Tag Archives: education

VR Education……….just ignore that stuff from the 2000s

Lawnmower Man was the beginning of my journey into the use of VR for education. That one didn’t end so well ūüôā

Since then, VR has gone through a few hype-cycles, each time ending up in disappointment and disuse. However, each iteration brings graphics and experiences (and expectations) that blow away the previous versions and do so in smaller and (arguably) cheaper boxes.

The most recent iteration is a two-pronged focus. Dedicated VR boxes (similar to gaming boxes) with headsets are doing amazing things with realistic graphics and the processing power required to reach realistic virtual experiences. Some of these are Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR. The second prong is mobile-based VR. This seems to be the stronger of the two at this point, most likely due to the lower cost of entry for consumers and the portable nature of the hardware. On the low end, Google Cardboard (or other viewers based on the Cardboard standard) can be found for as little as $5. These enable users to experience VR, but do so without many bells and whistles, and they can be used on most modern smartphones. The only “button” on cardboard devices is a chooser button on the top of the viewer. On the slightly higher end, but still rather inexpensive are viewers like the Samsung Gear VR and the relatively new Google Daydream VR. The Gear VR has been around for a couple years. It connects to your smartphone via bluetooth and includes buttons for volume, directionality (to a limited degree), selection, and focus. These types of headsets tend to fit better and block out more outside light for better viewing.

Apps for both of these types of VR hardware tend to be similar. Games rule the roost as they are immersive and engaging. There are many good games, but most are little more than a 180 degree view of action and not true 360 or spherical. I’m guessing this is due to both processor power and cost of development. In addition to games, 360 degree video and images are also popular. 360 videos are of the fly-through variety. This is wonderful for experiencing the natural wonders of the Grand Canyon or the excitement of Rio’s Carnival, but there is little to no engagement. 360 images, on the other hand, with hotspots for linking to extra information take the museum approach. Think Google Street View inside a museum, a city, and so forth. These are not video but rather single pictures with a 360 degree view or a series of pictures (stations) as in the museum example. At least one YouTuber (LearnEnglishInVR — was LinguaPractica) has put these together by recording and narrating the view around rooms to listen to and identify objects for English language learning.

Aside from a few projects here and there, there are vary few examples of using these VR options for language learning. This is an ongoing problem with educational software. There have been many new technologies over the years with great potential for education, but little development. In the end, cost seems to be the biggest barrier. Not just the cost of development, but the lack of a return on that investment. For example, the cost of developing a game might be high, but imagine if that game was only a one or two week lesson in school. Then, imagine providing 30-40 weeks of instruction. The difficulty of development and the cost to do so would be staggering. And, in the end, who will be able to pay for that? Will you recoup your costs? It’s unlikely. Billions of dollars are spent on educational technology, but much of that is not for the provision of content, but rather the management of students. So, what does this mean for those interested in using VR for language learning?

Teachers have been re-purposing materials for use in classes since the beginning of education. The use of video games for learning over the years have mainly taken the form of entertain games for the purpose of education. For example, how could League of Legends be used for language learning? Turn the settings to English and try to engage English speakers in the game. These games weren’t make for language learning, but they have been used for such. For most teachers, VR will be the same (at least in the near future). Virtual visits to sites and events through 360 images and video are already used by many teachers (see Google Expeditions) and I’m sure some are using available games to accomplish their goals.

However, like many recent technologies, VR will not be widely used by teachers until easy-to-use authoring tools are available. The better and easier (and cheaper) authoring tools become, the more teachers, students, and anyone interested can develop their own VR materials. The lower the barrier of entry, the easier this becomes. Some services are already available for 360 images (not yet video), such as ThinkLink. When authoring systems like this become accessible to teachers, you will see many materials developed for classes.

I hope to be discussing this topic more in the near future. I have been interested in virtual worlds for language learning since getting involved in MUDs and MOOs in graduate school, but particularly so when discovering SecondLife. Wikipedia has a good page on virtual world language learning. Now that Linden Labs (creator of SecondLife) is launching a new virtual world built for VR hardware called Sansar, I have to say that I’m getting excited again. However, I’m afraid we may just be seeing history repeat itself. SecondLife was(is) great, but usage completely crashed. The public lost interest even with a substantial amount of investment initially heading there. To have a GOOD experience, users needed a high-end computer and fast connection. Most went in with less and the experience wasn’t very good. Even these days, I have problems accessing it from a work computer with a nice processor, but only a built-in graphics. I only have one computer that will play it and it’s the one I built with my son for PC gaming ($$$). Let’s see what this year brings.

My Problems with Educational Technology Hype

Anyone who knows me (or at least follows me online) knows that I am not a¬†Luddite. ¬†On the contrary, I’m an early adopter, particularly regarding software and Web services. ¬†I love to use the newest and shiniest tech. ¬†This is, at least, until I understand it better. ¬†If I can’t figure out a use-case for my personal uses, that new thing will join the digital trash heap quickly. ¬†As a teacher, however, the use-case has to be very strong for me to even consider using a tech with my classes. ¬†I’ve been burned too many times over the years by my own irrational exuberance only to find the tech (or more importantly, my methods) fail miserably.

