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    99p Virtual Reality and the implications for video in HE

    By Matt Jenner, on 16 November 2015

    Consumer-ready virtual reality is just around the corner

    Next year is touted as a potential for the ‘year of VR’ and as a wonderful precursor, people are already selling the hardware  required for only 99p. Some are even giving it away. This will ripple into higher education with video being a likely contender for early adopters. But what is VR and how does one get it for 99p (or free)? Well you need a smartphone and around 10-15 minutes of your life…

    What is VR?

    Virtual reality was resting firmly in the ‘cold’ part of the ‘what’s hot’ spectrum for about 20 years; but over the last 18-24 months it has leaped from the ice to the fire in a rapid way. It is now so cheap you can have it for 99p; which smacks the technology depreciation/throw-away market so hard in the face it may have to reinvent itself too (some people already talk of throwaway tablets). But what does it mean, and why does higher education care?

    If you want to find out about VR I’d point you back to a previous post, or you should search around the internet a little bit. It’s an emerging technology which places screens very close to your head, and sensors to know where you’re looking, to simulate you being in another environment. It also needs a computer to power the images you see, and the movements you make to look/move around it.

    Oculus Touch - Coming Q1 2016

    Oculus Touch – Coming Q1 2016

    Oculus Rift is a simple example of a complex tech landscape. Popularised when bought by Facebook for $lots the technology plugs into your computer and can provide you with an experience which some say is immersive, and others say is nauseating or induces cybersickness. But please remember, these are developer units; they’re not consumer friendly (yet – Q1 2016 isn’t far off). This sickness is as close as you may ever want to get to experiencing a software bug!

    Oculus, and many others, share a similar trait – they need a powerful computer to use them. I’ve tried it on my Macbook Air – I had forgot the machine had a fan; it became too hot to touch (near the back). The lagginess from the ultraportable didn’t help the sickness. All in all, eww & gross. Some other laptops are better, but it’s still a little off-putting when you’re new toy needs to be put away and you need to go lie down as recovery.

    Enter: the smartphone.

    Google Cardboard was a mini-revolution in the VR field. Being provocative, ‘not evil’ and generally idiosyncratic in their approach, Google released what seemed like the most basic VR product possible – Cardboard. This was a few years ago now but it enabled anyone with a smartphone to start playing/developing. Developers, techies and big children started buying these and exploring a new world.

    Smartphone + Video = one way to VR

    Your smartphone is insanely powerful for the size of it. It has a tiny display, a powerful CPU and GPU, motion sensors, location awareness, it is personalised and portable. Slotting it into a Google Cardboard now makes it a Virtual Reality device; as it can show content and sense your every movement. It’s also low-threshold, in some sense, because you are already comfortable with it. Video on smartphones is already mainstream. So what about 360, spherical or immersive video?

    Waves over Grace - vrse.works. Src: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2015-09/01/waves-of-grace-ebola-virtual-reality-film/viewgallery/539671

    Waves over Grace – vrse.works. Source

    One example is vrse.works who released two documentaries; Clouds Over Sidra and Waves of Grace. These two UN-backed ‘films’ were two, touching, compelling and utterly enthralling pieces of cinematic content. Watchers in a UN building, somewhere nice and safe, watched in Clouds Over Sidra how Sidra, a young girl in the Za’atari Refugee Camp and having fled from Syria, would offer a chance to explore her world. Chris Milk, Director at vrse.works commented in a TED talk how VR can be a bridge to empathy for the experiences of others.

    99p VR

    Google Cardboard wasn’t technically doing too much; it’s a complex puzzle the first time but you’re folding cardboard, adding lenses and sticking on a magnet. Children can do this; and many will this Christmas. The reason why? Cheap manufacturing has taken the cheap Google Cardboard and made it as cheap as the market can go; 99p! I have hunted on eBay and bought four of the rival offerings. I’ll report back with which is best, but from experience I am sure they’re all the same.

    Free VR

    NYT- Free VR Kit

    NYT- Free VR Kit

    Just to kick it to everyone – on Sunday 8th November 2015 the New York Times gave a free Cardboard VR kit to every reader.  Just to make a point? At this stage it doesn’t really matter; it got VR into another new audience, NYT readers (or their family/friends). You might even know someone with an unused voucher from their digital subscription, or willing to share theirs. NYT also released an App to share content and introduce their first documentary shot for the giveaway. Maybe, just maybe, they know it’s a part of the future landscape of journalism (like VICE News knows already) and want to break their readers in gently…

    Back to the content – video first

    Google Cardboard is also an app for Android and iOS. It has a video player which links to YouTube, which now supports 360 and VR video. If that doesn’t mean anything to you – STOP – and load this link (on your smartphone is best)

    Welcome back to 2015

    People are already making this content and there is a whole YouTube channel dedicated to it. There are also an increasing amount of apps for games, simulations, experiences, stories, social networking, explorable environments and more.

    So what about higher education?

