Tag Archives: Learning

London VR Meetup Special Education Rocked.

Monday evening was my first VR meetup for developers, special education; right down my alley.  Really dynamic, full of enthusiastic developers and makers, a few exciting demos on the first floor and loads of speakers on the ground floor.  All this in a good old fashion London building, the Hackney House.  This blog will cover mostly my experiences with all the demos I have experienced.

The speaker room

First thing I tried was the full body VR immersion kit. It took some time to adjust all the straps around every main bones. Once calibration is done,  fit the Oculus Rift on your head and there you are looking in the mirror at your avatar,  a character attached to your  body and movements. Despite the lack of space (the casual black environment),  a sense of scale was given by a couple of statues. A few tweaks using UX interface designed by Dr Harry Brenton, and you have a tail, a gigantic arm or an alien head. The level of presence get higher with every step. I can’t wait to have full hand and fingers tracked.

Harry Brenton slide on Character Design

The next experience was a real-time holograph in VR. You get the headset on to meet the holographic projection of someone in Lithuania in real-time. She couldn’t see me, though, I could see her, and talk to her over the phone saying “hello” and she would wave her hands. Not yet like in Ghost in the Shell but it works, telepresence, yes!  However, it would be nice to have a sense of  geographic location in the environment, wouldn’t it?

The most exciting demo was about making VR in VR by Constructive Labs.  Still in an early stage, the demo let you manipulate objects in VR using HTC Vive and controllers like you would use the mouse and keyboard in 3Dsmax or Unity. On top, we were able to do that in interaction with another person. Their idea is to develop a VROS, Virtual Reality Operating system.  Pretty cool stuff! However, again, the environment was really poor. They just used a model of a random brick tower as a gimmick surrounding.

The last demo I tried was more on the interactive storytelling treat made by Bandits Collective. Following the hot panel discussion about 360 video a bit earlier in the evening, I think they nailed it quite well. Their intro for a short movie brings you in a computer generated 360 environment animation based and stylish. It is the environment that make you stay where you are and look where the action happens, though you can check all around and even move. There is no interaction. The action is happening around you. Very promising!

There were a couple of other demos with cardboard and other mobile VR. We know what we get there. I am much more interested with what we don’t know. There is still so much to explore, mostly for me, as you can tell, about spatial environment in VR.   On those four demos, only the 360 story has a designed spatial environment that support the experience.

Virtual Reality Immersion for Christmas.

Over Christmas, my son and I had the opportunity to play around with the HTC Vive. Straightforward to set up, you need at least 2 by 2 meters of free space to enjoy the full range of motion. Overall, that was a couple of weeks of awesomeness. Follows a few lines on the games and experiences we have tried out.
  • “The Lab”: After the tutorial, this is the first place from where you start and learn the trick of the trade of the Vive. The main thing is to get use to moving around by pointing, with one of the controller, a ray of light  on a virtual grid on the floor. Then, pressing the trigger will teleport you to the pointed location. I am not totally convince by this method. It still gives me a kind of thickness and definitely reduce the feeling of presence.

    The Lab – Where you start to use the grid to teleport around
  • “Rec Room” : my son’s favorite. He  played in there for hours. The stranger thing in Rec Room is that you play with strangers; you talk to them like they are just in front of you in the room. Well in a way that’s where they are,  virtually next to you. Then you make a team and go playing a exciting paintball or football game, even though they actually are in another country.

    Rec Room, playing paint ball game with some frenchy.
  • Portal Stories: VR”:  love it, my personal favorite game. Really good adaptation of an already so clever and fun game. A perfect match for the HTC vive. In one sentence, the game is about getting out of a room to the next. It is all about the room. Your living room suddenly develop an infinite potential.

    Portal Stories: VR
  • “Irrational Exuberance: Prologue” : this introduction to a new kind of experience is really well design with subtlety. It starts from a very dark environment with just the title and some strange sphere of energy in your hands. They are encouraging you to use those to follow the sphere that goes along the title itself. Then you start to perceive some pieces of stone floating around. Instinctively, you want to push them away, then they break in smaller pieces. Doing the same movement a bit further, at some point you will hit something bigger which will break as well to bring you a glimpse of the outer space. This is the actual wall that surrounds you. By break the wall, you realise that you are standing inside a meteorite. The experience is very immersive, and taking you to a place you couldn’t have imagine. We want to see more of that!

