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Doctors tell us that smartphones and computer screens are highly addictive. We also know that screen time and exposure to Radiofrequency radiation  from these devices and the Wi-Fi that connects them has serious health concerns.  Now imagine the concern of strapping these devices to a growing child’s face. Welcome to the next wave in computers: Virtual Reality (VR).  In the immortal words of Poltergeist, “They’re here.” But we wonder if anyone will be reading the warning label.

(Hint: You really should look at that warning label link. But REALLY, really read this: A super quick guide to letting your kids use VR headsets: “VR could be a great way to get them to shut up  for half an hour.”      Umm. wow.


Virtual Reality is about to get real

There is a lot going on in the world of Virtual Reality (VR) including the release of Google’s next VR version called Google Daydream. Daydream is set to work with certain compatible smartphones and is an upgrade to Cardboard, which was Google’s previous, (more affordable-literally cardboard headset) venture into VR.  As TechCrunch reports,

“After more than two years of heavy public hyping since Facebook’s 2014 acquisition of Oculus for $2 billion, virtual reality is reaching an important turning point. VR has been promoted up and down the street and consumers seem to have grown oversaturated with all the media coverage of expensive tech that’s inaccessible to them, but the platform is preparing for a mini-renaissance.

The next couple weeks will be the biggest moments for VR in its consumer history. A lot of crazy hardware will be coming out, new platforms will be further defined and everyone will hopefully get a better picture of where this runaway futurism train is heading.

…Google Daydream is one of the most important platform launches for VR thus far. The platform gives smartphone users a chance at their first “real VR” experience beyond Cardboard, while giving manufacturers of Android phones a clearer path to success in entering the VR space without having to completely rethink the virtual wheel. Daydream also gives developers access to a much wider base of potential users through the Play Store.”

Still wondering…What is Virtual reality?

Virtual reality (VR) typically refers to computer technologies that use software to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that replicate a real environment (or create an imaginary setting), and simulate a user’s physical presence in this environment, by enabling the user to interact with this space and any objects depicted therein using specialized display screens or projectors and other devices. VR has been defined as “…a realistic and immersive simulation of a three-dimensional environment, created using interactive software and hardware, and experienced or controlled by movement of the body”[1] or as an “immersive, interactive experience generated by a computer”.[2] A person using virtual reality equipment is typically able to “look around” the artificial world, move about in it and interact with features or items that are depicted on a screen or in googles. Virtual realities artificially create sensory experiences, which can include sight, touch, hearing, and, less commonly, smell. Most 2016-era virtual realities are displayed either on a computer monitor, a projector screen, or with a virtual reality headset (also called head-mounted display or HMD). HMDs typically take the form of head-mounted goggles with a screen in front of the eyes. Some simulations include additional sensory information and provide sounds through speakers or headphones. -wiki


Okay, who isn’t curious about this, right?  It’s hard to even imagine — and that is the hook.  Of course this will be on every child’s wish list. Think Pokémon Go on steroids. But remember all the Pokémon Go problems with people getting lost or hurt when the Pokémon Go craze first hit?  MEW also predicted that this type of technology would be coming to classrooms in the near future.

In fact, Google Cardboard just struck a deal with Udacity, an online curriculum provider out of Stanford,  to launch a new course in VR.

“NEW DELHI: In collaboration with Google VR, HTC Vive and Upload, U.S.-based educational institution Udacity on Wednesday launched its virtual reality (VR) Developer Nanodegree course in India. The course can help students engage directly with the content and act upon both real and imaginary environments. “The course will provide exciting career opportunities in an expanding global industry, which is currently enjoying over 800 pct year-over-year job growth. This is the course to master the latest technologies with experts from partner companies,” Shernaz Daver, Chief Marketing Officer of Udacity International, said in a statement.”

No Classroom Left Behind…or is it soon NO Classroom Needed?

There is intense marketing pressure from the edtech world, to get their products into the “K-12 marketplace”.  And as EdWeek recently reported, a national survey on teachers’ perceptions of digital learning games in the classroom are “exploding”.  It’s no wonder, when teachers are bombarded with advertisements encouraging them to Gamify Your Classroom EdWeek says,

“The makers of digital learning games and their advocates have struggled for years to break into the mainstream of K-12 education. The games suffered from the perception that they were not directly linked to district curricula or that they lacked academic rigor. But it now appears that the use of digital learning games in schools is rising, as the learning tools achieve a higher level of relevance in the minds of educators.”The explosion in teacher interest and usage of videos and game-based learning could be a harbinger of a new awakening for digital learning,” Julie Evans, the CEO of Project Tomorrow, the sponsor of the survey, said in a statement. The 2015 Speak Up survey findings are the latest in a series of reports released each year by the Irvine, Calif.-based nonprofit organization.”

[Keep in mind that the survey was paid for by a company who promotes digital learning in the classroom.-MEW]

“The number of teachers in the United States using games in their classrooms—particularly with younger students—has doubled during the past six years, according to a large survey released this month that measures national ed-tech use. In 2015, the survey found, 48 percent of K-12 teachers and almost two-thirds of K-5 teachers reported using game-based learning environments in their classes, up from 23 percent of all K-12 teachers in 2010.”

Game-Based Assessments Are Coming

“There is also a growing trend in which teachers and game developers are trying to pull out achievement markers from student game-play as a possible supplement to, or eventual replacement for, traditional testing.

The difficulty in developing game-based assessments, according to  Young, [Michael Young, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Connecticut ], is that the complex nature of gaming is such that “in the same way that you can’t step into the same river twice, you can’t play a good game the same way twice.” He said that any effort to build high-quality game-based assessments would require a highly sophisticated set of achievement benchmarks.” [Emphasis added.]


Virtual Reality in the classroom?

The developers of Google Daydream tell us that VR can be used to control and change people’s behavior …”we’ve learned a few ways to nudge people towards positive social experiences.”  Think about that little experiment for a bit.

And yes,  despite the experimental nature, despite the warnings  and against recommendations of letting children under the age of 13 use VR,  knowing it causes health and safety concerns including mental confusion, excessive tiredness, many are promoting VR for kids.


Cheri Kiesecker