Recap: Augmented and Virtual Reality, an alternative platform for education?

The second event in The Big Picture series was a turbo-charged panel session featuring a diverse range of perspectives from those who are experimenting, teaching and pushing the boundaries in Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR).

Scroll through the summary below or watch the recording.

Part I: Overview and Trends, with Maria Spies

There has been huge growth in investment in AR/VR. In 2015-16, investment grew 300% to a whopping $2.3bn. With a disruptive potential across a range of sectors, funding is coming from businesses as diverse as Alibaba, Warner Bros, Google, Qualcomm, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Intel, Amazon, Fidelity, Lenovo, Comcast, Samsung, and more.

Over the next five years, Augmented Reality is expected to realise significantly higher revenue than VR, and investment is flowing largely into AR hardware aligned with predictions around long-term business models.

We are still five to ten years away from the mainstream adoption of AR/VR technology according to Gartner’s Hype Cycle for emerging technologies, however many potential applications of AR/VR in education are already evident.

Part II: History of AR/VR and its educational applications, with Patrick Catanzariti

It’s time to bring AR/VR into education! We’re beyond the period where we can wait and see what others are doing. Virtual reality is already here. There are an estimated 7 million headsets out there ‘in the wild’ from small mobile headsets to big systems hooked up to computers, and countless millions of hours of immersive content have already been consumed.

The technology hasn’t emerged from nowhere. As far back as 1838, Charles Wheatstone’s stereoscopic photography started us down the path of capturing images that could look more three-dimensional. In 1881, stereographs pushed to market a headset that blocked light to help view photographs in a more immersive way. From around the 1960s, a new wave of machines brought us closer to our present design, and offered new interactive capabilities through data gloves and eye controls.

Of course, we hear naysayers declare this a passing fad (just like the internet and television sets, right?).

Education will be one of the strongest use cases for Virtual Reality. Firstly, it can help us to visualise concepts in a more interactive way. When teachers struggle to communicate complex ideas and ensure people are interpreting them correctly, we can transport students from looking at something complex to being virtually immersed in a real life example. Secondly, it eliminates the need for physical materials which can be an expensive barrier to access. Third, authentic simulation can enhance learning retention. Compare, for example, the experience of learning Italian in a classroom in Boston to being virtually immersed in a café in Milan. Finally, VR has huge storytelling potential because of how powerfully you can record video in first-person perspective and be taken through the world from that perspective.

Part III: Live demo and implications for learning, with Luke McMillan and Lazaros Kastanis

SAE experts Luke McMillan and Lazaros Kastanis gave a live demo and explained the anatomy of a VR Vive headset and its controllers, and additional sensors, cameras, space and computer requirements. While there are costs and dedicated space requirements in this set up, let’s remember that not so long ago multi-million dollar spaces were required for running something like this!

At the most basic level, this technology can have positive outcomes on student engagement. Many simple educational games don’t provide radically new opportunities for learners. They look exciting because they immerse you into a vivid, graphical environment. While that may provide an enjoyable, engaging experience, it is a limited learning opportunity.

In terms of new learning opportunities, VR’s strongest performing area lies in its ability to immerse someone in a complex, high-risk environment in a way that is safe, controlled and repeatable. It’s used a lot in military and medical training for high risk procedures or scenarios. But if you’re using it to reproduce something safer and more easily done, you may find it is not worth the effort of employing VR at the moment.

Another promising element is embedded information and narratives – so you’re not just in a park in Iceland, you’re seeing explanations or flags for key things to learn about. In the future, learning designers will have a huge role to play in ensuring that the content and presentation in these immersive scenarios is designed to support learning.

Creating high quality content for AR/VR is an emerging business opportunity. Like the old-school textbook publishers, we’re seeing content houses for VR establishing themselves. Funding is currently funnelling towards big content producers for AR/VR rather than to the hardware producers. Depending on the quality of VR content that you want and the size of your production feed, the costs of producing content can skyrocket. To make sure all SAE students are not only exposed to AR/VR but understand how to use it and how it is created, all SAE campuses have dedicated AR/VR facilities. Our students are already able to produce powerful VR content in their second year of studies.

If you’re a teacher interested in trying your hand at developing your own VR content, Unity and UnrealEngine are two helpful tools that require no particular coding knowledge (however, you still need someone to produce your art assets). Unreal is particularly good if you’re not confident with programming because it has a tool where you can drag components together visually.

Meet the panel

Maria Spies leads the Learning and Teaching function, driving innovation across curriculum, teaching and the student experience. The unit delivers academic development, learning design and learning technology services to Navitas’ global network of colleges. Maria also leads the digital learning futures portfolio for Navitas Ventures, which focuses on investing, partnering and incubating ideas, people and organisations that represent the future of education.

Patrick Catanzariti or ‘PatCat’ is the founder of Dev Diner, a site that explores developing for emerging tech such as virtual and augmented reality, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and wearables. He is a SitePoint contributing editor for emerging tech, an instructor at SitePoint Premium and O’Reilly, a Meta Pioneer and freelance developer.

Luke McMillan holds a PhD in Game Design and undergraduate qualifications in Popular Music and Game Audio. Luke’s area of specialization is in the field of Rational Design for games and how nostalgia can be used to inform consumer models for game development.

Lazaros Kastanis has a Masters in Remote Sensing and is currently completing a PhD in the use of Virtual Reality techniques in the reconstruction of lost archaeological structures. Lazaros is the Department Coordinator of games at SAE Brisbane and his primary role is overseeing of teaching, projects and quality assurance within the department.

About The Big Picture

The Big Picture series is a chance to learn more about these macro trends, insights and innovations set to impact the future of education. You’ll hear from speakers who are deeply involved and in many cases driving huge change across the industry, at a global level. It’s thought-provoking, future-facing and might just change how you see the world you live and work in.