Network Manager’s guide to Virtual Reality for schools
You may have seen the Galaxy S7 advert that’s currently airing. The one where an awkward-looking father attends a boy-band gig, standing amongst a crowd of emotional teenagers with a webcam, all so that his own daughter can virtually ‘be there’ despite being stuck at home with a cold (if you’ve not seen it, here’s a link).
Samsung are, no doubt, keen to draw attention away from the disaster that was the Note 7, but the advert signifies something much more important: Virtual Reality is finally hitting the mainstream.
So, what is Virtual Reality and what could it mean for education? And what do Network Managers need to be aware of?
WHAT IS VR?
Virtual Reality is about creating incredibly immersive computer generated environments. Whilst 4K video and advanced 3D graphics have increased the realism of video content, they are compromised by the disconnect between user and screen. VR overcomes this by putting the viewer in control of what they see and do, it blocks out the real world so that they are submerge into the virtual world on a much deeper level. The boundaries between what is real and what is not become blurred, as the clues that the brain normally relies on to distinguish real from virtual are removed. And it can be very effective, as a YouTube search for “funny VR reactions” will reveal.
WHAT APPLICATIONS COULD IT HAVE IN EDUCATION?
Experiences are a powerful educational tool that already form an important part of the curriculum for schools. For example: walking through a WW1 trench is a much more powerful experience than reading about it in a text book; only by standing in-front of a Rothko at the Tate Modern can you truly get a sense of the scale of his work; and touring the Hadron Collider is much more likely to inspire a 15 year old student to choose a career in the sciences.
But even without the financial restraints there is a limit to how many of these experiences schools can provide for pupils. With VR, teachers can take pupils on virtual field trips every week, every day, or even every lesson.
By its very nature VR is an engaging experience; partly because you are in your own world free from the normal classroom distractions, but also because it’s interactive. Can you blame a 13 year old for getting bored watching a video about slow-moving glaciers? Imagine if that pupil could explore the glacier on their own terms – uncovering facts and learning along the way.
Virtual Reality Learning Environments (VRLE)
VRLEs are virtual spaces where students and teachers can come together from all over the world. It allows them to be in the same virtual classroom and interact, using virtual whiteboards, presentations, videos and other content. Within this world, the whole class can go on a virtual field trip, not only to another place, but another time – explore the land of dinosaurs for example. Unlike video conferencing which connects students and teachers from across the globe, a VRLE can bring them together in the same virtual space.
WHAT CONTENT/EXPERIENCES ARE AVAILABLE?
VR content is growing rapidly, here are a few examples of VR that could be used by teachers and pupils in your school tomorrow:
- Oculus Rift – Whilst mainly a gaming platform, there are some great educational experiences to be had too, such as Star Chart which lets you explore an accurate, real-time VR solar system
- Google Expeditions – Google is leading the way in virtual field trips, and have partnered with museums and other organisations to create VR experiences designed specifically for schools
- YouTube – There are plenty of VR videos on YouTube, including this BBC guide around CERN , this journey from the ground to the edge of space and for a bit of fun, fly onboard with the US Navy’s Blue Angels.
It goes without saying that you will need a fast and reliable wireless network for Virtual Reality content – something we can help with.
WHAT DOES THE SCHOOL NEED TO GET STARTED?
There are two main types of VR headset:
These headsets are more cost effective as they allow you to attach a smartphone that becomes the screen, but this does mean that you will need the smartphones to be able to do this. Examples are Google Cardboard (designed with schools in mind) or Samsung Gear VR.
These have their own screen, gyroscope, etc and are therefore more expensive. Examples are Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
With Virtual Reality hitting the mainstream, we are going to be hearing a lot more about it in the classroom over the coming months and years – the costs needed to get started are not prohibitive and the educational benefits are clear. For Network Managers it’s another reason to ensure your wireless network is going to be up to the demands that future educational tech is going to demand of it.
Wireless solutions from CSE
We are a leading provider of wireless solutions for schools and colleges. We bring our vast experience to your project, designing, specifying and implementing a wireless network that meets your school’s needs now and into the future.