The Virtual Arena: Educators Learn Their VR
Out-of-Home entertainment, and Immersive Technology industry specialist Kevin Williams reports in his latest Virtual Arena column on the further growth in recognition that virtual reality VR is receiving from the Enterprise sector. Moving from entertainment, he now covers the major developments VR is having in shaping the future Education Technology scene.
The British Educational Training and Technology Show (BETT) was held last week at London’s ExCel exhibition convention centre – representing the leading trade event representing the Education Technology (EdTech) and training scene – drawing some 800 corporations to the event, that covered multiple halls of the London venue and attracted some 34,000 industry professionals. The latest trends including touchscreen, tablets, 3D Printing, programmable robotics and smart learning technology were presented.
This column previously covered the 2018 BETT show and how VR was immerging as a possible EdTech trend – but with BETT 2020 the event cemented this movement, with a vast array of new developments and applications for this technology, and growth of previous early adopters.
Yet again, the biggest presence of VR at the show was from Avantis – the company had powered into VR and was one of the first to offer educators a dedicated package. Proving successful with its ‘ClassVR’, comprising a 3DoF mobileVR headset, combined with its software package – Avantis was celebrating over 1 million students having used the company’s ClassVR platform to-date – with over 30,000 classrooms operating the system across some 60 countries. A system that took much of what had been achieved with mobileVR in 2016 and packaged it into a reliable and compelling solution for the education sector, becoming a world leader deserving much more recognition.
Another exhibitor that has grown its investment into VR since our 2018 coverage was Redbox VR – providing a versatile and robust solution for schools to be able to field VR for education. Redbox VR has also partnered with the leading providers of VR based educational content. Fielding not only its own mobileVR powered headset but also working with the latest developments including from Pico.
The Redbox VR platform supports content such as the 360’ educational virtual trips using the Richo Theta camera. And part of the RiVR Link (“classroom in a Box”) offering a turnkey VR solution, and Google Expeditions platforms. But also revealing its partnering with MEL Science, provider of the ‘MEL Chemistry VR’ educational experiences; the group proudly promoting winning the prestigious BETT Award for 2020 – “innovator of the year”, for their work in this field.
Some aspects of VR promotion had changes since our previous feature – Google though still heavily committed to the education sector had dropped its investment in VR headsets to focus on the content. As with the suspension of the Google Daydream VR system, no VR was represented on the corporations’ vast booth at BETT 2020, but the company was still fully committed to immersive education through their Google Expeditions platform – offering virtual field trips to students.
Likewise, the VR presentation on the Microsoft booth at the education show was muted – rather than the bewildering array of Windows MR headsets seen two years ago, the company promoted the virtual learning systems on only one provider, with the Samsung Odyssey on display giving an example of the education content. Along with seeing VR as a major educational tool, the corporation was also promoting the use of its videogame content as a teaching tool with ‘Minecraft Education Edition’ being played avidly on the stand. (“edutainment” a factor in the deployment of virtual education).
There was no visible presence from Acer, Asus or Dell VR headset at BETT this year – but there was still much interest in VR as an educational platform. Lenovo has a major presence at the EdTech event, promoting its computer and tablet technology in schools – but along with this the corporation as grown its VR education operation, announcing recently a significant investment with their ‘Lenovo VR Classroom’ kit that supports the Lenovo Mirage Solo headset (schools having access to plug-n-play VR setup). Lenovo was presenting its technology on the booth with the Oculus Rift S (developed in partnership with Oculus), the system running educational content using CAD designs. The VR Classroom 2 platform looking beyond just mobileVR towards the high end of PC VR.
Lenovo was also represented on other booths through the show, with Oculus Rift S headsets being put through their paces – these exhibitors chose to promote the application of VR through entertainment. The Unity booth showcased their educational content development – but also hoped to educate the educators towards what VR has to offer the future classroom, running on its booth an Oculus Rift S and Beat Saber. Another exhibitor using Beat Saber and the Oculus Rift S was Nutanix.
No official Oculus presence was at the education showcase – but the corporation has been increasing its investment in Enterprise, and education and scientific development is a major part of this new interest. Only one Oculus Quest was seen in operation at BETT, on the Konica Minolta booth, the education service provider running the Quest as an example of how virtual lessons could reshape education.
Another VR headset developer represented at BETT 2020 was HTC – residing on the Korean Pavilion at the show, the exhibitor VRANI promoted its ‘Kooring XR Coding Adventure’, a virtual experience created to help students in programming. The company brought examples of the virtual lesson running on the HTC Vive Cosmos, and the standalone HTC Vive Focus Pro headsets. The ‘Kooring XR Coding Camp’ offers innovative education through multiple users, employing “virtual textbooks”.
On the HP booth, working in partnership with Intel, the company brought examples of its new HP Reverb headset as well as its new backpack PC – offering a new and immersive education platform for schools and colleges. The ability to utilize this platform to navigate the virtual environment in free-roam a growing application in design as well as education (not to mention also in location-based entertainment (LBE)).
HP also partnered on their booth with Springboard VR – a specialist in VR content distribution and commercial licensing that also provides a ubiquitous content management platform for commercial deployment. The company may be more familiar to readers for their presence in the VR arcade scene – but recently has promoted investment in VR education content, offering a VR content and management platform for schools, museums and libraries, offering the latest licensed virtual educational content. The company showing its latest virtual lessons on the HP platform during BETT.
BETT 2020 had a much more international reach, and with that, the impact of VR from an international standpoint in EdTech was revealed. One such example was on The Norwegian Classroom booth at BETT which along with the promotion of advancements in the Norwegian education system, they were running demonstrations on the Lenovo headset – running the vreducation.no. This represented work by Norway University into utilizing VR to support mathematical assignments and offer a unique and compelling education tool.
The Sultanate of Oman – Ministry of Education was one of many that ran mobileVR headsets demonstrating the deployment in schools utilizing this innovative technology. Even the UK government represented VR in their marketing promotion for the hard work that the Department of Trade and Industries (DTI) did towards promoting the leading role that British developers have had in expanding this new area of EdTech.
Exhibitors from across the UK and the globe all included VR applications hoping to find homes in the education system, with companies such as Entab InfoTech, Apelab, and Medicus XR. The ability to create compelling and immersive content was demonstrated by Flyover Zone Productions, using a mixture of drone footage and 360’ immersion had created ‘Rome Reborn’ – “a virtual field trip to Ancient Rome”. Created as mobileVR content offered to schools as a virtual field trip to a historic landmark, it offers an experience for the students that brings their history books to life.
One of the many interesting exhibitors at BETT was a Chinese developer of a simple and effective Eyesight and Colour Blindness testing system. The company selling their units to be used in schools and hospitals, the simple test allows for the sight of both eyes to be tested in a quick and easy examination that supplies at the end a printed receipt, able to detect issues at a young age, quickly and effectively. With the deployment of so much virtual display technology, this kind of system seems a very sensible precaution.
And finally, following on from our 2018 coverage, another speculation that immersive projected environments (representing another aspect of the virtual reality scene) would become a growing aspect of the education sector was proven by a plethora of new systems. Examples included several surface and floor projection system – as well as the use of motion-tracked projection walls for digital sports.
In conclusion, it’s only the beginning of the year and already we have seen at CES, EAG and now BETT – enterprise applications of VR are at the forefront of sold investment. The direction of the virtual reality community has migrated from the niche of the consumer PC hyperbole and has started the long and productive lifecycle of achieving its true potential. Regarding its deployment in EdTech, the 2020 education sector seems to be working hard to find the best way to deploy this new tool in educating the future workforce.