On February 7th I walked out of a VR EdTechTeacher workshop a bit flummoxed. For the first time in a long time I felt over my head, swimming in exposure to half dozen new tools and apps and several new paths of learning, but with unclear outcomes or goals. Such is the reality of virtual and augmented reality learning in today’s age, particularly for educators who may be less inclined to explore digital work-arounds and master the compatibility and integration issues of technology hardware and software changing at a rapid pace.
But then came the Caronavirus and suddenly the world turned upside-down. Big time commitments, like the NSTA National Conference were cancelled… then the next two months of school. And while social distancing and full-time child care became the new normal the need to stay engaged in some form of personal learning still called. A single opportunity to gather materials stuck in the office offered me the chance to grab a 360 camera I had borrowed and the chance to further explore the world of VR creation.
Given that my “audience” for the foreseeable future are four and two-years-old respectively, video curation centered around places they already love to be at but are limited to visiting (like the train station).
The most fun has come from the camera’s potential to shift the user to a miniature perspective. I explored this first through photo, jamming the camera into the bottom of a cardboard diorama featuring my pre-schoolers prehistoric art work. Later I moved to video through this Toy Train Virtual Reality Scavenger Hunt, which I find akin to the N64’s Pokemon Snap, riding the user along a fixed trail trying to capture observances of the listed figures as the ride moves forward.
The path’s final destination remains unknown, and fraught with the occasional dead-ends and obstacles. These include compatibility of different video formats and upload/download times due to the large sizes of video files (a challenge faced when wanting to take ourselves beyond still life touring.) While it is still hard for me to fathom putting these tools in the hands of elementary students for their own creation purposes, I see potential in its medium as a tool to share student work, engage in collaborative projects, and to bring students to locations that might otherwise be unmanageable.
It is perhaps this last benefit that stands out in the rapidly changing world we are faced with. The Caronavirus and subsequent social distancing measures demonstrates the truth that methods for transporting us beyond our immediate spaces will only grow, regardless of the immediate challenges faced. While I patiently waited for my videos above to upload to YouTube, I investigated the curated links to VR content being shared in the Facebook 360 community. Immediately this PBS “Polar Lab” caught my attention with its beautiful integration of video and illustrated commentary. I’m sure there will be more that will capture my imagination and interest in creating with VR again. And so the journey continues…