As I continue to work on tempering my own use of tech in my classes, I see what looks like a myopic rush save money via educational technology. ¬†I’m not against saving money, mind you. ¬†I’m rather fiscally conservative. However, I am against doing anything in an uncritical way as I believe is happening how.

What got me thinking about this was a post by TechCrunch (Anticipating a Blended Classroom Boom Led by Education Startups). ¬†This article discusses companies that may contribute to wonderful learning environments, these kinds of systems can help with automated tracking and personalized content¬†recommendations¬†for students. ¬†This can, in turn, be used by teachers to then customize instructional interventions for individual students (or more likely whole classes). ¬†The article does a good job emphasizing the collaborative role of the technologies and educators. ¬†However, the “Boom” got me thinking about the baser realities that are likely to emerge in this space.

Tony Bates must by on a similar wave length as he posted on this yesterday (My summer paranoia: computers will replace teachers in higher education).  He detailed a whole host of problems with the desire to automatize education.  I agree with much of what he said. My responses to his end-of-post questions are below.

1. Anyone else share my paranoia? (about computers replacing computers ‚Äď anything else, see a doctor) : Shared, but I wouldn‚Äôt call it paranoia, necessarily. I can‚Äôt tell you its a bad thing until I see it implemented. Of course, computers replacing human teachers is rather unlikely. However, computers reducing the number of teachers is probably on the horizon.

2. Do you believe we should replace teachers (or instructors) with computers? What are your reasons? : As above, replacing teachers is an impossibility for much of what we currently think of as education (change the definition and I’ll change my answer). However, reducing the number of teachers is possibility. Off-loading rote learning activities and basic assessment, providing useful learning objects that address some of the needs of individual students, and reducing the time that students meet with teachers can enable teachers to work with more students in the same amount of time (ideally). Again, though, it’s all in the implementation. I haven’t seen/heard of a good one yet.

3. Can online learning improve productivity in post-secondary education without getting rid of most instructors? : It can, but it won’t. The way to move anything forward in higher ed is to show that it can save money (whether it really will or not) and not that it is a more effective educational approach.

I also share his concern over MOOCs and automated marking:

Let’s start with xMOOCs and automated marking and peer review to get around the awkward point that one instructor cannot provide adequate feedback to thousands of students. No problem: a combination of big data collection and analysis and multiple-choice testing will solve most problems, and the ones that it won’t solve will be solved by dumb students marking less dumb students.

Though, I might have stated it a little differently than ”¬†dumb students marking less dumb students.” I’d hope that this was a bit of humor and not him saying that students (or their teachers) can’t learn from one another.

The movement to crowdsource and open education is one that is rooted in the belief that there is a great amount of knowledge and power in the crowd and a great amount of value in opening education for everyone (able to afford a computer and Internet access). ¬†I truly belief in this as well. ¬†I think that many of those promoting MOOCs believe this as well. ¬†However, I cannot believe that course offerings by companies like Coursera can best a course that features healthy interaction with a¬†knowledgeable¬†other (teacher or peer), which is a whole lot less likely in a MOOC. ¬†Having participated in a couple, I find them little different than course offerings I had 10 years ago that gave me a reading, required me to post a response on a discussion forum, and then required me to respond to a peer. ¬†There is value in the approach, but when you take a¬†knowledgeable¬†other out of the equation, it’s little more than mental¬†masturbation.

Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) Resources

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This is a new, and growing, list of CALL resources.  These include both professional development resources for teachers and resources for use with students.  Since  it is for teachers and students, I lean towards free (or freemium) resources.  This is especially true for software.  There are many wonderful software applications out there for a cost, and many teachers would even pay to use them.  However, many of those same teachers would likely hesitate before asking their students to do so.  For that reason, I tend to recommend free, opensource, freemium, shareware, etc. in this list.  If there is a wonderful paid service or software that you think must be on this list, let me know and tell me why.

I fully intend to keep this list current and significantly add to it in the future. ¬†One of the things that I’d really like to do is to include more links to Korean companies (or tech with Korean interfaces) in consideration of my students and in acknowledgment of the great Korean tech out there that doesn’t get much press outside Korea.

Link to the Google Doc

John Seely Brown Keynote at NITLE Summit 2011

Go to around 18:30 in the video to skip to his talk. I think he’s pretty good at putting his ideas forth and I agree (in general) with his conclusions and queries.

Some interesting points:

  • The nature and use of¬†knowledge¬†and¬†information¬†are changing and, thus, educational needs are changing.
  • We need to get credit (as academics) for social media creation. ¬†How many tenure committees are going to consider even a high-quality blog? ¬†Very few to be sure.
  • Content captured without context makes less sense. ¬†How much of the context do we need to capture?
  • Major challenges require a socio-technical, interdisciplinary approach. ¬†The interdisciplinary part is probably the most difficult. ¬†Getting out of our established groupings to collaborate with¬†others outside¬†is difficult.
  • Need to “cultivate a resilient mindset in our students – an ability to change, adapt, re-conceptualize, and engage in deep listening with humility in an act-reflect, provisional loop.”