Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Virtual Reality and MOOCs: Have you got your headset ready?

I think Virtual Reality is about to change everything. I could be wrong, but the visceral reactions to the use of Oculus Rift are very real and powerful: it's a 'wow!' moment - and we haven't had one of those for some time. There will inevitably be similar devices going to market, but this is an experience which is about to become massive and mainstream. The experiential shift to VR is enormous, but within two years there will be a plethora of Universities offering VR-driven courses. Have you got your headsets ready?

An immersive educational experience is more than a bunch of resources. The whole problem with MOOCs as they stand is that nobody seems to think about the learner experience, which (for the most part) is terrible. VR is different. Exploration, simulation, experimentation are the key principles. Immersion also means that incredibly rich analytics that expose deep areas of human performance become accessible (for the first time) from a distance. Corpuses of patterns of human behaviour in different environments can be established. Pattern matching of behaviour becomes possible to establish predictive actions; unusual actions can be highlighted. Text becomes a thing of the past. Speech-driven interfaces for learner engagement become the norm.

In VR, divisions break down. The division between my living room and my computer screen is no longer there. I may be in a virtual living room with a virtual computer screen, but the whole experience is the learning environment. My reactions are fluid and immediate. The sound environment becomes as important as the visuals. My experience of boredom watching a videoed lecture on calculus becomes part of my own learning which the system can monitor (and adapt to). I do not have to say "I'm bored". I just turn away.

What might this all mean for assessment? With such rich analytics, are there ways of assessing automatically but non-invasively? What does this mean for our concept of 'information' and our relationship with 'the computer'? What might this mean for the management of our institutions? Imagine board meetings where managers don headsets. They look at the graphs of company performance. They look away. Every reaction is available for analysis. Would people be scared? Or would it encourage them to articulate what they really feel but rather not say?

What about emotion? Computers are cold machines. But might immersion provide ways in which people might form attachments? Are we looking at genuinely aesthetic interfaces? Those academics looking at Neo-Sentience think so. We will to wait and see. But if the emotional aspects of learning are made available through VR then I think this is the biggest game-changer. It will also change how we think about information.

Education is emotional. Love matters. We've convinced ourselves that emotion doesn't matter because it was too difficult to deal with, and it inconveniently got in the way of our moves toward massifying education online. If VR changes this then we will have to look again at all the cold, hard, bureaucratic nonsense we've built up around education over the last 20 years. Learning Outcomes? How do you feel about that?! Competency? Get lost!! But how do you feel? You don't have to write.. or even say...

Just shake you head...


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Interactive design

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