Digital actuality means the way forward for schooling is correct earlier than our eyes • The Register
Sponsored Virtual Reality means the future of education is before our eyes Keeping the headset clean is just as important as keeping the content clean
Changes in education can trigger strong emotions, especially when it comes to new technologies. But while the 3Rs are undoubtedly at the center of learning, VR will play an increasing role.
Virtual reality has been around since the 1960s, and most of us could easily pull a line from the efforts at flight and operational simulation or product design in the 1990s to today. The technology certainly has a long history to have sparked serious research into how VR, or immersive learning, can bring tangible benefits to students.
A meta-analysis by the World Economic Forum of studies of immersive training at various levels found that students per hour of VR training were on average 30 percent more efficient than students who were exposed to an hour of traditional training. VR-trained students also showed 20 percent “higher self-confidence and self-efficacy in learning” compared to colleagues who taught the same content using traditional methods. Research from Accenture shows an improvement in retention rates of up to 75 percent when learners use immersive learning.
The studies covered by the WEF analysis go back over a decade. But technology has improved immeasurably during this time.
As Brian Moynihan, Lenovo’s Global Education Solutions Manager for Immersive Learning, explains, advances in mobile technology have driven the development of very high-resolution, small-screen displays that won’t overheat, as well as accelerometers and other sensors. Lenovo’s VR Classroom 2 platform, for example, focuses on the Android-powered Mirage VR S3 headset, which offers 1920 x 2160 resolution per eye with a 110-degree field of view. It has 64 GB of internal storage that can be expanded to 256 GB with an SD card.
Together with developments in computer performance and communication technology, this all addresses the latency issues that caused VR experiences about five years ago to feel like, let’s just say, unsettled for some users.
But, says Moynihan, getting the most out of VR in the classroom takes a “whole approach … it’s not just about a piece of hardware.”
Device management is critical. As soon as an individual educator or an entire institution has to fear more than a handful of headsets, he needs some kind of central control – both for the administration of the headsets and for the distribution of content.
Teacher (head) set
Lenovo’s headsets are therefore powered by the ThinkReality platform, which allows IT admins to manage both app delivery, content and management of the headset, and LanSchool Air, which is specifically designed to help teachers manage it from apps and student activities, including remotely.
“You can easily record content and broadcast it to headsets wherever you are,” explains Moynihan. “Whether they’re in the same room or around the world, you can push content to these headsets with just a few clicks.” And of course, teachers need to be able to ensure that all of their students are seeing the same content AND withdrawing content when needed.
What really matters is how kids interact with VR
There are other more mundane issues that need to be considered. Of course, any device that is used by a number of teenagers – or even adults – in the course of a day must be both ergonomic and robust. And Covid has repeatedly emphasized that they have to be easy to clean.
So immersive technology is at a tipping point, with technology that has come of age in recent years, clear evidence of its potential to complement traditional education and an education sector amid massive disruption from the Covid pandemic.
But while hardware performance and manageability are important, the most important thing is how kids use VR. One of Lenovo’s flagships of VR technology is the Henry Tyndale School in Farnborough, UK, which caters to students with a wide variety of complex learning difficulties. During the 2020 lockdown, Henry Tyndale stayed open to his students, even though they inevitably had a more restricted experience than usual.
So a team of Lenovo employees went to school to do one-on-one sessions with students using the Mirage VR headset and Wild Immersion app, which offers a range of safari experiences in Africa, Asia or the Amazon. While some children were initially shocked by this experience, the teachers felt that it ultimately piqued the curiosity of all of their students. Perhaps more importantly, the school is now working on creating its own experiences to help children, especially those with autism, prepare for everyday experiences that they may find challenging.
“I find this idea of helping children with special needs incredibly inspiring,” says Moynihan. “And there are a multitude of ways in which students with special needs can be served by virtual reality.”
This could be something seemingly straightforward, like helping a child prepare for their first day at a new school or a visit to the dentist. “They can take a 360-degree video and go to these rooms, and they can practice these things in a safe environment. It may seem like a small thing, but it can change children’s lives. “
From there, it’s an easy step to see how technology can help students – and adults – prepare for situations that may scare them. In the US, for example, Walmart has used the technology to prepare new employees for Black Friday. Similarly, if students are upset or angry, “they might have some time and a VR headset to think about or do something meditative that can lead to better results for students as they learn with their emotions deal “.
Welcome to the real world
All of these examples illustrate what Moynihan calls one of the great advantages of VR; how it can reach people in different ways.
“There is a kind of myth that some people are visual learners and others are auditory learners,” he says. “But what is true is that these multiple intelligences are real and apply to all of us.”
While traditional approaches to learning can focus on one mode – usually the largely auditory lecture – VR is inherently multimodal and encompasses image and sound as well as emotional, social and possibly tactile elements. “If you can combine these things, it will help everyone,” says Moynihan. “This is really a place where VR really shines in my opinion.”
Of course, this assumes that the content corresponds to the job. Moynihan says previous generations of educational content were often of the “hey, look what I can do” sort.
That has changed dramatically, says Moynihan, with the best of content precisely geared towards the learning goals. Lenovo, for example, works with Veative, which produces a wide range of modules geared towards curricula in different countries, mainly in STEM subjects.
“One of the really cool things about VR is that you can take the same module and teach it in different ways,” he says. For example, a teacher can use purely visually immersive content to teach younger children the principles of photosynthesis, but for older children they can also add quizzes and other provided content to them.
VR is inherently multimodal and encompasses image and sound as well as emotional, social and possibly tactile elements
And he adds that VR is inherently all-encompassing, it’s just one thing you do. You are not tempted to check your email; You will not receive any text messages during this time. “
He says teachers and students are increasingly able to create their own content.
“It is the beginning of a new literacy process. And it’s that feeling of empowerment. And everyone has the feeling that there is this distance, this irreconcilable gap between where they are and where they have to be in order to do something in VR. But it’s getting easier and easier to create your own immersive experiences. “
This inevitably raises the question of how VR overlaps with Augmented Reality (AR) or Extended Reality (XR) headsets or glasses and, depending on the attitude towards Elon Musk, even with neural implants and interfaces.
This is where VR in the classroom begins to prepare children for the spatial web, says Moynihan, all the way to robots and autonomous vehicles.
“I think VR stands on its own right now, that’s something extraordinary,” admits Moynihan.
But when viewed as part of a spectrum with AR, Moynihan says, from elementary education to continuing education, it becomes the core of what we do about learning and acquiring skills. And the way we do our jobs will increasingly change, whether it’s having surgeons performing remotely or plumbers and technicians fixing problems on-site.
Ultimately, says Moynihan, the vision is not for VR to “replace” real life. “But I think it will be incorporated into everyone’s life.”
Sponsored by Lenovo.