All I Want for Christmas… (VR Version)

As the holiday season speedily approaches, my thoughts are already drifting towards the festive and nostalgic sentiments that accompany this time of year. Two songs immediately come to mind. First, I think of Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is you”.

Next, I recall little Melissa Lynn’s rendering of “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth”.

Thus, in the spirit of the season, and in our era of fast-paced innovation and digital disruption, I would like to propose a few other ditties for your listening pleasure. But first, the backstory. In my undergraduate classes at the University of Colorado-Denver I recently started a process of surveying each incoming cohort about their use of and experience with virtual reality. Now I know there are problems with extrapolating from such a small sample size—although I plan to collect these data for years to come—but the findings from my first twenty-eight respondents clearly aligns with my experience interviewing past cohorts and my knowledge of in-practice teachers, as well.

All I want for Christmas is VR, Daddy…

Uh oh. Only 35.7% of our undergrad students have donned the headgear to even give VR a first try. If you see the world pessimistically, that might mean that the penetration rate for this emerging technology in the consumer market is far below the hype levels we all hear; if you view the world with rose-colored glasses, however, you might see this as a fertile market.

All I want for school is VR, Mommy…

Uh oh, big time. Only 7.1% of our undergrad students report that they have ever explored or used virtual reality in their university coursework. Again, if you see the world pessimistically, that might mean the penetration rate for this emerging technology in the education space is absolutely dismal; and if you envision the world with rose-tinted glasses, you might see this as a potentially bountiful market. Anyone who knows the university education space like I do knows that the former world view may be a more accurate depiction. Things may be only a smidgen better in the K-12 arena, however. The 2017 K-12 Horizon Report offers only a slightly more positive take on this:

“Despite widespread interest and the growing availability of educational content, it will take a few years before VR becomes vital to schools around the world. A survey of educational institutions by Extreme Networks found that although over half of respondents are investigating VR, only a quarter are currently using it in the classroom, while only 3% are teaching students to create VR content”.

All I want for my birthday is insalubrious VR, Grandpa…

It’s appalling these days how much messaging about VR is so very negative. Frankly, at times it’s more startling than the warning messages etched on cigarette packs or the obligatory caveats about pharmaceutical side effects on television ads. Display Daily analyst Matthew Brennesholtz recently pointed me to these Sky VR safety guidelines (the italics are mine):

How do I use the app safely?

  • Whether you’re using the app in a headset or not, please follow these safety guidelines:
  • The app shouldn’t be used by anyone aged under 16.
  • Take breaks frequently when using the app. If at any point you experience nausea, discomfort, eye strain or disorientation, stop using the app and/or headset immediately.
  • Don’t use the app and/or headset while driving, walking, or in any way that distracts you from real-world situations or prevents you from obeying traffic and safety regulations.
  • If you’re feeling impaired or disorientated after using the app and/or headset, don’t drive or operate heavy machinery.
  • If you regularly have, or could be prone to having, seizures, consult with a doctor before using the app and/or headset.

Of course, most of this text is unwarranted; it is issued for reasons of overwrought legal protection. Most of the top medical experts in the field of vision health suggest that some of these guidelines are meaningless and unnecessary. Not based on science. You can get a better picture as to why these problems occur–and why these guidelines are so off-target–in my recent article, “Avast Ye Mateys! A Pirate’s Guide to Virtual Reality“. But can you imagine the message this sends to teachers hoping to use virtual reality in their classrooms or parents/grandparents wishing to gift youngsters with virtual-reality headsets? “Sure, kids, I’ll buy you that coma-inducing contraption!!”

What is it that you most want for Christmas…?—Len Scrogan