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Posts Tagged ‘vr

I was both curious and troubled when I read this article that claimed How Virtual Reality (VR) Is Helping Train New Teachers.

I do not believe that any teachers, novice or experienced, should be trained. Nor can they be. Teachers are not dogs to be taught classroom tricks.

That argument aside, I wondered what the VR group in NYU Buffalo had to offer. The problem seemed to be that novice teachers were not getting enough practice managing a classroom.
 

 
So the group responded how most VR efforts do: They created virtual environments that simulated reality. In the case of new teachers, the VR seemed to be videos of different classroom management scenarios.

The operating principle was the same as efforts in other fields. Actual practice in the field was not possible, too expensive, required too much human effort for uncertain returns, or was outright dangerous.

These are logical parameters for preparing pilots, firefighters, emergency responders, nuclear inspectors, etc. But how about teachers?

Clear and eminent danger is not a factor, but financial and social cost is. According to the article:

the use of real video for VR does pose some financial and ethical concerns: It’s quite expensive to shoot; a single 360-degree camera costs about $5,000. And it can reinforce racial, ethnic, or gender stereotypes

While the other fields might be able to define typical scenarios, teaching as a social activity and social science, is not as definite. Some might argue that the scenarios for the other field are already difficult to define, so much more for fickle humans in classrooms.

The NYU Buffalo group took care to mention that the VR experience was not designed to replace actual classroom experiences. It was part of overall teacher preparation.

That said, the VR experience is far from effective:

The technology is still in proof-of-concept stage and far from fully interactive right now. VR users can turn their heads and see the classroom all around them, but they cannot walk closer to students or talk to them and get a response. An assessment appears on the screen asking the teachers how they would respond, but as of now, the VR doesn’t capture their answers.

So the is-VR-worth-the-money question may not be right one to ask. What then might be a better question?

A researcher from the group recorded physiological responses to VR and real life. He found that “the brain doesn’t care” or see the difference physiologically. I offer two questions: What is the social response and effectiveness of VR-based practice? How might the virtual or augmented experiences be more effective?

Another project mentioned in the same article, this time by the University of Central Florida, used computer-generated characters or avatars. Unlike the VR program, the avatars were controlled by actual actors. The interactions were natural and immediate.

So in this particular area of soft skills preparation, it is not just about accuracy of human likeness in VR, it is about its fidelity. It is about how authentic, immediate, and human the responses are.

Last week the press claimed that a virtual reality (VR) application was “making pre-school spaces safe”.

While I applaud the attempt, I question its wisdom.

I am all for experimenting with technology and exploring possibilities, hence the applause. But with practical realities, limited budgets, and finite energies, I wonder if the creators of the VR application learnt from similar attempts in Second Life a decade ago.

History repeats itself. It has to, because no one ever listens. -- Steve Turner.

Just because the technology has evolved does not mean that human imagination, critical thinking, and research and reflective practice in the field have followed suit.

Just because you can do something does not mean you should. It could create wrong expectations. For one, the application is a simulation, but it is perceived as a game, at least to one interviewed student who said as much. For another, the simulation is designed to engage. That is the rhetoric in much of schooling now. Effective technology integration goes beyond mere engagement.

The simulation is rudimentary now, but it can improve. One clear improvement is how learners might be empowered to create by authoring environments. This is the more important application of VR, but the press relegated this to the end in a single sentence.

The hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones. -- Todd Rose (In “The End of Average”)

There is always some harm in trying to do good. Sometimes the harm is unanticipated and other times it is unseen.

The harm of overkill VR is that we will keep doing the same things differently and thus add very little value with the technology. This will add fuel to the fire started and maintained by naysayers. Then when better applications of VR (or any other technology) come along, the change agents face a fire wall.

After reading a press release and two articles about five Singapore schools experimenting with virtual reality (VR) excursions, I had one question: Remember the mistakes people made with Second Life?

This IMDA press release revealed the five Primary schools involved in the VR trial. An STonline article provided three videos and one photo of one such trial.

While I applaud the effort to incorporate technology into lessons, I worry about the short or non-existent memory of those involved in developing VR for schools.

When Second Life rose to prominence, the bold claim then was that you could create any world and do anything in it. While that was true, many people recreated what they could already see and do in real life. Some of the VR efforts are making the same mistake, i.e., recreating field trips that you can take in reality.

To be fair, another article pointed out a benefit of VR.

