One of the newer categories on this blog is for VR, AR and AI. They were not topics of much concern in education when I started writing here in 2006. They are topics of interest now.
The same may be true of autonomous vehicles and it is definitely true of what I'm calling autonomous learning.
You are more likely to hear news about "autonomous vehicles" rather than "driverless cars" these days. They are pretty much interchangeable, but the former doesn't sound as scary. In the way that "global warming" was replaced with "climate change," the newer terms are not only better in public relations terms but also are more accurate.
An autonomous vehicle (AKA driverless, auto, self-driving, robotic) is one that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. Many such vehicles are being developed, but as of this writing vehicles on public roads are not yet fully autonomous.
Many of the experimental cars and trucks you might see on the road (or, more likely, on the news) have a human along for the ride and ready to take over if needed. Initially we all heard about this future where you would get in a car, tell it your destination and sit back and relax. It was a taxicab without a driver. But more and more we are hearing about the autonomous vehicle with no human in it that might be delivering packages to locations. (No word on how they are unloaded. I guess you meet the vehicle at the curb.)
I was talking to a friend who has no involvement in education about an online course I was teaching and how MOOCs are being used. He said, "So, it's like an autonomous vehicle."
My first response was "No, its not," but when I gave the idea a few moments, I saw his point.
You set up a good online course. It has AI elements and guided learning, predictive analytics and all the other tools. The student enters and goes along on their own. Autonomously. Teacherless.
Some archived MOOCs are already somewhat like this - though probably minus the AI and guidance systems.
I call this autonomous learning. If you search on that term today you are more likely to find articles about learner autonomy. This refers to a student's ability to set appropriate learning goals and take charge of his or her own learning. However, autonomous learners are dependent upon teachers to create and maintain learning environments that support the development of learner autonomy.
My friend and I took the vehicles:learner comparison further. The mixed or hybrid car will probably be with us for a few more decades. By hybrid I mean not only with its fuel but also with driver-assist features. Part of the redundancy there includes the passenger as backup driver - a guide on the side. The car can park itself, but you might need to help in some situations.
Hybrid or blended courses are also going to continue to be around for awhile. Like the vehicles, the fully-automated course will be the experimental exception for a decade or two. But those kids in the college Class of 2037 have a very good chance of taking autonomous classes.
I will feel safe on the road with autonomous vehicles when ALL the vehicles are autonomous. Throw a few human drivers in there and the reliability drops. Do I feel the same about autonomous learning? Too early to say.
Virtual reality, like rock n’ roll, is not something that can be described well. It must be experienced in order to be fully appreciated and understood.
Interestingly, it has been catching on among educators.
Since 2013, Emory Craig, Director of eLearning at the College of New Rochelle, and Maya Georgieva, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Digital Bodies, have been presenting workshops on the topic. They’re working with developers, researchers and educators who are embracing the immersive learning technology, which seems to be on the cusp of widespread use...as well as being on the receiving end of a lot of hype.
Around the time Craig and Georgieva began exploring this emergent medium, the arrival of Google Glass seemed to have ushered in greater popularity. Georgieva was one of the educators to experiment with Google Glass. People suddenly had a wearable ideal of what could be tapped to create an augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR). The much-heralded yet now all-but-defunct product left its mark, as several key technological developments have sprung up to satisfy a new market.
One key development also came from the Internet giant: Google Cardboard. An accessible solution that was ‘easy to get into the hands of educators,’ Georgieva noted, it has helped to generate interest in the use of VR in the learning environment. With only a smartphone app and the inexpensive piece of cardboard, students can be transported to other worlds...
Pokémon Go was big last summer, but it was a flash in the tech pan. It couldn't scale. But it was a big augmented reality (AR) game that was mobile and required no additional hardware - especially the odd-looking goggles we currently associate with virtual reality. The game was platform agnostic. It used location services to geo-locate players with a virtual world. It worked.
I never played Pokémon Go, but I did observe others playing. For those of you who also didn't participate, here's what it is all about.
Your avatar is displayed on a map using the player's current geographical location. There are PokéStops that provide players with items, such as eggs, Poké Balls, berries, potions and lure modules which attract additional wild, and sometimes rare, Pokémon. These stops and battle locations (gyms) are re-purposed portals from Ingress, developer Niantic's previous augmented reality game.
In AR mode the game uses the camera and gyroscope on the player's mobile device to display an image of a Pokémon as though it were in the real world.
I can certainly see more game applications for AR. I would pursue the rights to the Harry Potter world's latest franchise whose name itself suggests an AR game: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
But is this all we can expect from augmented reality?
Its use in education has been limited, but it has been used to superimpose text, graphics, video and audio into a student’s real time environment. As a kind of supercharged QR code, in textbooks and in real spaces, such as museums and physical displays, material can be embedded using “markers” that trigger when scanned by an AR device and supply supplementary multimedia materials.
Using AR for more serious purposes is not that new. In 2000, NASA's X38 display (shown here) had a video map with overlays including runways and obstacles for use during flight tests.
The applications for AR are numerous. For architects and builders, AR can aid in visualizing building projects. Computer-generated images of a structure can be superimposed into a real life local view of a property before the physical building is constructed there. It can be used before any construction begins while architects are rendering into their view animated 3D visualizations of their 2D drawings.
Similarly, AR allows industrial designers to experience a product's design and operation before completion. Volkswagen used AR for comparing calculated and actual crash test imagery and to visualize and modify car body structure and engine layout. AR was also be used to compare digital mock-ups with physical mock-ups for finding discrepancies between them.
We are not there yet, but in education AR should become more common and more interactive. Computer-generated simulations of existing places and historical events. In higher education, applications such as Construct3D, are used to help learn mechanical engineering concepts, math or geometry.
Primary school children using interactive AR experiences will probably end up in high schools and colleges using AR and VR in ways we can't quite imagine today. AR technology in the classroom will be integrated, rather than a novelty, and mixing real life and virtual elements will feel more natural.