VR + Education: A Learning Adventure for All

There has been a lot of buzz about augmented and virtual reality this past week in Kansas City, and not just because of PokemonGo. Kansas City’s first virtual reality hackathon took place over the weekend – and we gave it an educational spin!

The focus of the event, hosted by KCVR, was to make virtual and augmented reality accessible. It served as an opportunity to bring together educators interested in how the technology could benefit their students with developers eager to learn how to build virtual games and experiences.

A KCVR Hackathon participant tests the Hololens during team networking.

A KCVR Hackathon participant tests the Hololens during team networking.

What if stepping into the classroom or library meant stepping into anywhere? Essentially that’s the core promise of virtual reality. There is amazing potential to create new learning environments that are immersive and engaging. It’s as much about the technology as how you use it. Augmented and virtual reality technologies literally make it possible for educators to put the world into our kids’ hands.

Over the course of a weekend, teams of educators, designers, developers, and students – most with little to no experience working with virtual reality (VR) – came together to build amazing projects that demonstrate how the emerging technology could be used to impact learning. Event co-hosts Steve Biegun and Andrew London, also the co-founders of KCVR, gave demos on platforms like A-Frame and Unity and talked about where the technology is going. They also jumped around from team to team to provide advice and help troubleshoot.

Project ideas ranged from historical journeys and virtual reading experiences to game based challenges for understanding the laws of physics. Educators worked alongside developers to conceptualize projects and advise on classroom applications. Developers with no previous VR experience prototyped with A-Frame, rolled up their sleeves to figure out how to incorporate motion sensor devices with VR headsets, and applied their code know-how in to build virtual environments in platforms like Unity. A local 13 yr old student with an interest in coding even joined a team to help out!

Niko Cano, a 9th grade student in Kansas City, tests Tilt Brush while helping her team, LIFE, come up with educational VR game ideas.

Niko Cano, a 9th grade student in Kansas City, tests Tilt Brush while helping her team, LIFE, come up with educational VR game ideas.

After a weekend of building and hacking, teams presented their projects to a panel of judges – Steve Biegun and Andrew London, Aaron Deacon of KC Digital Drive, and Brooke Cashion with zSpace.

And the winners were…

Best educational impact: Team Pennez presented a concept for building out libraries of virtual reading experiences to improve children’s literacy.

Best use of technology: The Data XRAY team presented an application that combined the Hololens with IoT technologies to display uses of connected devices.

Most engaging: The LIFE team presented a series of VR games to help children learn math and science. The games also incorporated motion sensor technology.

The entire weekend was an adventure in learning. As teams worked to develop virtual experiences to enhance learning opportunities for others, many were also learning how to build with VR for the first time. It was INCREDIBLE!

Local coverage of the event by the Kansas City Star and KCUR.

Mozilla’s Curriculum Specialist shares some ideas for VR in education.

Have a project idea? Learn more about Mozilla’s Gigabit Community Fund.

Follow @HiveKC on Twitter to learn more about events taking place in Kansas City.

If you’re in KC and interested in VR, attend a KCVR meetup.

Takeaways from ISTE 2016

The country’s largest education technology conference took place in Denver this past week and I was excited to be there! Nearly 20,000 k-12 educators, university professors, students, reporters, and ed tech company representatives gathered to explore how technology can be used to transform learning.

“I See What You Mean,” aka the giant blue bear peering into the lobby from outside of the Denver Convention Center

“I See What You Mean,” aka the giant blue bear peering into the lobby from outside of the Denver Convention Center

People and ideas were in constant motion. Wide-eyed educators were everywhere and ready to take in as much as possible when it came to applying technology to innovate learning. I’ve been to a lot of conferences, but none quite like this!

The ISTE 2016 conference was jam packed with opportunities for learning and building, and it was clear that educators had created their own personalized learning plans to make the most of it. Attendees filled session rooms, gathered around poster presenters, spent time in makerspaces, and connected with companies in the expo hall to discover new ways to use educational technology to enhance learning and engage their students.

