Pokemon Go has polarised my Facebook feed. Half of my friends are right into it. The other half are groaning over the next Bulbasoar picture. I downloaded the app four days after it was released in Australia, got my wife and daughter hooked and haven’t looked back. I justify this because as the Head of IT at my school I need to know what’s popular in technology. I justify this because as a father, I am looking after my daughter’s health by increasing our exercise while hunting for new species of Pokemon.
I justify this because it’s a very engaging game with a strong community of followers. And it’s fun.
But it has brought to the forefront a conversation that I have been having for years about the value of AR and VR. That’s Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for the uninitiated.
Virtual Reality is the replacement of our reality with another, complete, world. You wear a headset or a helmet and when you move your head, your virtual head moves as well so that you can look around. In the early nineties, this was going to be the next big thing. I spent hours in bulky armour carrying a pistol and shooting pterodactyls on the VR system at a games arcade. I did my major project for my Bachelor of Computing in VRML, replicating the (then) new Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre so that people could go on a virtual tour of the space.
VR and VRML were going to replace the Internet and television and movies would never be the same.
Fast forward twenty years. VRML is nowhere to be seen – a victim of optional plugins and varying standards. VR went into hibernation until the Occulus Rift dragged it kicking and growling from its den.
And now, twenty years after I foolishly specialised in online 3D navigation, we are finally ready to have the VR and AR conversation again.
At this year’s DLTV DigiCon, my favourite keynote speaker was Josh Caratelli, a game designer from Big Ant Studios. The point I took from his keynote was this: VR and AR are not the future of technology. Getting involved in this now isn’t early adoption. We should already be on top of this.
Oh, and holograms aren’t that far off either.
So, racing to catch up to where I was twenty years ago with my MSAC model and my exploding pterodactyls, how can I introduce/use AR and VR into our curriculum?
Here’s a couple of ideas:
We have school tours come through on a pretty regular basis. We have Grade 5 Come and See programs where primary students spend the morning doing Year 7 subjects to get an idea of how the school works. We have orientation days and art exhibitions and parent information nights. If we could enhance the school using AR we’d save on paper and showcase the brilliance of our student modellers and programmers.
I’ve made a list of things around the school that could easily be modelled. I’ll hand one of these to each of the students in my Year 8 Engineering and Design class. They’ll create these models. We export them into Aurasma – an excellent AR tool for IOS. We match them to their real life counterparts and as parents move through the school with the app open, 3D models will pop up, with the name of the student next to them. Instant exhibition space.
Speaking of which…
We have regular art exhibitions at the school. If a parent held their phone up to the picture, an information sheet with an explanation of the work, their photo and maybe some sketches could pop up on the screen to add information to the picture.
Or we could go old school and instead of having the student’s name and homeroom, we simply have a QR code, which links to an online space with their production journal and concept art scanned in.
The boys would set up their own pages, demonstrating competency across a number of DigiTech areas.
Value added Literacy
Book-e-mon. Gotta read ‘em all.
This is the slogan I want for Book Week this year. I’m going to have my class all create an image with a book review for their favourite book. Add in pictures and their names. And then put each of these into Aurasma. The teachers can do the same. As students return and review books, the librarian can check to see if the book is one of the enhanced versions and if it is, the student wins a prize.
In the near future:
Other possibilities would be having a Microsoft Hololens when they finally come out. The Arts department could run virtual sculpturing sessions. We could add AR instructions to woodwork classes. Minecraft club would suddenly be a LOT more interesting.
I’d also take a look at the new HP Sprout.
And that’s just Augmented Reality. What about replacing reality altogether?
In Year 10 we run VET Creative Industries in partnership with the Academy of Interactive Entertainment. We also run Game Design, using Game Maker and Unreal Engine. My plan is to get hold of a HTC Vive system and start building models that we can import into that virtual world. I’d get the boys to recreate the school and run virtual paintball sessions created by the more active Game Design classes. We could run virtual tours of the school.
Enhancement and Acceleration
All this extra reality is a great way to enhance our educational possibilities. AR and VR give the students opportunities to excel beyond the regular curriculum restrictions. Posters could become multimedia extravaganzas. Teachers could walk through a real life recreation of an Egyptian pyramid. We could split the atom in Science without blowing up half of the school.
I think the other big point I took away from this year’s DigiCon is that we need to stop limiting our students and instead let them learn in the best way for them. The other thing I learned is that I have a LOT still left to learn.