Friday, April 10, 2015

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality–the Future of Education?

Recently a friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video about an Augmented Reality Sandbox. It was pretty cool. Cool enough that it looks like a lot of people are making them. They all seem to use the Kinect sensor from Microsoft. One professor was quoted as saying something like they could spend $50,000 developing their own device or spend a few hundred on a Kinect.

The way they were able to model geography and topography with the sandbox was pretty amazing. It may not be too long before we see similar setups in high schools. Virtual or augmented reality (similar but not identical technologies) have great potential. In a Twitter chat recently Anthony Salcito – Microsoft VP of Education - , in reply to my question about Kinect and Hololens for virtual tours, said that “This is one of the early scenarios getting attention...hope to see innovative examples here.”

I’d like to see some innovation here as well. I think the hardware is there at this point. Kinect is an outstanding tool and Hololens looks like it it moving out well (soon?). Software is still something of an issue. While a development kit is readily available for Kinect and there are a growing number of sample code examples it is still a little early in the Hololens development process. Even with the Kinect development takes a lot of work from scratch. We don’t yet see apps for creation of media or user friendly tools. There is no 3D Movie Maker for creating virtual reality tours. Dare I hope that I should add “yet” to that statement?

I’ve been trying to think of other uses for augmented reality.tower I just had my students do the marshmallow challenge which involves building a tower from spaghetti.  I wonder what sort of exercises we could do with virtual reality? Towers out of materials that are not available for a classroom? “Flying planes?” Who knows!

Could we “look at” microscopic objects up close and personal in three dimensions? Tours though not only museums and buildings but the inside of car engines or the human body? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

The Hololens imagination videos show a lot of possibilities for showing people how to do things (there is a plumbing example for one) and I can see that being used to help students in academic as well as vocational course work. Imagine annotating what a student is seeing while doing a virtual (or real) frog dissection! Powerful stuff.

It’s easy to get excited about possibilities that never happen but we seem to be getting closer to some of these uses. The future looks interesting for sure. And computing is making it possible!

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