Interactive sessions covered topics from shaping learning spaces to the latest gizmos and gadgets – many of them with lines out the door! Digital playgrounds and makerspaces invited hands on learning with everything from 3D printing to robots and Raspberry Pi’s. Powerful speakers like Dr. Michio Kaku and Ruha Benjamin challenged conference participants to think differently and more boldly about the intersections of technology, education and society.

Educators building in the ISTE Makerspace

Digital citizenship, making, project-based learning, and emerging tech trends all had strong showings at ISTE 2016. (Jason Ohler’s session ‘Five Trends that Bend’ was a big hit! Here is the slide deck.) Other trending topics included designing innovative learning environments, approaches for collaboration and communication, and utilizing online tools and resources.

Virtual reality also had a big presence.

Samsung released a survey during the conference revealing that 93 percent of teachers feel their students would be excited to use virtual reality, and 83 percent believe it can help improve learning outcomes — from better understanding of academic concepts to increased engagement and collaboration. Amazing! According to the study, the top three subjects teachers think can benefit from virtual reality are: science (82 percent), social studies (81 percent) and history (81 percent).

Given those numbers, it’s no surprise that dozens of sessions focused on the emerging technology. One of my favorites was a session led by Hall Davidson from Discovery Education on the 3R’s – QR (quick response), AR  (augmented reality), and VR (virtual reality). Here’s the slide deck full of ideas and resources.

It was inspiring to see so many educators on a common journey to innovate learning and powerful to witness how much technology is being developed or applied to advance education.

If you’re in Kansas City and interested in using virtual reality in your learning space, join us and KCVR for a VR Hackathon July 15-17.

Stay tuned for information on the next round of funding opportunities through the Gigabit Community Fund to support hi-tech technologies for learning in Austin, Chattanooga, and Kansas City.

Learn more about Mozilla’s tools and resources for teaching web literacy.

Advancing the Promise of Gigabit Internet for Learning in Austin

A Next Generation Learning Opportunity

What if every child in Austin had the opportunity to deploy a network of digital sensors to analyze local air and water quality? Utilize studio-grade audio tools without special hardware, straight from a web browser? Connect flawlessly with peers in classrooms across the city to co-work on collaborative projects? Transport themselves to a protest and march alongside activists in a virtual reality simulation?

Thanks to next-generation internet networks – currently in deployment by Google Fiber at Austin ISD schools, non-profits, public housing units, and neighborhoods surrounding you – opportunities like these are already possible.

Students play a DIY, internet connected, digital foosball table at the Mozilla Festival

Students play a DIY, internet connected, digital foosball table at the Mozilla Festival

Introducing Hive Austin

Last month Mozilla announced the launch of Hive Austin and the Gigabit Community Fund to support innovators who put learners first. Hive Austin will connect and build local leaders in education and workforce development who will help learners understand and leverage opportunities made possible by gigabit speed networks. As in Hive Networks in Chicago, Toronto, Pittsburgh, New York City, Kansas City, Chattanooga and elsewhere around the globe, Hive Austin will advance the promise of the Internet for learning in a networked world.

This August, Mozilla will begin to accept proposals from the Austin education and technology innovation community in response to its Gigabit Community Fund RFP. Grants ranging from $5K to $25K will support the production of curriculum, tools and pilot programs that leverage the next-generation internet for education and workforce development outcomes. Special consideration will be given to projects that can be extended to established Mozilla Gigabit cities: Chattanooga and Kansas City.

If you are interested in learning more, please sign up for our mailing list and look out for opportunities to meet the local Mozilla team this summer.

Teachers exploring the use of Minecraft for design thinking at a Hive educator peer-learning event hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Teachers exploring the use of Minecraft for design thinking at a Hive educator peer-learning event hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation

An Education Innovation Peer-Learning Community

Hive Austin will support a peer-learning community for innovation in education to move next generation network-enabled technologies out of the lab and into the hands of users. The real magic happens when researchers, developers, and companies work together with learners, educators and learning organizations to engage in user-centered design that proves the viability of these technologies.

