Two years ago, Facebook bought a company making a virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift, for two billion dollars. This week, lucky people who pre-ordered the Oculus Rift are getting their deliveries. The sleek device is incredible, but there are some barriers to entry, especially for teachers and students: one needs a lot of money to get it and a high-performing Windows computer to use it. That said, there's no doubt that Oculus Rift is a strong entrant in what is about to be a very crowded field. Although most virtual reality experiences and "apps" for Oculus Rift revolve around gaming or entertainment experiences in these early days, the education community is showing some early enthusiasm, and ed-tech companies are creating software, tools, and content for what Mark Zuckerburg predicts is the next computing platform.
I tried out the Oculus Rift, and my co-founder has tried on the HTC Vive (see the photo of Cederik below). No doubt about it - it was a powerful, lasting experience, a "wow" moment with technology that I hadn't experienced since playing with my first smartphone. Although exciting, wading through hyped up pieces about how virtual reality will "revolutionize" education or any other field is tiring, and you won't find that here. After hearing the same about laptops, smartboards, and tablets, we can only bear so many revolutions. While not predicting rampant disruption, transformation, and revolution, we are interested, along with many other teachers and students, in exploring how these devices can be used for the sake of learning. We've always imagined that Edorble would reach its fullest potential on VR headsets, and we're planning our build of Edorble for Oculus Rift and others. Here's why.
Edorble's mission is to make online learning more personal, playful, and powerful, and on VR devices we think Edorble will be more of each. Let's start with "personal".
We feel strongly that the most significant, impactful learning happens when people are interacting with each other, and that technology is at its best when it's facilitating and enhancing these interactions. Sure, it's cool and incredible that someone can strap on a VR headset and explore Mars, the Coliseum, or the human heart. These experiences will often be better than watchings video on a 2D screen. We think the most compelling aspect of VR, though, lies in its ability to be a social, "multiplayer" space for teachers and students. 3D environments are the gold standard for fostering "presence", the feeling of togetherness with others. We've written elsewhere on this blog about the benefits of 3D virtual worlds compared to video chat as a means of fostering presence, community, and interaction, and VR headsets provide the most immersive way to experience them.
Yep, there's a reason why most interest in virtual reality devices at the moment is shown by gamers. Many video games are situated in 3D graphical environments (e.g. Grand Theft Auto, Halo, World of Warcraft), and playing them in VR will make the experience more immersive. When someone puts on a VR headset, they are fully enveloped in the scene and it occupies their whole field of vision. This creates significant opportunities for visual richness, detail, and playfulness. VR headsets can visually transport users to other places, and we're making Edorble a destination that doesn't look or feel like a typical school, but instead is beautiful, quirky, and playful. VR will help us do this better.
During live online collaboration or webinars, it's difficult for me to make room on a laptop screen for all of the different pieces of software and content that I wish could somehow be organized to perfection in front of me. Video chat windows, web browsers, synced powerpoints, screen shares, Q and A feeds...these are just a few of the things can make a screen start to feel really crowded, really quickly. This limitation is impossible to avoid on a laptop or tablet, but it doesn't exist in virtual reality, where users have their entire field of vision at their disposal. As such, they can arrange digital content in much more flexible ways. This will make it easy for teachers and students to meet and interact with content of all sorts, shapes, and sizes. In Edorble for VR, you'll be able to pull up a few web browser screens, some 3D models, a digital notepad, and other things....all while continuing to see the environment around you and others that are in it. Edorble on a laptop already provides what we think is the best way to "see" other people and explore content with them, but in VR users will be even more flexible with how they display and arrange things, and they'll have way more space (their whole field of vision) in which to do it.
Edorble is already a 3D virtual world. While we think Edorble is already a powerful environment on a laptop, experiencing it on the platform optimized for 3D environments will be stunning and let it reach it's full potential. It may be some time before these devices become mainstream, but we're eager to get a head start and begin building our education-focused 3D world for VR headsets.
PS: If you're interested in this space, we encourage you to check out our home page, where you can claim an Edorble world (in beta) for your students or colleagues and begin using it, for free. Help us shape it into something extraordinary by dropping us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeting us @edorble.