As touched upon in part one of this two-part series, we looked at how VR gained a lot of traction in education in the last 10 years. We discussed two influential factors: the capital being poured into the research as well as a somewhat palpable sense of urgency to integrate VR into classrooms and corporate training. Therefore, it comes as little surprise that more companies that perform R&D in VR are channeling most of their efforts into developing curricula, educational content, tools, and teacher training methods to offer one-stop-shop VR packages for classrooms and corporate training. On the other hand, institutions open to redefining their pedagogical methods through this novel technology are training themselves to quickly grasp the tools of the trade, all of which to make education more interactive and engaging.
Major Instances of VR and Education Crossing Paths
Among the bigger names, we’ve heard of incentives such as Pioneer Expeditions—one of Google’s huge leaps forward in the field of VR in education. When this was launched, several schools received a kit including the technology necessary and a library of over 100 virtual trips. The teacher directs the activity through a tablet, while the students, equipped with smartphones and cardboard VR headsets, sit in on virtual tours to anywhere on the planet and even beyond.
Large-scale enterprises such as The New York Times (NYT) and Walmart have both been actively redefining their operations in order to incorporate VR. Starting with The NYT, they distributed over a million Google Cardboard headsets to their subscribers to give them a sample of their virtual reality experience. This has not only helped redefine how we consume media but also mainstreamed the hardware necessary for doing so.
Walmart, on the other hand, has incorporated VR training as an official component in training its employees in matters of management and customer care. This provides a clear example of how large corporations are engaging with VR education outside of school.
However, what are some of the start-ups that are making the most waves in the world of VR Education? Here is a list of some of the ones that are standing in the limelight.
EON Reality specializes in the transference of knowledge through VR and AR (Augmented Reality) tools. Their clients in academic circles include Cornell University, Stanford University, Nanyang University, and the University of California. Among their services, they offer turnkey solution packages that include the installation of infrastructures at institutions as well as apps and virtual libraries providing educators with several choices to develop practical programs in line with the intended fields of study. These, however, are only some of the solutions this company has on offer. In their own words:
“EON Reality’s Augmented and Virtual Reality (AVR) Platform empowers users of all experience levels to create AR and VR knowledge transfer applications. These applications can then interface with a variety of add-ons, software products, and advanced development tools that extend their functionality to areas such as user assessment, geo-positional AR, and more.” (https://www.eonreality.com/platform, accessed 4/30/18)
Unimersiv bases its practices on the theory by the American Educationist Edgard Dale that states, “[t]he human brain tends to remember 10% of what it reads, 20% of what it hears but 90% of what it does or simulates.” (https://unimersiv.com/about-us, accessed 30/4/18)
At this time, they offer stock as well as customizable learning experiences compatible with the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR. Their packages generally lean towards the more affordable side, and while there seems to be a heavier emphasis on training solutions available for companies, they also have three stock educational experiences for schools, each with a slew of variations: one for history, one for biology, and another for space exploration.
Nearpod is an award-winning app that offers solutions for classroom teaching of different subjects, with a particular emphasis on K-12 students. Teachers can upload their files into the app and add interactive exercises to engage students more through a practical approach. Students can interact by drawing on diagrams, responding to polls and quizzes, using collaboration boards for team building, and watching videos pooled from a library of content from BBC. All the while, teachers can gather data in real-time about how well students are grasping the subjects at hand. There are currently thousands of default lessons available for teachers to modify to suit their educational purposes.
The VR aspect covers only part of what this educational app has to offer. To date, Nearpod VR’s experience gives teachers and students a selection of virtual field trips around the world to choose from. They can travel to the farthest corners of the earth and even into space to explore some of the most remarkable destinations in full 360 degrees.
Alchemy VR designs VR expeditions to different lands and times in history. What sets this company apart from most of its peers is its emphasis on embellishing its virtual films with compelling narrative. This added story element brings everything closer to the actual feel of high-grade documentaries. This does not come as a surprise considering that Alchemy VR’s CEO and Creative Director is a world-leading expert in this field.
The company prides itself on being the first of its kind to receive the BAFTA award (British Academy Television Awards) for a VR film. They tailor their work for various cultural institutions as well as for the Sony Playstation VR.
zSpace is a complete package. Students make use of zSpace’s own tablet, stylus pen, and glasses, as well as a library of apps. The apps include editable stock content as well as software for designing/programming new content to cater for the classes’ needs. Currently, there are hundreds of curriculums, and the potential to design more is there thanks to apps designated for such purposes. Solutions provided are mainly for K-12 learning, Health Science, and Career and Technical Education. Like many other top notch education VR providers, this one heavily emphasizes collaborative learning.
Immersive VR Education
Immersive VR Education launched initiatives such as LectureVR and AltspaceVR that equip teachers with several possibilities of introducing new ways of socializing and reaching out online through the creation and interaction of avatars. A virtual session in which archeology students engage in group fieldwork, a curator guiding a group of students through a renowned art museum, or even having drama classes online led by a professional actor won’t be limited to the imaginary realm of science fiction any longer thanks to Immersive VR Education.
Their software, Engage, allows for students and educators to come together in virtual spaces designed to represent the environments being tackled in class. They have also developed two entire VR experiences that play out like fully immersive video games – Titanic VR and Apollo 11 VR. Each one has its own narrative and is meant to familiarize students with these two contemporary historical milestones. And finally, ER VR is this developer’s medical emergency simulation software developed collaboratively with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
Wrapping Up VR and Education
As we've seen, several start-ups looking to research and develop more VR tech and content for education have been popping up all over. These we've introduced are just but a few of the more prominent names.
Here at AUM, we're keeping an eye out for the latest in technology, especially types that can be implemented into education, and VR is one of the major ones. Our students will walk with us one step at a time as we look more closely at the inner workings and applications of technologies such as VR.