    Video is the first logical step for changing HE. Who has not tried, or considered, lecture capture yet? Obiquity is likely but not so for VR, not yet anyway. To make 360/VR/spherical video you’ll need at least a 360 degree camera, which are also still quite expensive. But with this you’ll be able to capture any environment, action or event that is taking place. The trick isn’t necessarily in the editing, it’s in the experience you’re trying to capture. Imagine a researcher on a field trip; taking the watcher to a place they simply couldn’t go. Lab experiments can capture multiple synchronous events. How about an event that is so hard to replicate that you’ve only really got one shot – a rocket launching, blue moon Panda birth-type thing. The kind of event you want to capture but can’t even predict what should be in the frame, and what shouldn’t. VR video offers the playback of the whole environment, the viewer choses what to watch. It’s experimental now; but the power shifts towards the experience of viewing. Additionally; cameras can go when you can’t send a person; a volcano, to Mars or into the body – all quite tricky.

    Proper VR needs a powerful amount of hardware; 99p VR does not. Video is a way in.

    Limitation, there are still a few:

    • You need a smartphone. The cardboard on it’s own is only going to distort the back of a pice of cardboard – very real, not very virtual.
    • The official Google Cardboard app is for Android and iOS and it has a load of great content already (and more coming).
    • It’s 99p. It will not feel comfortable, it’ll break, get dirty easily and probably not hold all types of smartphone.
    • The really cheap ones don’t come with a strap for your head, so it’s hands-up to hold it.
    • They are not shaped to any head.
    • You’ve still got to put a thing on your head. Daftness points++

    Summary

    Throw it around, take it places and share it with people. It’s so cheap that 99p cardboard VR is worth the experiment if you have a smartphone. Also once used (or you’ve got bored of it) pass it on. Someone else can try it.

    Conclusions

    VR is nauseating but it also bring people right into an experience. Bugs will be fixed, hardware will improve, but this lack of gap between cheap and professional is similar to disposable cameras and SLRs. Say what you will about the smartphone requirement but it’s ever-more true that the world is connected via these devices. If they can also deliver a VR experience (and soon, capture them), imagine what’ll it be like when we’re all making the content too. It’s unlikely to become an immediate new must-have, but VR is coming and lodging itself in.

    Closing thought on distance learning and virtual reality

    I am learning, but the power of giving cheap VR to distance learners is certainly something to keep an eye on. This is one of my topics for exploration during 2016. I think it offers a unique and unchallenged method for connecting remote people to important things. We’ll see where it goes.

    Have you met BoB?

    By Natasa Perovic, on 9 October 2014

    Box of Broadcast

    Box of Broadcast

    BoB (Box of Broadcasts) National is an innovative shared online off-air TV and radio recording service for UK higher and further education institutions.

    Staff and students can record programmes from 65+ TV and radio channels.  The recorded programmes are kept indefinitely in an media archive, which currently stores over 2 million programmes and are shared by users across all subscribing institutions. The archive also includes searchable transcripts and one click citation referencing.
    The recordings can be set before or after the broadcast (30 day recording buffer). The programmes can be edited into clips and shared with others. They can also be embedded into Moodle.
    To start using BoB, log in with your UCL user details http://bobnational.net/

    HEA Senior Fellowship Case Study Series: 3 – Facilitating communities of practice at UCL and beyond

    By Matt Jenner, on 14 August 2014

    As a four-part series I am openly publishing my case studies previously submitted for my Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. I submitted my application in February 2014. If you’re interested in this professional recognition programme, please visit their webpages and look through the Professional Standards Framework (PSF). UCL runs an institutional model for fellowships called ARENA, your institution may run one too – speak to people!

    Case study 3 – Facilitating communities of practice at UCL and beyond

    At UCL I have facilitated and been involved in two active communities of practice. One external group called ‘Moodle User Group Greater London’ (MUGGL)[1] is for e-learning professionals with an interest in ‘Moodle’ – an online learning environment. More historically, I helped this community have an agenda for meetings with a colleague, Sarah Sherman in a neighbouring university consortia the ‘Bloomsbury Learning Environment’ [2]. The other, the ‘Distance Learning, CPD and Short Courses Network’[3], is an internal network I help steer for colleagues at UCL. These communities focus on “sharing best practices and creating new knowledge to advance a domain of professional practice”[4]. Drawing on my enthusiasm for e-learning and connecting people, the communities I facilitate take me beyond my desk and into the wider sector (A5, V3, V4).

    People often disappear into enclaves, with daily priorities overarching valuable reflective opportunities. I work responsively to sustain and grow communities with common needs, values, locale and domain of discourse. All too often communities around information technology end up as one-way monologs beset by dry jargon. Instead I plan active pedagogically-focused sessions and encourage sharing and collaboration. This provides a vital source of information, future utility (V3) and cross-sector discovery (A4).

    I regularly participate in wider CPD events and read literature in the areas of distance learning, MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) and e-learning to remain current in my understanding and share my experiences within networks and social media (V3). For the internal community, I organise and deliver centralised updates from professional services and the wider context of relevant developments so colleagues can gain purview of the changing landscape of higher education and e-learning (V4).

