Posted by: crudbasher | April 30, 2015

Another Big Obstacle To VR Seems Solved

You might be wondering why I often post about Virtual Reality. There are several reasons.

  1. I have actually worked in the VR field.
  2. The technology is finally ready to make it a practical, low cost experience
  3. I believe the most effective way to learn is one in which many senses are involved as a whole experience. This is a way to get out of the classroom, virtually speaking.

In order to create an effective VR experience you need to overcome several technical challenge.

  1. The human eye can see at about 8k pixels. This is about 16 times higher than HD. When you see an image like this, you can no longer notice any pixels.
  2. You need the tracking update rate to be at least 60 frames per second. Any slower and you will begin to perceive a lag between moving your head and the screen updating. This can cause motion sickness.
  3. The eye can see nearly 180 degrees in horizontal field of view. To make an immersive VR experience you need to get as close to this as you can. If not, you feel like you are looking through a window, or small opening into the world.

The first two of these are being addressed by various companies with better screens and with optical tracking systems. The third though wasn’t really being worked on to my knowledge. Well, it looks like now it is. :)

A new company on Kickstarted called Wearality has created some cool lenses to fit over a smartphone screen. Supposedly it can do about 150 degrees fov. If that is true, that is fantastic. Right now they want to put it on smartphones but I can see this being adapted rapidly for full VR headsets.

Incidentally I knew one of the guys who are working on this. He’s really smart. :)

Let’s hope this works out and we can finally get the VR show on the road (and into the classroom)!

If you want to read more about why I think Simulation is going to be huge in education read this.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 29, 2015

Great Article On How Teacher’s Jobs Will Change

The worst teacher I had in high school was my history teacher in I think 10th grade. His lecture was him writing notes on the blackboard and we would copy them down. He would do page after page of notes with no talking. Then after we copied down notes for 20 min he would talk about it for a little bit. I got a hand cramp every day. I love history and yet it killed it for me. :(

A few years ago I realized that the great power of the Internet was to empower creative people. If everyone has a (fairly) equal voice, then the people who are most creative will rise to the top. So far, I think that has proven out to be accurate. So can we apply that to schools?

Right now, school is organized on the physical location of teachers and students. A student ends up with a particular teacher, not because that paring would be very effective, but because they live near each other. This was necessary 100 years ago but today it’s not. Therefore I have speculated it is now possible to hook up a teacher and student via the Internet based on the suitability of the paring. Then, the Internet also greatly increases the amount of people a single person can reach at the same time. Put this together and you can see that it is now possible to have a few really good teachers teaching many many students remotely.

With that in mind, I would direct you to a new article in The Atlantic

I describe what I think the public-school classroom will look like in 20 years, with a large, fantastic computer screen at the front, streaming one of the nation’s most engaging, informative lessons available on a particular topic. The “virtual class” will be introduced, guided, and curated by one of the country’s best teachers (a.k.a. a “super-teacher”), and it will include professionally produced footage of current events, relevant excerpts from powerful TedTalks, interactive games students can play against other students nationwide, and a formal assessment that the computer will immediately score and record.

I tell this college student that in each classroom, there will be a local teacher-facilitator (called a “tech”) to make sure that the equipment works and the students behave. Since the “tech” won’t require the extensive education and training of today’s teachers, the teacher’s union will fall apart, and that “tech” will earn about $15 an hour to facilitate a class of what could include over 50 students. This new progressive system will be justified and supported by the American public for several reasons: Each lesson will be among the most interesting and efficient lessons in the world; millions of dollars will be saved in reduced teacher salaries; the “techs” can specialize in classroom management; performance data will be standardized and immediately produced (and therefore “individualized”); and the country will finally achieve equity in its public school system.

Phew that’s quite a block of text. The whole article goes on to say that not only is the author more convinced about this but now he thinks it might be a little as 5 years to happen. To which I will add, once you add realtime translation to the mix you can get teachers from the whole world. Can you imagine a lesson on Japanese art being taught by a Japanese art teacher? Imagine driving a drone through a historical area like the Pyramids of Egypt. Imagine it was equipped with a 360 degree camera so you can use a VR headset to actually be there.

Oh I am darn excited to see how education changes in the next few years!

Posted by: crudbasher | April 27, 2015

Price Of Computing Approaches Zero

There are two main reasons I believe Bring Your Own Device is the way of computing for the future in schools.

First, articles like this where they look at a few very low cost computers. H/T

[W]hat’s fascinating here is that they’re almost entirely removing the price barrier to computing. In other words, you don’t have to compute just with old hardware, or hardware with horrible commercial restrictions. (Remember those so-called “free PCs” from the late 1990s that required sitting through ads all the time and a monthly service contract? That kind of thing is history.) School labs, developing countries, DIY projects, your uncle with the 10-year-old desktop he still refuses to upgrade –these new low-cost machines are shoo-ins.

