being the key word here, this tool is not just about viewing or watching—it’s mainly about doing, constructing, testing, evaluating, and rebuilding. 
Augmented reality. Interestingly, the zSpace zView enhancement lets an entire class—not just the students wearing passive glasses—see each simulation in starkly vivid augmented reality.
Although, in the 2016 NETP, the 3D visualization meme was positioned solely in the third category above, clearly some technologies work across lanes.  I am suggesting that some successful 3D visualization products, like zSpace, operate in all four of these domains.

January 16, 2017

NETP Meets 3D

The 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP), Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, by the U.S. Office of Educational Technology is already in motion. Past national education technology plans have been well received by U.S. K12 schools; their recommendations have slowly been adopted country wide, due to incentives and organic pressure from federal, state, local, and even foundation funding. Given the past impact of previous NETPs, this the 2016 NETP is due serious consideration.


Now—on to some interesting specifics. One of the chapters in the 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) is necessarily more forward looking than the other sections, spotlighting some upcoming areas in cyberlearning. “The Future of Learning Technologies” section of the 2016 NETP is an attempt to move the reader beyond an “understanding of the current state of educational technologies; it also [identifies] the research being done on early-stage educational technology and how this research might be applied more widely in the future to learning.” In fact, the NETP highlights four promising avenues for future learning technologies, based chiefly on the investigative work of the National Science Foundation in “researching opportunities offered by integrating emerging technologies with advances in the learning sciences.” These auspicious avenues include:
  • Increased use of games and simulations
  • New ways to connect physical and virtual interaction with learning technologies
  • Interactive three-dimensional imaging software
  • Augmented reality (AR) 

No surprise here, in our next post we will highlight the the third bullet above, one that predicts the growth of interactive 3D in education. More to come next week...

January 9, 2017

FETC Preview

The Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) is shaping up to be a must-attend event in Orlando, January 24-27. One of the largest and most innovative ed-tech conferences in the country, FETC has a long history of exceeding expectations. Here is a preview of what to expect in the arena of VR and 3D. I hope to see you there!
Expo
The exhibit hall this year will bring a number of players in both the 3D and VR fields to our attention. Samsung, Google, Nearpod, and Best Buy will likely be showing their popular VR solutions. Sensavis will return with their excellent 3D visualization content. A stalwart in the 3D and VR industry, Eon Reality will exhibit for the first time at FETC. And the venerable zSpace will be back in the house with their unique desktop virtual reality. (zSpace has won best of show at two consecutive ISTE conferences.)

Workshops
Four workshops will be offered with a VR meme: two by Samsung, one focused on Google Expeditions, a do-it-yourself virtual reality content creation workshop by Eon Reality, and my own in-depth VR workshop, described below.

Sessions
Concurrent sessions will offer a few interesting opportunities to learn about VR in education. One district will be presenting about their Nearpod immersive project, while innovators from North Carolina State University will do a deep dive into desktop virtual reality, focusing on zSpace technology. I will also be doing a session on Virtual Reality and a surprisingly positive connection to early learning/reading, entitled “See to Achieve: Virtual Reality, 3D, Vision, and Learning.”

My Sessions
Of course, I have to do a shameless plug for my own workshop. The FETC 3D VR Bootcamp (EDW070) is a distinctive experience, a very non-traditional workshop, to say the least. This workshop uses both a flipped learning model and a fishbowl approach to make for the ultimate in personalization. It will be offered from 5-7:30 pm on Thursday, January 26.  This highly popular
workshop will help you dig deeper, and go beyond the hype. We will explore 3D VR content, low cost options for VR headgear; teaching strategies; instructional weaknesses in the technology; how to deal with VR vision discomfort; managing VR in the classroom; disinfecting headgear; zSpace and their award-winning desktop VR; VR visualization spaces; and, of course, next-up developments to you can expect to see. Please join us!

January 2, 2017

Headaches Resolved!

In the last two posts I have both highlighted some recent Estonian Research and consulted international experts on the matter. (Please refer to the last two posts for background.) 

Now it's my turn to weigh in: so, what are we to make of this Estonian study? I would suggest three big takeaways:
  1. 3D cinema may be the stimulus, but it is not the etiology (cause).
  2. Anyone with difficulties viewing 3D cinema (such as headaches) has just received an informal vision test. It’s a lesson the industry still has not learned in its push for “the next big thing.” 
  3. What may be true about watching 3D cinema will also be true about content viewed with stereoscopic virtual reality headgear. (This helps explain why more than 20% of my undergrad students at the university experience headaches, dizziness, or nausea when viewing virtual reality content.)