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Virtual-Reality Sharks in the Classroom

shark2_getty.jpgSharks! Virtual reality! Kids!

Gosh, that felt good. After a week of covering bills to overhaul FERPA and protect student-data privacy, the introduction of federal broadband programs for public-housing residents, and the demise of support for Microsoft Server, the team here at Digital Education really needed something a little less weighty and wonky to send us into the weekend.

Thankfully, the good folks at virtual-reality development firm hyperactiveVR obliged. From the pitch I received about Shark!VR, the new program the company is working to develop:

I'm part of a team that has partnered with shark expert Ryan Johnson (Discovery Channel, Nat Geo) to create a virtual reality education program for students about sharks. The goal of the program is create greater awareness and respect for sharks by educating students through an immersive experience at home and in the classroom. The program will teach students all about sharks and allow them to swim and interact with sharks virtually. 

Just what the doctor ordered.

There is a serious angle to this, alas. 

Last August, we wrote about the Oculus Rift (one of the virtual-reality devices that Shark! is developing for) and its potential classroom applications. Over the past year has been a lot of excitement about the Oculus device and platform, but very little movement, at least in K-12. A long-awaited consumer version of the Rift has yet to be made available. The latest promise is "early next year," according to a recent San Francisco Chronicle article.

At the recently held annual conference of the International Society for Technology in Education, a number of new competitors showed off similar devices. Competitors include Sony's Project Morpheus, the HTC Vive, the Razer OSVR, and the Avegant Glyph.

A session on 3-D tools in education contained some cool examples, but it seems many developers are still stuck on two types of content: anatomy, for science classes, and architectural ruins, for social studies.

And at ISTE, I also got the chance to talk with folks connected with the SEED school of Maryland, a public-boarding school in Maryland. Educators at the school have begun using a developer's version of the Oculus Rift with their students, including working with teens to develop their own virtual-reality worlds that can be explored on the device.

But as Education Week detailed last year, the leap from cool one-off projects to a widely used classroom tool is a huge one, and many previous virtual-reality dreams have fallen well short.

For the time being, then, we'll have to content ourselves with the possibilities.

Like sharks.

HyperactiveVR has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for their project.

"Using a fully immersive underwater world, our goal is to promote a healthy understanding of how sharks move through our world, interact within their environments, and fill a necessary role within ecosystems," the company writes.

The program, if completed, would be available for Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.

And, just in case, a 2-D desktop version will be available, too.


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