Intentional efforts by local leaders to make Austin’s rapidly growing technology sector more inclusive and responsive to the broader community provide real promise for educational and workforce impact. In 2014, the City of Austin developed and released a Digital Inclusion Strategic Plan, which they support with the Grants for Technology Opportunities Program and with implementation partners like Austin Free-Net. Just this year, Austin was also announced as a White House TechHire Community and it already has an active civic-technology community that convenes through Open Austin, a local Code for America brigade.

Specific to the gig, Google Fiber Austin will be an incredible partner for Hive; their local work in unlocking the connection with the Housing Authority for the City of Austin has received national recognition.

In the education space, Austin has been nationally recognized as a STEM Ecosystem city and local funders like the KDK Harman Foundation and the Andy Roddick Foundation have provided important support for collective action initiatives like the Central Texas Afterschool Network. The emergent Computer Science for All efforts lead by the KLE Foundation in Austin create another valuable opportunity for curricular and teacher professional development.

Taken together, these initiatives create incredibly fertile ground for cross-sector collaboration.

Mozillian Raegan MacDonald on stage at the Mozilla Festival speaking to our theme of Shape The Web

Mozillian Raegan MacDonald on stage at the Mozilla Festival speaking to our theme of Shape The Web

What Mozilla Brings to Austin

Mozilla fuels a global movement to create and sustain an open internet that truly puts people first. High speed networks are helping to shape the future of a Web that – thanks to projects like Hive Austin and the Gigabit Community Fund – will remain open, accessible, and built by all of us. Together in Austin, our work will explore core issues facing the Web about which Mozilla cares deeply: open innovation, web literacy, and digital inclusion.

Austin will be joining Kansas City and Chattanooga as the third city in the Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund portfolio, which already includes 26 pilot projects funded since 2014. Two more Mozilla Gigabit cities will be announced in 2017 and will further expand opportunities to spread effective pilot projects nationally.

Hive Austin will distribute a total of $150K in grant funding over the next year in two RFP cycles, the first opening this August 2016 with proposals due October 18, 2016. Local collaborations will be supported by Robert Friedman, Hive Austin Portfolio Strategist.

Connecting Students to Next-Gen Pilots

We have nine amazing projects underway in Chattanooga and Kansas City to pilot applications and associated curricula that leverage high-speed networks for learning. The 16-week pilot period started on May 16 and we had a chance to check in with the grantees on the progress they’re making, the challenges they face, and what they’re most excited about as their projects unfold. Since many of you might be working with them directly, or looking for some inspiration for projects you’re working on your own, we thought you might like a glimpse of what’s been going on as the summer starts.

Three weeks into the pilot period, we asked grantees a few questions and here are some of their responses:

What do you anticipate will be the greatest challenge over the next fifteen weeks?

  • “…The majority of our work will take place in a very short period of time and that will be a very big challenge.” [Cross-city Gigabit-enabled Learning Platform]
  • “I anticipate that the timing of the software will be the greatest challenge during the fifteen weeks. We are projecting that it will take 8-10 weeks of development, but we are very confident in our development team. Additionally, timing is very important because we need enough time for user testing so that children can have the best experience.” ~ [Pennez: Read2Think]
  • “Building a bank of mentors that can be effective for participating schools.  I’m modifying this a bit with corporate sponsors who can provide mentors more easily and without friction on time out of office.” [SensED IoT Student Innovation Challenge]

What impact of the pilot do you think will matter most to participants?

