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Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Ready, Set, Go!

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A few of our STEM Pre-Academy staff attended the 2016 Schools of the Future Conference this year.  Every year seems to have a set collection of dominant themes that coalesce from the myriad of sessions and presentations.  One of the emergent themes last year was the ascendancy of 3D printing in the classroom.  As the barriers for entry with 3D printing are fairly high (both monetarily and skill wise) it remains to be seen if the promise of ubiquitous manufacturing for the masses can live up to expectations.  (All that being said, the technology has come a long way in a last handful of years.)

This year, one of the emergent-technologies-of-the-moment was Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (VR and AR).

Virtual Reality technology seeks to immerse a user in a computer generated environment.  Google Cardboard (along with a smartphone) or Oculus Rift (along with a computer) are good examples of VR technology.

Augmented Reality aims to layer an extra set of information or objects onto the real world, allowing the user to interact with this layer as if it existed in the physical world.  Pokémon Go is the best current example of AR—when viewed through the lens of a smartphone, Pokémon appear to coexist with us.

With the prevalence of smartphones, tablets, and other camera-equipped devices, the barriers for bring these new realities into the classroom are quite low.  Here are a couple of examples of both VR and AR that can be used in classrooms today!

Virtual Reality with Google Cardboard

Google introduced Cardboard at the 2014 Google I/O developers conference—every attendee received the folded cardboard contraption for free and it quickly became the low-cost portal into VR technology.

Google Cardboard viewers can be purchased at a low cost and are compatible with a wide variety of the smartphones that many folks already have.  Cardboard lets the user experience a surprisingly immersive environment quickly and easily.

A large number of apps and services for both Android and iOS devices have been created to take advantage of Cardboard:

Augmented Reality for Real

  • Elements 4D (iOS and Android) lets you explore chemistry with way-cool AR blocks
  • Aurasma (iOS and Android) has all sorts of different AR experiences available
  • NASA’s Spacecraft 3D lets you learn all about the spacecraft, rovers, and explorers that roam around our solar system. (And beyond!)
  • And of course, Pokémon Go, which may not be all that educational, but it sure did a good job introducing the world to the power of AR.  (Not entirely educational, at least.  Many PokéStops are situated at cultural and historic landmarks all around the world.)

Have you used VR or AR applications in your classroom?  Have questions?  Let us know in the comments below!