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.

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