  • “They will be part of developing a brand new technology that incorporates art and technology.” [Raspberry Python Music Genie]
  • “Education is undeniably important, and specifically using virtual reality as a learning tool will leave a unique impact on participants. Users will be surprised by the level of immersion and the efficiency of learning. Most participants will find the experience engaging and like us, be in awe of the possibilities presented.” [ViatoR]
  • “I am hopeful that the information the students gain from going through the pilot process will help them to think differently about design and its potential to positively or negatively affect the environment – and by having data in a clear and measurable way, that this message will stay with them.” [Open Data + 3D Models]
  • “I think teachers will be stunned to see the scope of the projects that middle and high school students came up with in our initial pilot, and the ease with which the program can be integrated into a school subject or as a club.” [SensED IoT Student Innovation Challenge]

What part of your project are you most excited about?

  • “Seeing students come up with their own questions and ideas about the project, as well as engage authentically with scientific research and 4K technology.” [Streaming 4K Content for Learning Experiences]
  • “I am excited about the technology piece of this project. I feel that technology can change education and create excitement in…classrooms. With gigabit internet we not have the power to beam high definition video into the classroom at real-time. There are so many opportunities for entrepreneurial growth.” [Gigtank 4K: Scaling from Micro to Macro]
  • “Personally, I am most interested in actually using the 4k microscopes. As a former Biology teacher, I am excited about what this will look like and how it will be different than what I have experienced before – as a student and as a teacher.” [Cross-city Gigabit-enabled Learning Platform]
  • “My team and I are most excited about impacting how children can read. We know that if we can help how children can read then we can change their lives.” [Pennez: Read2Think]

We plan to bring you more updates and ideas as the pilot period progresses. If you have any questions for our grantees, feel free to leave them in the comments section. In the meantime, start thinking about what you might want to work on and propose for our second round of funding, which closes on October 18. Learn more about the process on our website.

Emerging Gigabit Community Fund trends

Living in the self-titled Gig City, most people have heard of EPB’s gigabit internet service but understanding what that might mean in their everyday lives is a bit more ambiguous. Our goal for the Gigabit Community Fund is to provide opportunities to explore how high speed networks can impact learning. Over the last few years, we’ve had great conversations with educators and technologists about those opportunities and in turn, have funded some exciting and creative projects.

In 2016, we’ve built upon those earlier conversations to further explore new frontiers of technology with our funding in Chattanooga and Kansas City. The local communities are making the connection beyond what is made better by the gig and are moving into what is made possible with gigabit connectivity. Educators are coming forward with their own projects, with an enthusiasm to explore in a world that was typically held by technologists. On the flip side, technologists are seeing clear and practical applications for how their projects can enhance learning for students. Throw in the ballet, a makerspace and a raspberry pi, and you’re creating a gigabit world that goes way beyond big data or live streaming.

A Raspberry Pi. Photo by Danny Chamorro.

If you are asking yourself, “What’s the big deal with gigabit internet?”, our Mozilla curriculum developer, Chad Sansing, provides some perspective:

“If a poor Internet connection is a tunnel we have to go through, stooped over, one at a time, then a gigabit connection is a vast plain with room to move in a hundred directions at once. A gigabit connection is like an entire landscape or ecosystem; its bandwidth creates enough space for data-intensive, multi-user collaborations on web. Learners in the same classroom – and even different cities – can work together in real-time to edit videos, produce music, and participate in immersive simulations through emergent technologies like Web Virtual Reality (WebVR).”

Our funded projects include collaborations between local organizations and cities. Several projects are building on proven pilots (like the Chattanooga STEM School 4K microscope) to become scalable and another is providing real world experiences for students with the emerging field of the Internet of Things. A third project will use virtual reality to immerse students in a foreign land for an interactive language learning experience. With a thriving 4K arena, three of our Chattanooga funded projects will navigate that space to create proven curriculum open and accessible to others. While focused on different technologies, all nine of our grantees continue to push forward the conversation about how to make learning more immediate, immersive and equitable using the gigabit network.