    Both communities started three to four years ago as special interest groups created around particular foci. I have encouraged expansion of both networks, with events often attracting 50–150 people and a core membership of many times that figure. With this increasing range of members I must ensure to maintain respect for the needs of the group when planning three-four hours of their professional development time (V1). Communities are grown, not constructed, and sharing and learning cannot be “legislated into existence”[5]. I sideline my leadership in alignment with members’ interests to ensure events are planned with consultation and encouragement for active participation in each session. I make events accessible by adding remote attendance options and capturing them on video, to encourage participation and preserve inclusion for the diverse members of the community (V2).

    I have received feedback stating I “did a great job organizing everyone and your presentation was beautiful”. Comments for MUGGL events have noted a “big crowd for the #muggl Moodle 2 meeting today” and “spent the morning at #muggl good presentations from @mattjenner […] we watch and learn!” Connecting people is an integral part, with one group visit commenting “how proud we are to work in such an engaging institution. Most participants left inspired”. In relation to expanding the community a senior member of staff spoke of a well-attended event that “the increase in numbers and interest across campus reflects the importance of this area”. Feedback is can be sporadic, but I take comments on board for future sessions and resolving any issues.

    (515 words)

    HEA Professional Standards Framework links referenced in this case study:

    Areas of Activity

    • A4 Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance
    • A5 Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices

    Professional Values

    • V1 Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities
    • V2 Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners
    • V3 Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development
    • V4 Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice


    [1] https://sites.google.com/site/moodlelondon/

    [2] http://www.bloomsbury.ac.uk/ble

    [3] https://www.mailinglists.ucl.ac.uk/mailman/listinfo/distancelearning

    [4] http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/nli0531.pdf

    [5] Dubé, L., Bourhis, A. & Jacob, R. (2005). The impact of structuring characteristics on the launching of virtual communities of practice. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 18(2): 145-166.

    Second time round – making a MOOC better

    By Rod Digges, on 6 March 2013

    I’ve just watched Professor Keith Devlin of Stanford and a colleague being interviewed about their first experiences of running a MOOC last September. The interview touched on some of the lessons they’d learned which they’re hoping to use to improve the second iteration of their popular MOOC on mathematical thinking. The second version kicked off a few days ago on the 4th March.
    I enjoyed the interview and Professor Devlin’s obvious enthusiasm and humility regarding his role as teacher made it easy to warm to him as a person. Some interesting points are made regarding changes to the course after analysis of the demographic and feedback from students. Much of the discussion revolves around the importance that Professor Devlin places on trying to put a human face to a  ‘dry’ subject made potentially even dryer by it’s mode of delivery.

    The interview suggests that the team have succeeded, at least to some extent, in creating a feeling of instructor presence resulting, they think, in students committing more to the course than they otherwise might have. Worth a look for anyone interested in the development of distance learning, but also interesting  perhaps for tutors involved in the teaching of large cohorts of students and also concerned about issues of de-personalisation.

    The interview can be viewed at:       https://class.coursera.org/maththink-002/lecture/126

    Unfortunately you have to create a Coursera account to view the interview which forms part of the introductory material to the new course – fortunately it’s free!

    Professor Devlin is also maintaining  ‘A real-time chronicle of a seasoned professor who is about to give his second massively open online course.’   a (probably) unique opportunity to get behind the scenes and see some of the thinking behind the development of this MOOC as it unfolds. To read more got to: http://mooctalk.org/

    Live blog as an edX CS50x student – Part 2

    By Matt Jenner, on 11 November 2012

    This is the second blog post in a series of unknown length! Part 1 can be found here. 

    In this post I will summarise [ramble] my next steps into the world of learning via a MOOC (massive online open course to you) from Harvard.

    First of all, I am so typical. I came onto edX in a view to being excited, interested and wrapped up in the idea of going back to do computer science. So obviously the next thing that happened was that I went back to my life, and didn’t put enough into my online course. This instantly highlights a few things:

    1. Motivation is key to [my] learning
    2. Time on task is crucial
    3. Procrastination is easy

    So, with that said, I’d like to spend a little time working out why I’m struggling to put ‘effort’ into my learning for CS50x…

    (tiny update: Problem Set 1  -finished & submitted)

    (more…)

    Live blog as a CS50x student (Harvard edX course)

    By Matt Jenner, on 16 October 2012

    To mark the launch of edX (Harvard and MIT’s joint initiative into the world of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) I am attempting to live blog my journey. Every time I do something (yes, like a real person I’ll be inconsistent) I’ll blog about it here. One of the main reasons for doing this is to show what it’s like to be on one of these courses as a real student. I don’t know much about Computer Science, despite just finishing an MSc so I’ll be sure to cover what and how I’m learning. If I fail, or succeed, I’ll blog about it.

    If you’re interested in finding out how I get on, click through the link and read more…

    (more…)