For its first time being held in New York City, I would give the VR Summit conference a “C”. It had excellent speakers, some who effused optimism and others who were warning about a letdown from the hype bubble. Panelists from VR content development, education, and business gave their impressions of this burgeoning technology. However, the exhibit hall was sorely lacking as it was shared with exhibitors from the 3D printing and robotics conferences that were simultaneously being held in the Javits Convention Center. In total, only two booths for VR Summit were there, the University of Arkansas, Little Rock’s Emerging Analytics Center and ZSpace. The technology that most people are excited to see, Oculus, HTC, Samsung Gear, and Playstation VR was nowhere to be seen. Quite a disappointment for me as well as many other people I talked to.
Focusing on VR and education, there was a panel on the first day titled “VR and Education: 21st Century Jobs Require 21st Century Education and Tools”. The panelists were:
Brenda Grell, Faculty, Washington State University Vancouver’s CMDC Department
Pete Johnson, VP of Business Development, zSpace Inc.
Josh Maldonado, CEO and Founder, Discovr Labs
Adriana Vela, Founder & Chair, NanoTecNexus
A few high points of the panel:
- VR is engaging. The more engaged students are, the more they are learning. In VR, students are able to do their work without fear of failure and can learn through their mistakes.
- Lasting effects of VR. Are they predictable? It is difficult to say currently. VR is new and can change education to learning through experience, but this is difficult to curate.
- Can VR be addicting? We have to understand that there is the potential of VR being addictive. We have to monitor and study the current trends and continue to do so into the future. Similar to the above point, as VR use grows we have to continually evaluate it from an whole-person perspective.
- Providing the tools for teachers and institutions to continue using VR/AR is important. The novelty of the tools are what can get it into the classroom, but there needs to be support to keep students and educators engaged. Additionally, educational software and platforms in VR/AR have to include teachers in the development process if they want a truly effective product.
On the second day, Dr. Carolina Cruz-Neira of the University of Arkansas, Little Rock and the George W. Donaghey Emerging Analytics Center gave an enlightening talk about her experience and work in the VR field for the past 20 years. She has seen one VR “hype cycle” already pass and hopes that this current one does not befall the same fate as the one in the 90’s. However, looking back at that cycle, it really only fell out of the public’s eye because the entertainment industry dropped its VR coverage. VR stayed alive and some say thrived in the military and industry sectors between then and now.
As a result, Dr. Cruz-Neira has been working in VR with these sectors and developed numerous applications as well as expertise in designing VR tools. As she emphasized, many of these tools are not “head mounted displays” (HMDs) but can take other forms such as 3D TVs, room-scale virtual environments, and more.
After hearing her talk, it gave me pause as to whether HMDs should be the only route that education can utilize VR. Sure, HMDs are what is powering the resurgent popularity of VR but are they most effective tool for the classroom? From a financial and practical level it remains to be seen. Though on a larger level, this is a good problem to have. Now there are multiple VR technologies, some more mature than others, that can be considered for the classroom. What does the future hold for education?
Special Thanks to Bashir Harrell who contributed to this article.
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