We invite you to consider applying for our next round of Gigabit Community Fund grants (due October 18, 2016). We are excited to see new ideas emerge utilizing gigabit internet as it transforms formal and informal learning spaces! If you are interested, feel free to submit an intent to apply or send us a note with your ideas. Still unsure what all this means? Check out our May Mozilla Learning Community Call which dives into more practical ways gigabit technology is impacting and evolving education. We look forward to you joining the conversation!

Education and Innovation at the Gigabit City Summit

“We all win if we’re all in.” ~ Richard Culatta, CIO for the State of Rhode Island

We value education as core to human and societal advancement. We see it as vital to economic development. It’s the key to preparing today’s youth for tomorrow’s jobs. Yet, it rarely makes the top 10 list of priorities for those in government responsible for innovation. And innovation agendas are taking center stage in many cities across the nation – and the world.

During the Gigabit City Summit hosted by KC Digital Drive last week, we teamed up with Think Big to host the Education Track, which focused on exploring issues at the intersection of community innovation, emerging technologies, and education.

Richard Culatta, Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) for the State of Rhode Island and former Director of Education Technology at the White House, joined us to get the discussion going. Richard’s background in education – he started off as a Spanish teacher – makes it easy to understand why his views on education set him apart from most CIOs. Although education didn’t make the cut of top 10 priorities areas for CIO’s in a 2015 study, Richard sees education as a primary focus of his work. Without an educational infrastructure that is aligned to the increasingly technical needs of the workforce, he believes we’re doing ourselves – and our children – a disservice.

To explore the issues surrounding the role of education in building smart, digital communities, we convened an expert panel to continue the discussion. The panel, made up of leaders in education innovation, city policy, economic development, and ecosystem development, all agreed –  we can’t expect kids to be ready for the future’s workforce without positioning education front and center.

Leigh Anne Taylor Knight (DeBruce Foundation and ThinkShift) introduces the panel – Kiley Larson, Research Scientist, NYU & Research Strategist, LRNG; Sheri Gonzales Warren, Community & Economic Development Project Manager, Mid America Regional Council; Katie Boody, CEO, The Lean Lab; and Michael Baskin, Chief Policy Officer, City of Chattanooga

The panel explored how emerging technologies are creating more opportunity for learning, discussed issues around talent pipelines, skill needs, and data. They talked about the value of empowering teachers, students and parents to be agents of change in the community. A common theme throughout the discussion was the importance of collaboration in tackling many of the challenges ahead as the fabric of our cities change.

After discussing some of the challenges and opportunities our communities and economies face with technological innovation, we heard from some amazing educators and entrepreneurs using technology to transform education. Their Ignite Talks highlighted new approaches and technologies paving the way for tomorrow’s education and included:

  • New school models (XQ);
  • Inclusive programs for bridging the digital divide (Tech Goes Home CHA);
  • New IoT curriculum (SenseEd);
  • Gamified curricula (edcoda, Mission to Mars); and
  • Immersive learning technologies (LumenTouch/SightDeck, Immersive Education).

Gigabit City Summit Education Track participants suggested ideas for virtual reality field trips

As a mission driven organization focused on promoting and protecting the internet as a public good, Mozilla is interested in bringing more voices into discussions about the future of the web. Part of that is about advancing web literacy, but it’s also about exploring new frontiers of technology. That’s what drives the work we do in gigabit cities through the Gigabit Community Fund to pilot emerging technologies in learning environments.

Forums like the Gigabit City Summit are amazing platforms for creating collisions between often siloed discussions about innovation, technology, and education. We’re thankful for the opportunity to partner with KC Digital Drive to create a space for this discussion and grateful to all who participated.

It’s a shared vision and shared work. As Richard Culatta said in his remarks, “We all win if we’re all in.”

Get Involved in the Conversation: Join the gigabit focused Mozilla Community Call on May 25th at 4pm EDT – mzl.la/comcall.

Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund announces third city

In addition to the breakfast taco, 300 days of annual sunshine, and bats galore, Austin, Texas is the newest home of Mozilla’s Gigabit Hive. Chosen from a robust list of amazing cities across the U.S., Austin rose to the top with it’s citywide digital inclusion plan, active developer community, and networked informal education landscape. The first two Mozilla Gigabit cities, Chattanooga and Kansas City, have already contributed 26 projects and pilots to the Gigabit EdTech ecosystem. We can’t wait to see how Austin’s Gigabit Hive community will help grow these existing projects while also contributing brand new ideas to our growing national network. 4k streaming between Austin and Chattanooga? A collaborative censor-based citizen science research project between Kansas City and Austin? The possibilities are endless.

As the third city in the Mozilla Gigabit portfolio, Austin’s educators and technologists will have access to $150,000 in grant funding, as well as support from a vibrant learning community we call Hive. This community will explore how Austin’s high-speed Google Fiber network can impact learning in classrooms, museums, and other learning spaces across the community. Austinite’s of all ages will become gigabit creators and beta-testers, exploring technologies like 4K streaming and immersive virtual reality that wouldn’t be possible on traditional networks.

Launching August 2016, the first round of grant funding will be open for Austin-based applicants to apply by October 18, 2016. Click to learn about the RFP process. In the meantime, stay tuned for meetups and other activities to learn more at Mozilla, Hive, and new Gigabit Community Fund grant opportunities. Sign up to receive additional information and invites to Austin events.

Interested in becoming a future Gigabit Hive city? We will be reopening the city application process in late 2016. Read more about the most recently funded projects in KC and Chattanooga.

2016 Round 1 Mozilla Gigabit Fund grantees announced

Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund awards $134,000 to nine grantees across Chattanooga and Kansas City

Mozilla is pleased to announce the nine grant award recipients in Kansas City and Chattanooga that will receive funds from the Gigabit Community Fund. Grantees across the two cities will receive a total of $134,000 for a 16-week pilot period beginning May 16. The Gigabit Community Fund, a collaboration with National Science Foundation and US Ignite, is investing in projects that utilize gigabit technology to impact learning.

Grantees will utilize the awarded funds to build, pilot, and scale gigabit-enabled applications and associated curricula that have immediate, measurable impact on classrooms and informal learning organizations. Through these projects, Chattanooga and Kansas City will become living laboratories in which to study how these next-generation networks can impact education and workforce development.

Grantees include:

Chattanooga

  1. Cross-city Gigabit-enabled Learning Platform | Genesee Intermediate School District, Flint, MI – Platform for cyber learning, biology research, and citizen science across cities, schools, and science centers.
  2. Gigtank 4K: Scaling from Micro to Macro | The Enterprise Center – Harnessing the Gig and 4K video microscopy to create connections + collaborations for powerful STEM learning opportunities in Chattanooga and beyond.
  3. Raspberry Python Music Genie | Art 120 – Makerspace kids utilize curriculum to build Raspberry Python Air Synthesizers and then partner with the Chattanooga Ballet for a live choreographed performance.
  4. Streaming 4K Content for Learning Experiences | The Enterprise Center – 4K streaming content in ultra-HD creates engaging learning environment through enhanced access to community assets for learners in three schools and two community centers.
  5. ViatoR | Forrest Pruitt/Nicole Prebula/The Enterprise Center – ViatoR uses VR to submerge users in an immersive environment for an interactive, engaging language learning experience. Working with local education partners, ViatoR will explore how high-speed networks can make language learning more immediate, equitable, and engaging.
  6. VR Bridge | Red Bank High School – Students will develop a Virtual Reality bridge between two schools and multiple organizations through the development of 360 degree video feed utilizing the gigabit connection for the purpose of developing workforce skills in the areas of robotics and automation.