    Irrational Exuberance: Prologue by Buffalo Vision Immersion:
  •  “Google Earth VR” :  bring you as a giant on earth. It is a fantastic feeling to be able to jump from one city to the next. I loved landing effortlessly at the top of the world on Mount Everest

    Google Earth VR
  •  “Engage” is a Educational Virtual Learning Platform. That is where I get very exited. That is the core of my research project: how can we use this amazing technology to enhance the learning experience, to change education for ever?

    Engage – Main hall with the whale
We tried a few other applications as well like this architectural walkthrough “Bund88” which was not easy to load up probably due to the very quality of the render. However, the experience was so realistic. This is definitely a game changer for the architecture and real estate industry. The Roller coaster just made me sick, no comment. No problem for my son though.

The HTC vive is just one more convincing step towards the development of a new medium with a huge potential not only for entertaining  but more for learning and sharing new skills and knowledge between people all over the world.

I was in those virtual worlds more than two weeks ago and still, I can close my eyes and vividly remember the different environments and interactions I lived then as it was this morning.  We learn through experience. That is what VR is all about. We are barely scratching the surface of this new tool that has the potential to positively impact the world.

Transforming the classroom into a learning environment.

The purpose of school

The purpose of school hasn’t changed since classical antiquity: grouping students in a centralised location so they could learn from the same teacher. They are able to develop and acquire new skills on different levels: intellectual, economical, political and social  (The purpose of school). A school can have one or many classrooms. A classroom is the space, the environment in which class are held.

Classroom Factory

However, this purpose has always been a double edge sword: opening the mind of each student on one hand and teaching the same knowledge and the same skills to the group on the other hand. The roman empire in need for efficiency started to educate clever but like minded citizen to govern over their vast territory. More or less, two thousands years later, the British Empire was in need for just more of the same. With the demand for mass education started at the end of the 18th century and his industrial revolution, the classroom model was pushed to the extreme. This has barely changed since then. Actually, there is not a field depending on information and communication that hasn’t dramatically changed with the booming of new technologies apart from education.

Why is this model not valid any more?

The main issue I would like to discuss about is related to the way students are still taught in the classroom: one teacher instructing un large group of students using rote learning as the main method to retain information. If you are not going to use the information you have rote learned on a regular basis, it will not last in memory for long. Hence, why do we have to remember it? To pass exams. Why do we pass exams? Because it is the best way they came up to standardise everyone’s level in a factory based education. That way, wherever they were send in the empire, they would be able to fill in the same files, the same way. Hundred fifty years later, our civilisation has evolved. On one hand, the empire doesn’t exist anymore, there is no more centralised administration; on the other hand, we don’t need to rote learn because information is accessible in real time at the tip of the finger from anywhere.

What twenty first century world needs is people that can think differently, that can associate things that has never been associated before, people that can come with completely new ways of thinking. To understand how to shift our perspective, first, let’s go through the different models of the classroom?

Four classroom models

There are four main  models of classroom: the “classical-model” with a master and an apprentice, the “analogue factory-model” with one teacher lecturing a group of students, the “flipped-model” which is more student-centred using digital technology but still based on “classroom model”, and the “immersive model” which would immerse the student in an environment customised to his own level of learning and experience which is actually much more like the “classical-model” but scalable to today’s population.

Plato's Academy

The classical-model was a very human way of sharing knowledge. Going back as far as Plato’s school of philosophy that took place in Akademia, the model was based on dialectic. The main difference was made between seniors and juniors. They were learning by trying to resolve different problems and through dialogues with their pairs.

The Factory Model

With the industrial revolution and the exponential population growth, we had to rationalise the classroom. Following Horace Mann approach from the mid-19th century, the classroom was shaped around a group of 28 students in a 800 square foot room: the analogue-factory model. This is the model that still represents the vast majority of classroom on earth. (The following post gives a deeper view into the problem: How to Break Free of Our 19th-Century Factory-Model Education System.)