The price for a given level of performance has kept dropping each year. This means that our computers are essentially disposable devices. Would you use a 5 years old smartphone? Probably not if you had a chance. After 5 years you can buy another one for the same price you paid for the first but get many times the performance.

The second reason is when I read about the LA school district abandoning a program to give every student iPads after squandering over a billion dollars. Let the students bring what device they want and focus on the learning software itself. Pretty soon, these devices will be essentially free.

Here’s a more detailed look at this from a few years ago.

Why Bring Your Own Device To School Is Inevitable

Posted by: crudbasher | April 21, 2015

The Next Star Wars Game Would Be An Amazing Teaching Tool

I used to teach about Video Games. I also like Star Wars (the original trilogy thank you). One of the big challenges facing every teacher is how to interest kids in learning things they don’t want to learn. I have suggested that using advanced simulation techniques can help interest them in learning a lot more than a textbook or video would do.

Behold! Star Wars Battlefront

Just wow! This game is not being released till the end of the year but dang is that amazing looking! So imagine you can take that same quality and use it to craft learning experiences. Imagine sailing a Spanish Galleon, or searching the Amazon Rain Forest for a particular type of insect! Or, imagine playing a Star Wars game where you have to search for something or do some sort of learning puzzle. For example, maybe you have to solve a physics puzzle to repair your ship?

We are on the cusp of this becoming practical. The biggest obstacle right now is actually the cost of development, which is substantial. I think we will have more luck if we can develop games like this using an interface similar to Minecraft. I’ve seen little kids make elaborate Minecraft levels with no programming experience at all.

When you couple graphics like this with Virtual Reality, the implications for education will be profound.

I can’t wait. :)

Posted by: crudbasher | April 17, 2015

How Not To Teach 4 Billion People

Yesterday I talked about how the “developing” world is getting modern communications technology via cell phones. Today I want to tie together two very different stories.

First, a nice piece by Peter Diamandis (he’s the guy who came up with the X-Prizes for various things). H/T Singularityhub

The most dramatic (positive) change in our global economy is about to occur between 2016 and 2020.

Three to five billion new consumers, who have never purchased anything, never uploaded anything, and never invented and sold anything, are about to come online and provide a mega-surge to the global economy.

While most of these individuals are in Africa, India, China, and the developing world, and their income is low, when aggregated, this represents tens of trillions of new dollars flowing into the global economy…and no one is talking about it.

He sees this as happening by 2020. That’s only 5 years! Is it possible to connect 4 billion people in that time? Yes. Yes it is. The rest of the article talks about 4 major efforts to make this happen.

Like every other article like this it talks about how these new people will spend money and consume media. It does not talk about how these people will learn. That’s what I want to talk about. How do you do it? Well, let’s start with how not to do it which leads us to story #2.

I have written before about the LA schools initiative to give iPads to every student. Here’s the results. H/T LATimes

The $1.3-billion iPad effort was a signature program under then-Supt. John Deasy. But it faltered almost immediately during the fall 2013 rollout of the devices. Questions later arose about whether Apple and Pearson enjoyed an advantage in the bidding process; an FBI criminal investigation is ongoing.


“Only two schools of 69 in the Instructional Technology Initiative … use Pearson regularly,” according to an internal March report from project director Bernadette Lucas. “Any given class typically experiences one problem or more daily. Teachers report that the students enjoy the interactive content — when it’s available. When it’s not, teachers and students try to roll with the interruptions to teaching and learning as best they can.”

The remaining schools, she said, with more than 35,000 students, “have given up on attempting regular use of the app.”
Other problems emerged as well, according to that report. District specialists said the materials are not readily adaptable for students who are not proficient in English. And there are no online tests to help guide instruction; the only available assessments are on paper. Nor has Pearson provided data or tools that permit an analysis of how often the curriculum is used or how well it functions.

It failed because clearly not enough money was dedicated to support, the software wasn’t ready and there was no buy in from teachers. I have said this many times: buying iPads for all the students is easy. You just write a check. The problem is, an iPad is a device that is geared to the individual. This doesn’t fit in a system that does not recognize the individual in favor of standardization. In the end, like most government actions, the people involved got rich and the project failed.

So can you apply this to the “developing” world? Well, the cost clearly would be prohibitive right off the bat.

The top down factory model of schooling won’t work for the rest of the world. Because it is too expensive, they will get a chance to experience and develop a disaggregated, roll your own, BYOD model of education. Maybe, like land lines, Africa is going to skip mass public schooling too? I can only hope so.

See more: Searching for a New Model For Learning – Part 4

Posted by: crudbasher | April 16, 2015

Cell Phone Use Skyrockets In Africa

Cell phones and smart phones are rapidly transforming the societies in Africa. Many of these are skipping right past the land line phase and heading straight into the mobile era.

