The resurgence of VR – will this be a reality in 5 years?

Second LifeReactionGrid005

What you see here, above, is a “Virtual” Conference environment I built in 2009 on the  Second Life platform.

It was used regularly and it performed pretty well.

The idea was to supply conference facilities for teachers who would come in as Avatars – i.e. people in Virtual personas.

The screens could show powerpoints – the giant TVs could show video on-demand.  Wherever you sat in the environment you had a perfect view of the screen or avatar that was talking at any one point.

Your avatar could sit in one of those pods and share documents and files with anyone in the “virtual” room. The pods could fly to different areas in the sky where you could take part in breakout discussion groups and then return for keynotes. You could even send twitter and instant messages between people during a presentation or talk just like in real life.

The Virtual training island I built was used to deliver several sessions on Digital Literacy and Online Safety. All the videos of its use have been lost – video platforms who sold up and shut down flushed out all my archives years ago. They may exist on some hard drive in a back cupboard somewhere.

There are several reasons for why the venture failed:

1. Expense. I had to pay £3000 a year to maintain such a space. I used it for R&D and thought I was getting places with practical uses of the tech – the affordances that might actually be useful to teachers to save time and effort with CPD.

2. Complexity. It was an extremely high learning curve to operate the software successfully. Once “in-world” it was very disorienting and I had to write wikis on and make many, many videos about navigation.

3. School LAs refused to open the necessary ports to allow the software to work. In essence the LAs blocked the use on the grounds of security leaks. Yet several universities had no issues. I have the same problems with trying to live stream out of schools to this day.

4. The new, incoming, government shut down all my clients. I remember giving training in a south London LA media centre where, next day, the whole enterprise would be shut down. When this happened 2 or 3 times I gave up and sold the lot to the British Computer Society for a £1 – it may still exist in virtual space somewhere for all I know.

diddle deck in Second Life

So why mention past failures now? Well there is about to be a new VR platform about to hit homes and to access it – it is as easy as putting on a headset. No complex software; no high learning curves. Just put on the headgear and you “could” have pretty much the same experience.

I have run a VR in education Flipboard for the last few years monitoring the developments in this area for anyone interested:

I am very circumspect about anything like this being used in mainstream schools but I can see the opportunities for Virtual training – the route we were going down a decade ago.

Our training facilities were ideal for teachers who lived vast geographical distances from any teachers’ centre (very few of these exist in the real world now). They could flip open a laptop when their kids were in bed and take part in a 20 min training session remotely. I still do this sort of thing with streaming video.

Of course the tech would still be blocked in mainstream schools but for use out of school hours it may be viable. Certainly the rise of things such as Minecraft pave the way for this. If enough funding is put into a platform it will happen otherwise it’ll just languish and be sidelined as an interesting or eccentric oddity.

I talked with Donald Clark about the affordances of VR on a livestreamed video at the Research ED Tech session 5 months back and March 2016 is the month much of this tech kicks off into the mainstream via Facebook et al. It should be an interesting year. The Beowulf games project is outlined here 

Interview with Donald Clark from Learn 4 Life on Vimeo.

Posted on by leoncych in Academies, Adult Learning, advisory, Computing at School, CPD, Curriculum, Digital Literacy, Digital Makers, Digital Media, distributed networking, Educational Change, Innovation, Peer to Peer, teachmeet, training, video, Virtual Worlds

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