Sunday, September 19, 2021
Education/TrainingExtended RealityVirtual Reality

XR Education in 2021

A look at exciting and inventive XR education use cases and theories.

 

VR is for games and AR is for industry, right? That’s probably the biggest broad-strokes argument that a person could make about extended reality and remain arguably correct. However, there are myriad other use cases and XR education is one of the most promising.

Here, we’re going to look at some of the most exciting and out-of-the-box examples of XR education, ranging from K-12 through university and beyond.

Virtual Campus Experiences

While any virtual platform that allows remotely shared experiences can be used for XR education, there are platforms specialized for creating “virtual campus” experiences. These organizations can create educational content as well but they don’t create accredited courses, focusing instead on supplemental content or, more commonly, spaces for virtual events.

However, there are a growing number of institutions relying more and more heavily on not just occasional use of XR education content, but persistent use of a virtual campus.

Edstutia and Adept XR Learning

“Online learning and virtual education can be just as instructive as in-person. It just depends on the instructor,” Dr. Christine Janssen told ARPost. “If I have a laptop, I can learn anywhere.”

Janssen is the founder of Edstutia, a “modular online learning platform” designed for “disrupting the status quo of higher education.” She met Glimpse Group (NASDAQ:VRAR) President and CEO Lyron Bentovim at an event at Fordham University where the two laid the groundwork for a partnership between Edstutia and Glimpse subsidiary Adept XR Learning resulting in a virtual Edstutia campus.

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“Students go to college not just to learn but to network and socialize,” said Janssen. “For what I wanted to do, this was a no-brainer.”

Edstutia isn’t accredited – attendees won’t get a “degree” – but the curriculum is built around skills required by hiring managers and everything is overseen by an advisory board representing industry partners including AWS, IBM, and Accenture. Learners who complete programs add their own creations to a digital portfolio.

“Every business is going to be driven by technology, so you need to understand baseline technology,” said Janssen. “Everything about what we stand for is experiential learning.”

VictoryXR, Morehouse College, and American High School

Like Adept, VictoryXR creates non-accredited XR educational experiences and locations, including their own virtual academy location. The year 2021 has seen a number of these products and services adopted in major ways by educational institutions that do offer diplomas.

In March of this year, the company announced a “joint effort” with Qualcomm and Atlanta’s Morehouse College to offer classes in virtual reality with select real-time classes taught by Morehouse professors in a digital-twin campus on Oculus headsets donated by Qualcomm. Some classes will also digitally transport students to other places and times altogether.

“Higher ed must not be afraid to take remote learning to a new immersive and effective level,” Morehouse College professor of History, Dr. Ovell Hamilton, said in a release shared with ARPost. “With this virtual reality campus, students will be able to travel back in time and stand on a naval carrier or travel to places across the globe.”

Fast-forward to August, VictoryXR announced that online education provider American High School worked with VictoryXR to create what CEO Steve Grubbs called “the first global virtual reality high school.”

“In a school deployed through virtual reality, students may find the learning location and curriculum that best suits their need, regardless of their physical location,” Grubbs said in a Medium post. “Relationships with like-minded people will develop and suddenly, someone who lives halfway around the globe will become a friend, not a stranger in a faraway land.”

Arthur and Georgia State University

We know Arthur as being a purveyor of virtual office space. However, the company stepped into XR education through a recent donation to Georgia State University to create a VR “study abroad program” for business students. The experience gives students valuable insight into the course of study but also into remote collaboration in XR – increasingly important in business.

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“Remote and hybrid work has always been talked about in future tense; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has made that the current reality,” Arthur Founder and CEO Christoph Fleischmann said in a release. “We’re able to bring real-world VR applications to the classroom, educating students on how to utilize new technologies that they’ll one day use in a business environment.”

Virbela and Stanford University

Virbela followed the interesting trajectory from being a project largely within the University of California San Diego to being an enterprise leader in remote collaboration to working with universities like Stanford and Davenport University.

