When talking to educators about Virtual Reality, the big question I always run into is “how can my learners create their own content?” This is a good question. If we don’t get our learners into the creation process, we are really just creating…
Virtual Reality seems to be everywhere I look now in technology news. Does this mean that VR is about to leap from “cool futuristic idea” to “mainstream tool that most people are familiar with”? We will see. Just in the past week alone: Sony Playstation finally released their long awaited VR headset and suit of games (with reviews not always being that glowing), Occulus Rift released a pair of controllers (that did earn glowing reviews), Walmart started selling a headset/controller combo that turns your smartphone into a VR device for $19.98 (made out of plastic instead of cardboard), and a VR model was used to convict a Nazi War criminal. The real educational potential will be more in allowing learners to design their own experiences in VR, from creating 3-D models that they can then walk around virtually to designing and releasing various games and simulations.
One of the biggest problems with Virtual Reality that I keep coming back to (other than cost and ethical concerns) is the lack of interaction in most VR simulations. There are many ways around this, but many of them still involve tracking hands or movements. If you want to go sit on a virtual horse, you can’t. Until now it seems. FutureTown has created a device that converts into a motor bike, a mechanical horse, and a standing ski/surfing simulation board (see the promo video above). Connect this device to your favorite VR headset, and its like you are almost there! Well, not really, but it probably does bring us closer to Holodecks. But it also highlights the problems with the whole idea: how expensive is it going to get to create a new set-up for every way you could use this? Cars, boats, biking, etc all have different contexts for motion. Will this be useful for education anytime soon? Not really. But I did get to play in something like this in a mall – basically, an eggshell that worked like a space ship while I fought off an alien invasion. It was pretty cool, bur practical? We will have to see.
One of the problems with virtual reality is that it is virtual – the things yopu see and interact with are not really there, so you can’t reach out and touch them. Which generally makes most VR experiences pretty passive – even adding a joy stick makes VR more like a game than a simulation. Of course, many companies are working on ways to add touch to virtual objects. One recent company is Dexmo, which adds an exoskeleton to your hands to enable simulated touch. While the set-up looks clunky, the idea that it is recreating the shape and consistency of virtual objects could be very useful in medical, educational, and manufacturing realms, among others. Apparently, no price is given, and the manufacturer wants to wait until VR software begins programming touch into their games and simulations. But this is still one step closer to Star Trek Holodecks (or at least the immersion suits described in Ready Player One).