VR/AR at FETC 2023

At the end of my conference session analysis of FETC 2023 last month, I left the reader with a tease about a surprising upsurge in AR and VR sessions. In this short piece, I will try to offer some sense-making about this unexpected development in the education conference world. For context, the ed-tech conference season in the U.S. kicks off at the start of each year with a strong event, the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC), which usually rotates its venue from Orlando to Miami, Florida. This year, it was shuttled to an eager New Orleans. FETC always sets the tone for the year, showcasing what’s up and coming for educational technology in the U.S. market. The conference is now in its 42nd year and they appear to be rebranding as “National FETC.”

As stated before, AR and VR experienced an uptick at FETC 2023, not seen since our nostalgic pre-Covid days. But there’s more. Here is the data along with my humble interpretation of each matter, supplied in italics:

On the rise. Things are definitely on the rise when compared with the previous pandemic-stricken years: augmented reality saw 14 sessions offered, while virtual reality saw 22 sessions offered at FETC 2023. These are numbers that simply cannot be ignored, or can they? A healthy number of the AR sessions seemed to be conducted by Apple, not educators.

Joined at the Hip. VR and AR appeared almost everywhere in the conference in the same breath. Combined sessions. Meaning? That hasn’t always been the case. Perhaps educators are finding more to talk about when these topics are combined, as compared with separating them. Maybe it’s a sign of individual topic weakness.

Meta-Analysis. We witnessed only 5 sessions focusing on Meta. That’s not a very ascendant number. Or is it predictive of continued low interest in the education market?

Nothing New. At FETC 2023, in the arena of AR/VR, nothing earth-shattering, no new content, and no killer app bubbled up to the top. Uh-oh.

It’s definitely hard to explain the slight spiking of educational conference interest in AR/VR, post-pandemic. Frankly, I’m not exuberating much, because I still believe schools and colleges are figuring out how to move forward given the lack of content, the black-swan demise of Google Cardboard, and how to manage shared headgear in a post-covid-scrub-me-down world.