Kansas City

  1. Open Data + 3D Models | PlanIt Impact – PlanIT Impact is putting its big data + 3D modeling technology in the hands of students in Kansas City to advance sustainable design.
  2. Read2Think | Pennez – A live-­time digital assessment tool for measuring a child’s reading fluency. The application utilizes artificial intelligence technology to assess speed, vocabulary, understanding, sight word, pronunciation, and phonics recognition.
  3. SensED IoT Student Innovation Challenge | KC Social Innovation Center – A project­-based STEM program for 7­-12 graders to provide real-­world experiences in the emerging field of the Internet of Things.

The 16-week pilot periods will run from May 16 to September 4. The application period for the next round of Gigabit Community Fund grants closes on October 18 for pilots that will run from January 2 to April 24.

Cultivating Hive Learning Communities

Grantees of the Gigabit Community Fund become part of their local Gigabit Hive learning communities. Hive networks of educators, technologists, and other community stakeholders function as localized innovation clusters, working and learning together around community-driven goals. They join a growing global Hive network that includes New York City, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.

Members of the Gigabit Hive learning communities will participate in regular meetups and will share their planning, progress, lessons learned, and best practices throughout the pilot period.

How to get involved:

 

The White House Science Fair is today

Today, for the sixth consecutive year, President Obama is celebrating all things STEM with students from across the country at the White House Science Fair. View the White House press release, full release can be found here. You can join us at the fair virtually by watching the live webcast or by sharing your inventions and ideas on Twitter using the hashtag #WHScienceFair.

From robots to rockets, Mozilla loves science, technology, engineering and math. Add in gigabit technology and you get STEM education projects that wouldn’t be possible with traditional broadband internet connections, making learning more immediate, immersive, and accessible. Move over baking soda volcanoes.

Here are a few of the projects we’ve supported through the Gigabit Community Fund:

[Chattanooga] The brainchild of Gig City Production’s Jonathan Susman, Adagio is a cloud-based remote audio mixing tool co-developed with UTC Computer Science Professor Craig Tannis and several of his graduate students. Utilizing Chattanooga’s gigabit network, Adagio’s cloud-based platform drastically lowers the financial and technological barriers to mixing audio, granting students and professionals alike access to studio-quality tools right in their browser.

[Kansas City] The Gigabots from Big Bang bring connected robotics and devices to classrooms using existing educational robotics platforms. A Gigabot is a combination of hardware, software and a cloud platform. Each Gigabot is connected to others from any location in real-time. This project takes robotics to a new frontier in science and engineering through programming, all while teaching kids how to share innovation in collaborative ways.

[Chattanooga] GigBridge, proposed by Girls Preparatory School (GPS) senior Anjali Chandra, connects students via streaming video at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and East Lake Academy, two Title I schools in Hamilton County. With the help of Jill Pala, GPS’s Chair of Computer Science, the Spanish department and her classmates — as well as support from UTC and TVA — Anjali ran an after-school program focusing on English as a second language and healthier lifestyle skills through app design, developing a publicly-available digital literacy curriculum along the way. Students learned the basics of and built mobile applications over the course of eight weeks, creating English and Spanish versions. Anjali has since received additional funding from Causeway to help continue the project.

You can learn more about these projects and others in Chattanooga and Kansas City. Living in a city where you can leverage gigabit technology for education? Join us at the Gigabit City Summit, May 16-18 in Kansas City, exclusively designed for leaders in current and emerging gigabit cities.

Gigabit VR: Putting the World into Our Kids’ Hands

As part of our new application cycle, we’re exploring four areas in which we think next-generation networks could have a big impact on learning: virtual reality, video, big data, and connected devices.

Contemplating a Gigabit Community Fund application but don’t know quite where to begin? We invite you to explore these four focus areas alongside experts from Mozilla through a series of blog posts that we’ll be sharing over the next several weeks.  Today, Mozilla Curriculum Developer Chad Sansing kicks off the series with some great ideas on how current virtual reality technologies can be combined with next-generation networks for big classroom impact. 

What if stepping into the classroom or library meant you could step into anywhere?

