VR @ ISTE 2016

The virtual reality meme evidenced a favored and prominent footprint in both the exhibit hall and conference sessions at the recent ISTE 2016 conference. (The ISTE 2016 educational conference, with over 16,000 in attendance hailing from 76 countries, is the largest ed-tech conference held in the U.S.)

The ISTE conference offered forty-six 3D-VR-AR-related events in their slate of sessions. Of these, seventeen sessions specifically focused on VR in education. A number of interesting trends emerged within the educational VR space, noteworthy drifts. If you will permit me, I would like to position these trends within the context of the English bridal rhyme: “Something olde, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in your shoe”:

Something olde…

Google and Samsung, were up to their usual mischief, garnering overlarge crowds while showcasing their virtual reality solutions. But the most interesting development was the rapid move of two legacy stereo 3D content companies into the burgeoning VR educational content market. offered a strong and centrally located booth presence showing mesmerizing mono and stereo 3D content to passers by, but indicated there were “all in” with VR. “What we’ve done with virtual reality is create content, because that is what’s not there”, stated Pravin Prakash, chief marketing officer, BYJU’s 3D. “Everyone has the devices, so we are converting content that is realistic in [stereo] 3D, creating it in a VR environment, then adding new simulation elements to it.” Prakash emphasized: What we have been able to do is take 16 years of what we’ve done in 3D mono and stereo, plug it into VR and go [forward]. has the largest 3D content collection in the education marketplace, so this news is welcome. I asked Prakash about their time for converting the extensive Eureka elementary and high school collection into VR-ready format. His answer: “As of now, 25% has been converted; by the end of 2016, all content will be converted.”

Google’s VR solution drew the crowds–as usual

Google VR SessionGoogle’s Cardboard VR had a strong presence in ISTE conference sessions too

Samsung VRSamsung VR in action

Eureka VRPravin Prakash speaking about Eureka VR

The same held true for Sterling Pixels, a veteran 3D educational content company. Unlike Eureka, their sales collateral and signage visibly highlighted the 360° and VR learning experience for the first time. Gaurav Ghai, Director of Sterling Pixels, promised: “In virtual reality, we will be doing both interactives and videos (in the field of education). They currently offer more than 1000 3D videos and 300 interactives, but the virtual reality push is coming. See this example of one of their VR interactives that will run on a smartphone:

SterlingGaurav Ghai, Director of Sterling Pixels

Something new…

Minority, a game development company out of Montreal, slipped their business card into my hand, featuring something entirely new and inspired: time travel-themed virtual reality learning experiences. It’s definitely worth taking a look at these virtual reality scenarios.

And in a back room, secreted away in the recessed caverns of the ISTE conference, I met with an Israeli company testing out customer and partner reactions to their finger-based VR gesture and movement controllers. I actually flew a VR drone with my finger tip. I’ll provide more detail in a future article…

Something borrowed…

Peppered throughout the exhibit hall, I witnessed a number of 3D hardware or content companies with ‘hooks’ to the VR meme. These companies don’t sell VR ‘straight up’, but were showcasing their platform’s ability to move in that direction, as needed. These companies ‘borrowed’ VR in their booth displays to create fresh and innovative hooks to their existing products, including companies like Mursion, Unity3D, Visible Body, and zSpace.

Something blue…

In the old wedding rhyme, something blue was included in order to baffle the worrisome evil eye. Speaking of eyes, and a continuing trend that is both unfortunate and sad, the inability of teachers or hardware/content providers in the VR space to understand the vision demands associated with virtual reality continues its miserable march. In my undergrad classes over the last three semesters, more than 20% of all students cannot view 3D virtual reality comfortably, if at all.

At ISTE, I presented on this topic in workshops, poster sessions, and panels, trying to educate folks along the way. In the exhibit hall, only Unity3D and AVRover understood this phenomenon well. As far as educators, some teachers were in denial, while others fell into an ‘aha!’ moment. Most were just quietly learning about this issue. The most telling response about VR’s “evil eye” came from a presenter from Google HQ: “How do you handle that? You know, unfortunately, if they are feeling sick from it, they have to go with the 2D version.” She added: “We are working on it, we are aware that some students for whatever reason are not comfortable with the VR environment. But this is a free product and we try to do our best to accommodate everyone. Generally what happens, in all fairness, this is a very litigious society; we offer this for free, we offer other free educational tools, [and we can’t guarantee everything will work for everyone].”

A silver sixpence in your shoe…

In the wedding rhyme’s mythology, the sixpence served as a symbol of hoped-for prosperity. Best Buy was clearly thinking in terms of their own prosperity formula by going all-in with their VR solution for schools, Google Expedition Kits. Their offering included content, teacher display, tablet control for the teacher, student devices, rapid chargers, router, transport case, and a complete class set of Mattel View-Masters headgear for students, all featured in a prominent display in their booth. Bundle price: $9,999, which comes with Geek Squad technical support. From the looks of it, Best Buy is ready to move muscularly into schools, ready to be a major player, offering a first-at-bat VR solution in the education space.

Best Buy 1Best Buy’s complete classroom VR solution on display

Best Buy 2Cute VR headgear, but unforgiving for students with glasses

Although the virtual reality meme seized a keenly-favored and richly visible position at the ISTE, virtual reality in education remains a highly idiosyncratic and volunteeristic endeavor. Why is that? It’s because research shows that teachers are a volunteeristic and idiosyncratic lot; and that teaching is a volunteeristic and idiosyncratic profession. Teachers will tackle innovation only if they want to, and stay with it only if the technology suits their style and preferences. We’ll have to see. –Len Scrogan