The solution allows students in a classroom setting to go through an on-site visit experience. Sites which might not be easily accessible to students due to their remote locations or due to students’ health or safety reasons can be explored.

Sites of interest could include landmarks such as the Central Sikh Temple, Chinese Garden and Geylang Serai market for teaching students about the early settlers in Singapore or it could be an offshore fish farm or an organic vegetable farm for learning about agricultural activities in Singapore.

The VR developers can and have heeded a lesson from Second Life mistakes. Both virtual experiences were valuable when they focused on what was very difficult, costly, or impossible to do in real life. For example:

  • Travelling to the same place set at a different time.
  • Embarking on trips that would be very difficult, dangerous, or impossible, e.g., outer space.
  • Enjoying rare experiences, e.g., endangered locations where foot traffic might damage the ecosystem.

Some might argue that a VR field trip saves on time and effort. This is a poor excuse because if something is really worth experiencing, it is worth physically visiting.

While VR might save on time, it does not necessarily save on effort or money. According to the STonline article:

The VR headset’s retail price is about $150, and the price of the accompanying smartphones used with the headsets can cost between $500 and $1,200.

There was no information about bandwidth, platform and content development, and maintenance costs. Those add up.

As with most technologies, the cost of hardware will invariably go down, thus lowering that cost. However, there is still the cost of software development, content updates, teacher professional development, and swopping the virtual for the real.

Other than various costs, other insidious factors are the consumption-based design of current VR experiences and the show-and-tell approach.

This article described the virtual field trips as:

…lesson packages to ensure that it was aligned to the curriculum and the learning outcomes of the Social Studies primary school syllabus

We need to read in between the lines of this statement. While VR companies might work with experts and teachers on content, it is the companies that keep and control the content. (BTW, this is true with just about any paid published work; the rights transfer to the publisher.)

The control of the rights to the content as well as to its revisions and releases helps companies create consumer dependence in order to make money. They are the source of the hardware, software, stories, and experiences, and they want customers to keep coming back for those things.

The same article also described the lessons.

During each one-hour lesson, students experienced 4-5 VR experiences, lasting no more than 5 minutes each.

There is a dashboard through which teachers can control (play, pause and stop) and guide students through the VR experience. Teachers know what the students are looking at through indicators on the teacher’s screen and point out interesting spots in the video.

The message is that students are not free to explore. The system is designed for teacher control only. The pedagogy relies on the show-and-tell model.

If the rhetoric is to have more self-directed learners and nurture independent thinkers, where is the design for exploration, uncovering, analysis, and evaluation? Surely not in worksheets!

Besides using VR headsets, the pupils also completed worksheets and discussed in groups to reinforce what they learnt.

Oh, joy… worksheets!

So I return to the premise of my argument: This VR “initiative” is a new way of making old mistakes.

  1. Some of the experiences may not be necessary if they replicate what is readily experienced in real life more conveniently or meaningfully.
  2. The costs are not just financial. There are also mindset and pedagogical costs (teach the same way, show-and-tell).

If I sound like a squeaky wheel, I remind you of this observation distilled from wry wisdom.

History repeats itself. It has to, because no one ever listens. -- Steve Turner.

 
This article asked: How Do You Lead a Class Full of Students Wearing VR Headsets? It likened the process to herding blind cats.

My response is that you do not. You create new affordances and try alternative strategies. I summarise what the article described.

The affordances could be prompts or experiences within the VR world. They could also be layouts and furniture in the room to prevent students from getting hurt as they wander around.

The instructional strategies the article suggested were:

  • Let students discover and uncover instead of leading and covering.
  • If there are not enough VR headsets, design waiting and/or alternative activities.
  • Avoid relying on the novelty effect.

Here is my two cents. The pedagogy of VR-mediated lessons should be built on this foundation: Refrain from repeating in VR what you can already do more easily without. Leverage on what VR does well or is impossible in real life. There is no point recreating delivery when discovery is the order of the day.

Open your eyes; do not herd cats. Take advantage of their curiosity and nurture even more independence. Teach while taking advantage of the affordances of VR instead of blindly teaching only the way you were taught.

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The is so much buzz about augmented and virtual reality now. As with most technology, teachers might be tempted to embrace AR and VR without batting an eyelid.


Video source

This video (and its earlier versions) reminds me that the real power of AR and VR is in the creation, not just the excited use of it.

The consumption of well-designed resources might be good. The creation of artefacts by the learner to showcase and share is even better.


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