That’s the core promise of virtual reality (VR) in our Gigabit Communities. The enormous amount of bandwidth available to us affords us the chance to do VR right. We can create and virtually inhabit digital environments with detailed textures and enough “room” for several people to be in one another’s telepresence all at once with very low lag or latency.

High-end desktop accessories for experiencing VR like the Oculus Rift exist alongside cheaper, mobile, more DIY solutions like Google Cardboard. Combined with other peripherals, like Microsoft’s Kinect cameras, we can even put ourselves inside virtual environments. It’s not unlikely that we’ll end up with wearble VR ‘computers’ (like the Microsoft Hololens) in the near future, as well.

Given the chance to explore the world – and to explore worlds we create ourselves – from every imaginable vantage point in 3D, what kinds of teaching and learning are possible with Gigabit VR?

First, let’s consider how Gigabit VR can make what we do now better.

  • We can make virtual field-trips into immersive 360-degree tours of sites around the world.
  • We can project real-time HD video feeds as VR environments for learners to explore from within to see the spatial relationships between the parts and the whole of something like a cell.
  • We can teach the web literacy and web VR using emergent technologies like Mozilla’s AFrame that make coding virtual environments as easy as coding basic webpages.
  • We can import models from AutoCAD and design software for students to “explode,” inspect, and iterate piece-by-piece in virtual workshops.
  • We can mash-up innovative projects like ‘Fight for the Open Web,’ a“Minecraft web literacy game-design challenge, and drop student developers and play-testers right inside the experiences they make for P2P learning.
  • We can emulate apps like RideW/Me to help parents and their children find and rehearse safe routes to learning spaces outside schools.

Next, let’s imagine new VR applications for the classroom and library.

  • We could develop virtual block-based coding and prototyping environments that make writing code like building LEGO. Think collaborative Scratch in 3D with virtual bits of circuitry and robotics to connect to the blocks.
  • We could create “city-as-canvas” VR environments empowering a variety of student community-improvement projects. Think of a VR SimCity based on your home town through which your could travel dropping new traffic signals, marking food deserts, and painting murals. Or think of a mobile app that lets you create and share community-enhancement mock-ups in situ as you walk around in real-life, pause here and there, put on your goggles, and create, like a painter carrying her easel and supplies all over town.
  • We could explode the diorama and develop a global, interdisciplinary, web-native library of learning objects kids could assemble into interactive exhibits that serve both as projects and, over time, portfolios. Think of kids building their own virtual museums of learning using a set of community-created assets like something out of the Sims.

While we have the capacity to do work like this now through platforms like Minecraft or Second Life, combining web VR with gigabit connections gives us the chance to make this work web-native, mobile, and user-friendly in the same way AFrame makes coding VR environments like building a basic webpage.

Finally, what are some possible VR moonshots?

  • Could we watch experiments in real-time from inside particle accelerators and colliders?
  • Could we build a browser-based VR interface to the Internet and Web that turned browsing and web literacy lessons into experiences more like exploring the neighborhood, sailing a ship, piloting a spacecraft, or exploring a dungeon? Can we build the Web as virtual MMORPG?
  • Could we broker virtual internship programs in arts, design, humanities, and sciences in which students and their mentors meet inside artworks, products, documents, and organisms?
  • Could we make students the virtual pilots and brains of deep-sea or near-space probes?

While we might not know how to build all of this all at once, we can use opportunities like the Gigabit Community Fund to begin building high-quality, high-bandwidth VR learning experiences with and for our kids and communities right now. With Gigabit VR and the Gigabit Community Fund, we can put the world into our kids’ hands.

How do we scaffold our students’ earliest VR experiences to help them change our world for the better? What do you think?  When you look around a 3D learning space, what do you see? How can Gigabit VR change teaching and learning local to you?  Share your ideas below or pitch them to the Gigabit Hive team. Please let us know how we can build, support, and improve web VR experiences for you and your students.