Although we here at Digital Realities love the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, we believe that lower cost mobile VR viewers will hit the K-12 classroom long before the Vive or Rift enter the fray. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the cost. These high end HMDs alone cost over $500 and the PCs to run the units will set you back more than $1000. Secondly, the wires. The tethered nature of the devices means that students will always be at risk of tripping over the wire unless certain precautions are taken. Finally, set up. Setting up a VR workspace for a class of students is not only expensive but also challenging. Primary schools have begun to move away from dedicated ICT labs to encourage integrated ICT learning.
As educational technology integrators, we often see reluctance, fear, and pushback from teachers when faced with the challenge of bringing new technologies to the classroom. These challenges can be overcome with small group training sessions and experimenting with the products in a stress free environment. However, nothing quite replicates the first time you introduce new a technology to thirty excited children, and this is normally where the niggly issues occur. Hopefully this article will make you aware of some aspects to consider whilst noting some of the issues on a broader scale.
Quality ofMobile VR Viewer
The first issue that needs to be taken into account is the quality of the MVRV you use. Prices can range from $5 to $30 (at the cheaper end of the market). Having used a small variety of these there are obvious strengths and weaknesses with them all. Some are built with superior craftsmanship whilst others use basic materials for a cheaper price. It is worth noting that although the cheapest might seem like the best deal, if they break after 2 months of use a school may not be willing to replace them so readily. Do your research and read reviews online before ordering in bulk.
To put this simply, we all have different shaped heads. When considering which MVRV you are going to buy, think about how easy it is to make adjustments with the straps. We find that straps using Velcro are the most child friendly. Some may be strapless and require no adjusting, bringing benefits and weaknesses. For example, you lose the fuss of having to help children when putting on their display. However, you also sacrifice the immersive experience the children may get using a hands free MVRV. Another point worth noting is how a device fits into the mobile viewer. Again, we have found that Velcro or a Zipped compartment (similar to the Xiaomi mobile VR viewer) are the easiest to use. Some of the slide in MVRV's seem to work better with only one or two phone designs, which is fine if you are aware of this and only use that specific design. Finally, it is important to take into account wearing the MVRV with glasses. Thus far, most devices we have used have not presented a problem and you can simply slip the glasses under the MVRV. This is something easily checked before purchase with an email to the distributors.
Although not directly linked to the MVRV hardware, focus is an issue with some APPs, and needs to be taken into account. The issue is often easily remedied in the APP settings. The basic problem is that the APP is not set up for the size of your device. For example, if you have a device that is 5.2 inches and the APP is set up for a device that is 5.0 inches you may experience doubled vision. As mentioned, this can be fixed in the settings with relative ease. The introduction of Google Daydream may diminish this problem as a lot of devices will come "Daydream Ready".
This is one of those things that we all react differently to. As a general rule of thumb, 360 degree videos tend to bring about motion sickness more often than 360 degree photos. It is also dependent on how the video has been shot and whether you are moving through scenes or placed stationary and looking around. Developers are working on techniques to reduce the likelihood of simulation sickness occurring, but for the short time that you might use a mobile viewer in the class you should be okay. Don't let it put you off experimenting with VR in the classroom as you may find your students are fine, if not you will know the answer of who it does effect and can plan accordingly. We will write a lot more on this topic in a future post.
Content of Apps
In the world of VR it is very early days in terms of content. With that said, developers are constantly adding new APPs to different stores. One issue with this constant stream of new content, many APPs may be released in an unstable condition and even in an unlabeled BETA stage. Like with any resource you use in the classroom, you should check out the APP before using it with students to find any likely barriers they may encounter. We will publish a list of useful APPs for education in the near future.
Price of devices
One of the main issues with using mobile viewers in the classroom is that you need devices such as an iPod touch or smartphone. Even though you can pick up mobile viewers for cheap, a device can cost, at minimum, ten times that amount. One workaround could be allowing students to use their own device in lessons but this could also cause problems for you if children go off task or if there is a school wide policy that does not allow for this. There are many great examples of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) polices on the web and we encourage you to explore them. This will be many schools best shot at having 1 – 1 VR experiences.
We hope that this article will give you an idea of some things you should consider when using mobile VR viewers with students. Our aim is not to put you off using them, but to make you aware, and, give you the confidence to make the correct choices when purchasing.
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