Five Easy Steps to Teach With Virtual Reality Now

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Virtual Reality (VR) could influence every industry within the next decade. Training, in particular, is poised for serious growth through transporting groups of learners to highly immersive experiences with a VR headset device. Medical residents can learn a new surgical procedure by observing in real time, welding students can become familiar with a hazardous job site before visiting or high school students can hear a native foreign language speaker. VR is a whole new way to interact with knowledge and on pace to be an effective, engaging, low-cost instructional solution for a range of subjects and grade levels. The iPad institutional initiatives of the past are akin to the VR headset initiatives of the future. One Laptop per Child could soon be one Mattel View-Master per child. The adoption of VR is becoming the consummate example of personalized learning and entertainment. Saschka Unseld, Creative Director of Oculus Story Studios, suggests, “In VR, if a story is told well it is actually all about you.”

In the emerging discipline of VR instruction and curriculum development, there is currently no source to turn to for implementing best practices or classroom standards. VR is not going away: Google Expeditions is already in some classrooms, and the industry is forecast to grow to $150 billion in the next 5 years. The world desperately needs teachers and institutions alike to become the standard bearers and trailblazers. Those who manage students know better than anyone what can work in a classroom. As Matthias McCoy-Thompson wrote in his recent article “Why Now is the Most Important Time for Virtual Reality,” “doing it right the first time” is crucial to making sure that VR and learning will have a future positive impact in all classrooms.

Confusingly, "VR" today is loosely defined by many types of videos and devices. Artists are using a host of technology solutions, hand controllers, coding languages and camera equipment to create said experiences. But there are ways to find simplicity in the chaos.

To help you create simple, impactful educational experiences, here are five steps to get you the momentum you need to start your own classroom beta. With proper planning, you will not need significant financial investment or skills to create experiences which could have a lasting impact on the future of practical classroom applications.

Create your own virtual reality in 5 easy steps!

1) Choose Your Topic

VR is proving itself to be an effective supplemental instructional tool acting as a “mental breathalyzer” which can be integrated between the lecture and the actual lab. To create a good instructional exercises consider these two points:

First, VR’s greatest story-telling power is transporting empathy; putting someone behind the eyes of another person. There is no technological medium today that transfers empathy to the viewer like VR. Cinematic artists are already seeing success with this “empathy” pitch using 1st person documentaries like Clouds over Sidra of a girl living in a refugee camp.

Second, the hardest part of filming is knowing who you want your students to be and where you want to take them. Do you want them to be a quarterback on a football field? Put the camera where the quarterback stands and hit record. Becoming a doctor, a CEO, miner, or archeologist is as simple as taking a camera and filming where that person works.

As a final note, game-based learning is destined to be huge, but creating a virtual reality game is anything but fast and simple. “Life-like capture” and the instructional VR route as outlined has its pros and cons, but most of all it is relatively inexpensive and easier to execute with a non-technical skillset.

2) Choose Your Audience

Teachers have to be disciplined when creating an experience to match the target age group, especially when seeking to blend in VR experiences with traditional classroom lesson planning. Create titles like “Ancient Middle East supplement for 8th grade History Class” or “Cadaver dissection simulation for second year Medical Residents”. Whether you are posting your experience online for the first time or simply looking to try VR in your classroom, there are resources out there. These are great VR content curation sites for ideas and existing content to test: try Oculus Share store, “WEARVR for Kids” at WEARVR.com or Unimersiv.

3) Choose Your Equipment -- GoPro Cameras vs. Ricoh Theta S

Continuing down the recommended path of recording supplemental instructional VR experiences, there are two panoramic video cameras which stand above the rest. The less expensive and most consumer friendly option is the Ricoh Theta S, coming out in early November. I give my highest recommendation to buy this camera as part of the “educational VR starter pack”. For $350 you can take 14 megapixel 360° images or record 360° video (1920 x 1080 resolution; 30fps) good enough to view on a phone or desktop. The Ricoh Theta S handles all the stitching and allows easy social sharing to Youtube and Facebook. Setup is out of the box and there are no special skills to click and shoot.

To create a professional level video at good value choose a set of GoPro Hero 3+ or Hero 4 Blacks. With 6 - 12 cameras ($2k - $4k), Kolor stitching solutions ($700 - $800) and a 360° camera rig ($300 - $900), you can create quality experiences short of buying cameras and software 10x the price. Purple Pill and Udemy have partnered to create a “Cinematic Crash Course” for VR that I highly recommended for aspiring VR artists learning the basics of production. While the camera landscape will change significantly over the next year, if you are going to go for it in 2015 choose either of these camera sets and you will be on your way.

4) Choose Your Apps - Custom vs. Off the Shelf

Now you have your Virtual Reality video recorded and you are ready to share with your students! Creating a custom iPhone or Android app is impressive, but there are plenty of off the shelf options available to easily distribute to your learners. Here are my top picks:

  • YouTube -
    • Android app: Yes
    • iPhone app: Yes
    • Desktop: Yes
    • Gear VR app: No
    • Note: It is a great video solution which everybody recognizes, but it misses the functionality of other 360° video players. Youtube makes simple things hard like adding one extra step to upload a 360° video.
  • Vrideo -
    • Android app: Yes
    • iPhone app: Soon
    • Desktop: Yes
    • Gear VR app: Yes
    • Note: My personal recommended choice; the Gear VR app is well organized and is a great solution for 360° video creators interested in finding educational VR material.
  • LittlStar -
    • Android app: Yes
    • iPhone app: Yes
    • Desktop: Yes
    • Gear VR app: Yes
    • Note: LittlStar has a Gear VR app and also supports 360° photos and 3D stereoscopic video making it one of the most dynamic platforms for content creators today.
  • Kolor Eyes -
    • Android app: Yes
    • iPhone app: Yes
    • Desktop: Yes
    • Gear VR app: No
    • Note: Bought by GoPro in early 2015, Kolor Eyes is not the most aesthetically pleasing solution, but their stitching software makes it easy to post and manage videos when finished.

5) Choose Your Virtual Reality Device - Google Cardboard vs. Gear VR

To experience VR, there are two main types of mobile headsets to choose from in 2015 -- low-cost Google Cardboards or high-end Samsung Gear VRs. Aside from the cost, the biggest trade off you are making by not using a Gear VR is visual comfort. To ensure the first experience with VR is a positive one, try your best to go with the premium solution as best you can. That recommendation is not to say that Google Cardboards are not a great value, and it could be said that Cardboards are the perfect tool for a small test. If you would like to buy a set for your classroom it is best to work through one of Google’s approved vendor’s on their site.

It is not a question of “if” but “when” all students will have their own personal VR device much like cell phones. But even in ten years when students are equipped with “pocket VR,” we will still be far away from the perfect learning environment. There is no silver bullet to a quality education. VR will never be the end-all be-all solution to fostering creativity, autonomy, grit and executive function skills, and that is why we need teachers to play an integral role in VR education and developing best practices. Don’t be afraid to dive in and see what you can create! 

Casey Sapp is the Founder of VRTÜL Education (www.vrtul-edu.com).

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