Ok, the one question most people ask me every year when I get back from ISTE is: what was hot? What new technology was everyone talking about? Where did the crowds gather?
And the answer for 2016, of course, was VR; virtual reality.
During the conference, I heard more than a few people declared that virtual reality was going to revolutionize education (including the Sunday keynote speaker). Many vendors were offering VR “solutions”, even if it was just their old products with a VR component grafted onto the side.
And around the convention hall there were multiple scenes like this one (at the Google booth) with people staring into cardboard boxes and plastic Viewmasters, tilting their heads to get a better view. Of something.
Of course the current reality in VR is that the technology is not even close to the threshold of revolutionary when it comes to education.
First, let’s face it: our profession is evolutionary at best, and it’s a pretty slow change at that. But more to the point in this case is that the technology to produce VR of the quality that would make a “revolutionary” impact for learning currently looks more like this:
A big non-portable machine, fast CPU, powerful graphics processor (re: expensive), with a headset and software costing about half that of the computer to run it.
However, I’m not disparaging the push for virtual reality on display at ISTE. It’s only the beginning for this medium, and I’m actually very optimistic that VR will become an important tool for student learning in the very near future.
However, just not as the new, “exciting” (re: very profitable) content delivery system that Pearson and other companies at ISTE are hoping for.
In just the past few years, the tools for creating virtual reality experiences have become both easier to use and much less expensive. I believe that VR, both still images and 360 video, could become a wonderful creative tool for students (and teachers) to tell stories and present ideas.
It happened over the past ten years or so for 2D video, as the availability of good cameras packaged in relatively inexpensive mobile devices and powerful editing programs made the technology accessible to many kids. Not to mention the rise of YouTube and other online channels for easy, ubiquitous distribution.
Something similar is going to happen for VR. I’m already doing sessions that show teachers and others an easy process to take and publish basic immersive images with their smartphones (and why they’d want to). And the tools are getting better all the time.
Good quality dedicated VR cameras are already well under $1000. Which sounds expensive but not considering the cost of getting lower quality images just a few years ago. Or what we had to go through in the late 90’s when I first started playing with this technology (anyone remember QuickTime VR?).
Now I’m not going to tell you that every student should study virtual reality (like STEM, coding, and whatever comes next). Students deserve some choice in what they study. VR is a creative tool with great potential, one of many, digital and not, students should have the option to explore and use while they are in our K12 classrooms.
But I’m betting there are kids somewhere already working on a presentation that includes immersive images they created. And I’m excited to see the first fictional story told using VR video. I know it’s coming very soon.