H/T Pewglobal

Cell phones are pervasive in the region. In 2002, roughly one-in-ten owned a mobile phone in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana. Since then, cell phone ownership has grown exponentially. Today, cell phones are as common in South Africa and Nigeria as they are in the United States. Smartphones (those that can access the internet and applications) are less widely used, though significant minorities own these devices in several nations, including 34% of South Africans.

Wow. So what are they using these phones for?

Among cell phone owners in Africa, the most popular activity is sending text messages. Overall, a median of 80% of mobile phone owners across the seven sub-Saharan countries surveyed say they do this with their phones. This includes 95% in South Africa and 92% in Tanzania. In all the countries, at least half of cell phone owners say they send text messages with their devices.

The second most popular activity is taking pictures or videos.

Sounds like how we use the phones in the “developed” world right? Do you know what I see here? A vast amount of people who want to learn. We can’t afford to spend the same amount per pupil that the US does so it will drive innovation to create content cheaply. Therefore, I think we will see more automated schooling for Africa. Combine this with real time language translation and you can start educating the rest of the world.

If nobody in the western world does it, somebody in Africa will. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 10, 2015

Instructions On How To Climb Stairs

A friend of mind posted this link on Facebook the other day.

Instructions on how to climb a staircase

It is hosted on a site called Instructables, which near as I can tell is a site that hosts small instructions like this. It is obviously done tongue in cheek, but it does tell us something about education.

  1. The article is illustrated with pictures and diagrams.
  2. The article obviously took some time to write.
  3. As of this blog post it has been viewed by 23,205 people.

The most remarkable thing about this is the cost to distribute educational content these days is zero and the cost to make it is very nearly zero too. All it cost was time to make it. This thing is a joke and yet it has been seen by over 23,000 people!!

There are videos like this all over Youtube. Here’s one with the same theme. It even has titles and music!

These are spoof videos yes but my point is, if we have gotten to the point where learning can be a spoof, then truly educational content is everywhere and can be done by anyone. You shouldn’t have to pay $71,000 per year for it.

This is the nature of disruptive technology.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 8, 2015

An Amazing Video Of Video Game Graphics

When I look ahead at new ways to learn, I keep coming back to experiential learning. You can read about something as much as you want but nothing can replace actually doing it right? I therefore see two main avenues to do this in a learning setting. First is telepresence. This is using robotic systems like drones to experience something remotely. This technology is exploding right now as we have all seen. The other technology is virtual simulations. The government has been using simulations for decades but the tech is now cheap enough that we can all experience it in a video game. The next generation of video games are becoming very accurate so that means that learning simulations will be right behind them.

Here’s a video of an upcoming racing game called Project CARS, split screened with footage from the actual race car.

That is really amazing! Imagine then being able to work on the cars, design them and build them. What sorts of lessons about mechanical and electrical engineering would you learn?


Posted by: crudbasher | April 4, 2015

Great Article About Implications Of Self Driving Cars

I’ve been looking at self driving cars because it is I think a near term example of a massively disruptive innovation. Within a few decades I think our world will look very different with this one invention. Here’s a list of what I have written so far.

I came across this really good article from investigating the actual implications of self driving cars.


Today’s cars all look pretty similar: most have seating for four or five passengers, a trunk, an engine powerful enough for freeway driving, and a big enough fuel tank for hundreds of miles of driving. Yet for many people, the primary use of their car is for single-person commuting for no more than 10 or 20 miles.

Self-driving cars will allow greater specialization, and therefore greater efficiency. If you’re commuting by yourself, you might be able to hail a 1- or 2-seat vehicle that costs less and gets better mileage. If your trip doesn’t require freeway driving, you might get an super-efficient electric car that doesn’t go faster than 30 miles per hour. When you do need to transport more people or stuff, you’ll be able to get a gasoline-powered minivan or pickup truck at a higher price.

The biggest change, though, may be the rise of vehicles designed for zero people. For example, right now if you order a pizza, it’s usually delivered by a human driver in a full-sized car — that’s thousands of pounds of steel and glass to deliver a pizza that weighs a few pounds. But once you eliminate the need for a human driver, there’s no reason for delivery vehicles to be so big, heavy, and expensive.

That’s just a taste. It’s really good and worth a read. In order to see what is coming in this new century, it is important to understand that everything is up for grabs now. Articles like this can help train your brain to think outside the box.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 2, 2015

Virtually Explore An Asteroid

This is very very cool.

Nasa recently put a space probe into orbit around Vesta, an asteroid beyond Mars. They now have released a fantastic website and app which allows you to fly over the data collected, including images. In addition you can download height maps and if you have a 3d printer you can print out replicas of the terrain.

This is completely fantastic and is definitely something that school children should explore. Heck, I’m going to explore it too! :)

Simulation is going to be more and more relevant to education as we move further into the 21st century.

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