Sunday, July 30, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 27: Mixed Reality Education Risk , Uncertainty And Magic

Pop Up Thinglab 27 was a mixed reality staff development workshop for Redbridge Institute of Adult Education.

InspireNshare Thinglabs introduces new technologies and the type of tech we call "Citizen Tech" ... tech that is simple, friendly accessible and cost effective .... tech that encourages participation, play and production.

I think of mixed reality as augmented reality with immersion - using a viewer like Google Glass, Microsoft Hololens or Magic Leap ... but all of these are typical high tech, complex, costly and rare - only accessible by the lucky few. However, in the same way that Google Cardboard made virtual reality accessible to the many there are companies seeking to make mixed reality accessible to the many by using smartphones and cardboard viewers - Aryzon, Holokit and Zapbox for example. Where Hololens costs several thousand pounds cardboard mixed reality costs just tens of pounds ... Aryzon, Holokit and Zapbox are excellent examples of "Citizen Tech" and just the stuff for inspireNshare Thinglabs.

InspireNshare with CCS libraries backed Zapbox on Kickstarter back in December 2016 and we received our Zapbox kits just before Pop Up Thinglab 27 and decided to dive in and mix them into this staff development workshop.

Our Zapbox kits

Testing mixed reality in the kitchen
Zapbox is still in beta test but rather than wait until we had a stable and well tested system with no risk we decided to make risk taking and uncertainty part of the workshop.

Teaching a class can be nerve racking ... its nice to have structure and lesson plans are a useful aid but have over the years have become a tool of educational determinism and performance management ... "the learner will understand X". The word 'Education' is derived from Latin words educare (to nourish) educere (to draw out) and educatum  (training) - but the balance between giving information and drawing out learning has shifted towards giving information ... teacher as expert delivering content for testing .. the teacher cannot be seen as not knowing. The opportunities for discovery and co-created learning in education are diminishing ... the joy of learning is being smothered by determinism.

Much of education today wants to eliminate risk and learning through failure ... education management is hooked on the graph lines and certainties of predictive analytics and data driven managed learning environments. Failure is not an option ... feed students just the right type, rate and level of content at the right time to ensure everyone's continued success. This was the message from IBM's Cailean Hargrave in his 2011 Future of Technology In Education presentation Student Analytics for Success ... well received by educational management but heavily criticised by educationalists.

"There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure."  ~  Colin Powell

Drip fed experience at the right type, rate, level and time is just not the way real life works and it concerns me that education is moving further and further from the real world. Education concerns itself with intelligence yet one of the true signs of intelligence is the ability to learn from mistakes but by depriving students from making mistakes we deprive them of the ability to learn and express intelligence. 

You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
– Wayne Gretzky

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” ~ Confucius

Real life is full of ups and downs, success and failure ... it concerns me that education is not helping our young people deal with mistakes and failure ... it's an essential skill in life. 

 “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” — T.S. Eliot

"I have not failed once. I've just found 10,000 ways that didn't work." -- Thomas Edison

Science is probably our greatest invention ... it embraces uncertainty and is built on experiment and failure ... an unsuccessful experiment is as valuable as a successful experiment and provides information and ideas for further experiments. It concerns me that education is not providing greater opportunities for students to learn through exploration and experiment.

Failure is nature’s plan to prepare you for great responsibilities.” – Napoleon Hill

CV's are all about success but questions like "tell me about something that didn't work out as planned and how you dealt with it" are a mainstay of job interviews ... they keep people honest and reveal character. I can remember hearing about some companies in the 1990s who preferred senior managers who had experience of overcoming failure ... the wise employee will recognise the importance of people who can cope with not just the good times but the bad times as well.  

For the workshop I wanted to set the Zapbox up from scratch and show the staff everything that was involved - laying out the pointcodes (triggers) and building the map ... conjuring up a scene like magic out of nothing but some bits of cardboard.

I had managed to get the Zapbox mini golf demonstration running a couple of times in my kitchen and twenty minutes before the workshop tested the set up ... this was a risk and there was a problem ... we couldn't get the Zapbox app to "lock on" to the pointcodes. The Zapbox wasn't working ... It was time to think, experiment and learn. There was strong sunlight coming onto the pointcodes from the window and from the smartphone view it seemed to wash out the view of some of the pointcodes ... we adjusted the lighting ... closing the blinds and putting on the room lights -  this helped a little and provided the clue we needed to solve the problem and get Zapbox working. Zapbox uses optics to locate and map the pointcodes - poor optics will affect its ability to locate the pointcodes properly. Zapbox still wasn't locking on to all the point codes ... we experimented with a theory that there wasn't enough contrast between the pointcodes and the floor which was a dark grey so we found a length of blue material to help provide better contrast - this seemed to do the trick and we were able to build the map and get the golf demonstration running. However, there was still a problem, the augmented golf course just wasn't stable - so we experimented with another theory ... the lenses were dirty or misted so we cleaned the camera lens and the Zapbox wide angle lens and finally got a stable golf course in the classroom 10 minutes before the workshop began.

Failure to get the Zapbox running in a different environment was an excellent learning experience to understand how the Zapbox works and about its limitations and gives a story and example to share with others when using it.

The blue material placed under the pointcodes gave me an idea of how to introduce mixed reality in the workshop ... like a magic show. The blue material used under the pointcodes was to be a "magic carpet", the Zapbox kit was a "magic box" and the Zapbox controller was a magic wand :)

Magic is a good description for augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) ... using a bit of technology we can conjure up something out of nothing ... using a "magic carpet" and some bits of cardboard we can "materialise" a golf course in the middle of the classroom!  But it doesn't stop at golf ... using AR and MR we can bring all sorts of things into our classrooms and bring within our learners reach many things that just wouldn't be practical or possible otherwise. One of the teachers commented that with VR, AR and MR we can take students on field trips without the cost and paperwork involved in real field trips and that we can go as many times as we like.

VR, AR and MR can let our learners explore and experiment in safety ... we can go into deep space, the deep ocean, back and forward in time, immerse ourselves in different cultures - there is amazing potential here for education.

VR, AR and MR bring new dimensions to educational technology - we haven't got our Princess Leia hologram yet but mixed reality gets us a step closer.

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