Sunny Days, VR and Education

Sunny Days

My son and I are in Victoria this week, the last hoorah before school.  We biked into town on Tuesday, one of the bigger bike adventures that we have been on and I have to say I am so proud of him.  He was stoic on the trip, kept up good spirits and we managed to carry on a D&D storyline for most of the trips to keep things lively.  This is an ongoing/ storytelling dialogue where we periodically through in pseudo-random number generation (guess a number between 1-10) to determine the outcome of, particularly random storylines.  Great for the imagination and a good pastime when biking, hiking, or pretty much anything.

On the first night we rolled into town at about 7:30 PM, during our trip to the grocery store we passed by the movie theatre and saw that SpiderMan was playing, score!  My son had made me promise that I would not go see this without him so this was finally a chance to do that. We grabbed a couple of tickets for the 9:21 show and headed to the grocery store.  The movie was worth the wait, I’m a bit of a sappy soul so a bit biased towards any sort of love story between Peter Parker and Mary Jane and really loved how they worked Mysterio in.

I also finally visited the Royal Victoria Museum which I hadn’t done when I lived in Victoria before.  They had a great exhibit on the Mayans and even though I had never been to the museum before I had an overwhelming sense of Deja’Vu when we were walking around.  The Mayan culture is mesmerizing, they had 2 distinct calendering systems and had developed a base 20 number system for math and accounting. They had agricultural techniques that are still in use and have a rich connection to spirituality which was right up my alley, more so lately.  We ended that night with Godzilla at the IMax which was fantastic…and cheesy, but mostly fantastic.

VR

While wandering around the city my son had spotted a sign for a VR Room, he’s quick to point out anything to do with video games.  I believe that video games can be a net positive if they are done in moderation…plus I like playing them as well so this went on our TODO list.  

That morning we spent the day walking Bastian Square, which is really a street, talking to the vendors that spent their time there.  It was something I don’t really remember doing when I lived here so it was good to form some new positive memories with my son. When we reached the end of the street before the water a very talented musician was playing so we spent some time listening before the hornets eventually chased us away.  Since we had already seen the museum and taken in some culture I felt like I could relax and partake in some less acceptable leisure time: video games, so we headed up the street to “Infusion Edutainment”.

I have to be honest I was expecting a video arcade when we first talked about it and I was totally blown away by what we found.  The VR rooms were very tastefully done and the setup was very well done. I got to trial an HTC Vive and my son was on an Oculus in the next room.  I was amazed that we could play different types of headsets for starters. I worked in video games for 12 years before my current gig and it was one of my dreams to have a Microsoft product talking to a PS4.  I think the closest interop we had was a desktop and a console which was still really cool. This new technology out of the box though was already supporting this, amazing!

The game we played was a shooter game, there are a lot of these titles around and normally I try to promote other choices but as I mentioned we had our cultural day so I was a bit relaxed in this and we tried a very cool archery game called “Elvin Assasin”.  We got to use a bow and arrow to fight off an army of orcs and giants attacking our castle or town. We played a few other games but that one sticks in my head because it had the smoothest gameplay and they solved the issue of movement in a clever way. If you don’t know what I mean these games still typically use a teleport model to simulate movement, can’t wait for the haptic suit!

Education

The really interesting part of the adventure though was not the gaming experience, although that was very well done, it was talking to the owners.  It was a treat to talk to someone that was passionate about the technology and after a short talk, I had a dozen interesting things to consider about what makes a good VR Headset that I hadn’t even thought about.  It will help me in picking my next headset and also gave me an interesting perspective on the passion that they had for the business.

As we talked about what they were trying to accomplish with the technology beyond providing entertainment, the “Edutainment” part, started to become apparent.  I caught a glimpse of where they saw the technology going and how it might fit into education. I was energized to hear they were already talking to the University of Victoria professors about the technology as well as trying to organize virtual classrooms for teaching English.  I left thinking: YES, THIS!  

For those of you in the tech industry, you will know about the HoloLens that Microsoft is developing for training – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/hololens/buy.  There is also the Google Glass counterpart – https://www.google.com/glass/start/ which is primarily for business as well.  I’ve also seen practical uses of this technology through friends who have gone to do great things in local studios – https://www.fingerfoodatg.com/views/advanced-technology-group/.  

What is missing though is a way to make these technologies take off and bring the cost down so that educational institutes will be able to justify the cost.  I personally speculate that Google’s foray into gaming is a way to try to take these technologies to the masses, by targeting entertainment they will increase the adoption of the technology and allow them to reduce costs through the production of more units.  As people are more likely to spend discretionary income on entertainment we will see early adopters making purchases here and driving the costs down to a place that the technology will appear in more and more households.

What it left me thinking, more than ever, that technology is moving at such a fast pace that our educational institutions are going to see a drastic reform in the coming years.  We can see this as schools focus on coding as part of their STEM programs. We can also see large technology companies entering the arena with programs such as CS First from Google and Apple Teacher

In society, we already see that children are becoming the gap to teach technology to older generations.  For anyone that has seen a child training a grandparent on how to use an iPad, you will understand what I mean here.  My prediction is that we will see more of this happen in the future.  It is my hope that this will raise awareness of the increased importance of education in the earlier years.  If we consider this also to be a vehicle for bringing all of our society forward including the semi-retired and retiring population it will help us realize the importance of the jobs at this level and hopefully we will see more investment and faster adoption of technology which will help move us forward as a whole.

References

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