The last couple of decades have seen all sort of experiences using online technologies to propose “new ways” to learn. The “flipped classroom” is when students learn most of what they need outside the classroom, usually online, and use the classroom to do their “homework”. The teacher can then assist them if they request any help.  Student can learn at their own pace although online video-lecture are actually still based on the analogue-factory model where one teacher is lecturing many students. This usually happens through a screen using a mixture or graphic interface and videos that can bring a lot of other distractions as well. We can find some thorough practical comparisons between 2D and 3D  learning environment in K. Kapp’s book: “Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration”. This brings us to the last classroom model: the “immersion model”.Flipped Classroom

Immersion has always been the best way to learn anything. Language is a great example. The best way to learn a language is to leave with a native speaking family in their country and city. The association between words, people, places and overall cultural context will drive the speed with which the language will be learn. Of course they are many reasons stopping us to apply the immersion method to acquire more knowledge or to learn new skills. We can’t afford sending each kid all over the world in families to learn new languages. That being said, can we use technologies to simulate this kind of immersive environment?

Immersive environment.

Let’s take another example. How can we apply the “immersion model” to learn mathematics. Depending on the specific area to be covered, the participant would immerse himself inside a mathematical universe, guided by mathematicians. They would explain different concepts with all their heart, walk the participant through, then propose to practice with some practical situations. For instance, a child that is learning division would be presented with cubes that could be cut into smaller cubes and put back together as many time as needed. The child can manipulate the cubes, throw them around, put them back together, watch them from every angles, compare with bricks or planets, only his imagination would be a limit. Watch this demo from Goldsmiths Computing Department  to get a hint on the potential of VR.

Mixed Reality Car

This is where Virtual Reality (VR) comes into play. VR has the potential to immerse a participant in such a way that his experience would be as powerful as experimenting in real life or even more powerful as it can be specifically design. Moreover, participants are able to experience it from anywhere, any time without the physical world constraints. Future posts will expand my research in this exciting field crossing over technology, art, science and imagination.

Questions for future posts:

  • How does humans acquire a sense of space in the physical world? How does it compare to virtual environment?
  • What is Virtual Reality, how does it have the potential to expand our real life experience?
  • What is the role of architecture in designing Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

The science behind the best memorisers in the world

I can not miss the opportunity to post such a great article about the science behind the best memorisers in the world. Even the the Wired magazine is on this phenomenon.

Johannes Mallow, Extreme Memory Tournament Champion, can memorise an 80-digit sequence in 21.01 seconds. Scientists are now turning to him to unlock the secrets of memory.

Source: How science is studying ‘mental athletes’ to help you remember (pract…

Spatial Intelligence for who?

Enactive space.

I am working on this paper : “Spatial Cognition in the Virtual Environment“by Kimberley Osberg. Published in 1997, it doesn’t bring anything new, although it offers a practical way of applying constructivist theories to help a group of children with spatial processing difficulties. Before getting into the experiment details, the author describe a broad range of research concerned with the positive relationship between spatial exercise and spatial processing skills.

With a background based on Piaget’s stages of childhood development, the following paragraph makes an accurate description of one of the main reason that drive my research: the reduction of our spatial realm in the learning environment. She wrotes:

Howard Gardner (1993) is also a strong advocate of “spatial intelligence”, and its relationship to other intelligences and cognition. In Gardner’s view, spatial ability and spatial cognition are the basic building blocks that a child needs in order to develop higher level thinking skills, specifically those that complement verbal processing skills. As we move closer towards being an “intellectual” rather than an “enactive” (Bruner, 1966) learning society, the opportunity and necessity for practice in the spatial realm has been minimized. However, fully half of the population, when tested, indicates a preference for visual rather than verbal learning style. (Kirby et al, 1988) Learning style preference has been given little attention with regard to curriculum or assessment development. Gardner’s answer is to re-integrate development of all of the intelligences that he has identified back into the curriculum, in appreciation of a holistic approach to both individuals and the education process.