“Stanford has been a longtime customer of ours,” President and Co-Founder Alex Howland told ARPost in a now-classic in-platform interview. “Stanford reports that it is the ability to create that sense of co-presence that really helps a cohort feel more connected.”

Virbela doesn’t just work with universities to create virtual campus experiences and remote events. The company also contributes to academic research to help us understand how learning in VR works. Virbela has even played host to two of nine conferences of the Immersive Learning Research Network.

Hybrid Experiences

So far, the experiences that we’ve seen are entirely immersive classes if not entirely immersive curricula. These are exciting use cases to start with, but they aren’t indicative of all (or indeed even most) XR educational experiences. Most of these experiences use XR as a supplement for in-person teaching and learning.

The idea of XR educational content being a support tool for in-person learning is reminiscent of more tailored use cases for XR in special education. XR is objectively better in some use cases, but it doesn’t have to be a replacement for in-person instruction in most situations.

Lobaki and Kemper County Mississippi

A high school doesn’t need to be online to go virtual.

Through a recent grant from the State of Mississippi, the Kemper County School District is partnering with Lobaki and Pico Interactive. The goal is “to create an immersive learning environment designed to be an extension of the classroom and provide students educational content to support classroom learning,” according to press materials provided to ARPost.

“We use VR as an enhancement to our curriculum,” Kemper County School District Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Frederick Hickmon, said in an email to ARPost. “Student experiences in VR build capacity for a deeper dive while teaching and learning.”

The project should include virtual in-classroom learning as well as immersive trips to the distant past, the microscopic world, and more. These experiences will use Lobaki’s user-friendly content creation tools and super-impressive photo-based avatar engine and be experienced on the Pico Neo 2 headset.

“The opportunities are endless when discussing the potential for VR as an educational tool. We at Kemper County School District are interested in preparing all students to become college and career-ready. VR is now a part of this,” said Hickmon. “As educators, we are excited about providing new and engaging opportunities for our students to learn at the highest levels.”  

Understanding XR Education

“In the years ahead, we’re really talking about the convergence of emerging, not just immersive technologies,” Futurist Maya Georgieva said during the State of XR & Immersive Learning Outlook Report launch at this year’s Immersive Learning Research Network Annual Conference. “There is little doubt in my mind that this [convergence] will change how we learn.”

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The paper, which Georgieva co-authored, took inventory of the promises of XR education, but also recognized a number of obstacles. These included access, affordability, the need for educator training in XR technology, a lack of XR content, and a lack of infrastructure and tech support in most locations.

A number of these trends were also recognized by the recent Perkins Coie and XRA “XR Industry Insider: 2021 XR Survey.” Nearly all respondents said that XR education was a promising field, though this field was also recognized as one of those most troubled by a lack of immersive content.

The iLRN conference in particular encouraged educators to work with content creators to create immersive content, particularly for XR education. The Perkins Coie and XRA survey suggested that content shortages might be resolved as more democratized authoring tools become available making user-generated content more prevalent and effective.

Many of the limitations on XR education applications may also be because many would-be users are anticipating the future and overlooking today’s solutions. Specifically, some industry experts suggest that virtual reality is over-emphasized while augmented reality is overlooked.

“We need to decouple our awareness of immersive technology from the hardware,” Brightline Interactive CEO, Tyler Gates, said during a panel at the VR/AR Education Forum this May. “We’re not going to see [large-scale] adoption until people recognize that this technology is about more than just headsets.”

Reinventing Education(?)

A remaining debate in XR education is whether traditional education limits XR’s potential or whether XR should remain in a support capacity to traditional learning. Howland said that XR experiences need to have familiar elements to our physical lives to make them usable. Or, as XR researcher and consultant Heather Dodds told me during an iLRN event in Altspace:

“The tech has always been the tech. Humans don’t change – we still have those needs to communicate which are both synchronous and asynchronous. The tech is just a medium.”

Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance journalist with special interest in emerging technologies. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.