It’s that time of year when people share their Best of the Year retrospectives and since this year has been so dominated by all things VR for me, it seemed appropriate to add my own selection to the mix. Now I considered doing something that incorporated mini-lists of mobile VR apps, AR apps, 360s etc but to be honest, a lot of the content in these categories that I’ve utilized this year was released before 2017. As such I decided to focus solely on Steam VR apps that I’ve used on the Vive.
Getting the Vive in January really did light the VR fire for me, leading to both the creation of this site and the inception of the #CPDinVR events. Though I’ve been exploring and experimenting with virtual reality in the classroom since 2014, the immersive, room-scale VR experiences afforded by the Vive opened my eyes to a whole new realm of potential for enriching education. Since I got the Vive in January, it also means that I’ve been closely monitoring the edu offerings throughout 2017 and felt well-equipped to produce a list of the ten best educational apps released in the last 12 months. I considered ranking them but ultimately decided against it, so they are in alphabetical order instead.
Released in late 2017, this app is an excellent example of how fully immersive VR can empower students to interact within an experience. Taking a gamified approach, the user is dropped into the rainforest and tasked with capturing photos of various forms of wildlife in situ. This core task is supplemented with some other little challenges (like lighting a camp fire) which just add to the experience. A truly excellent way to let students learn more about the Amazon Rainforest.
Read more about how I harnessed this at JESS Dubai right here.
Lithodomus have really set a high benchmark in terms of historical VR experiences for mobile devices already and this offering through Steam sees them translate their passion for transporting students back in time with depth and detail. Crucially this app offers a greater degree of freedom to explore than other apps like Unimersiv, which adopt a more guided, on-rails approach. Here you are free to explore the Acropolis and interact with historical artefacts to learn more about the history of ancient Greece.
Now some of you may have read my article about a recent Acropolis themed VR event I hosted and mat be wondering why I did not harness this app if I rate it so highly. The simple answer is that I was conducting that project with younger students and the level of detail in Athenian Acropolis extends to some realistic nude statues and artwork. If working with older students, I don’t see this being an issue though,
Google continues to pioneer new approaches and experiences in the world of VR and in 2017 they added the fantastic Blocks app to their catalogue. Working like a sister app to the all-conquering Tilt Brush, Blocks allows students to build simple 3D models using a range of polygons and an intuitive interface typical of Google’s VR offerings. What elevated Blocks further was the ability to export the models and integrate them in other platforms. This was later bolstered by the launch of the Google Poly platform – a one stop shop for creative folk to share 3D content for use in an increasing range of apps (obviously including both Blocks and Tilt Brush.)
An outstanding example of an app that empowers students to create content within virtual reality, Blocks is without a doubt one of the most important educational VR titles of the year.
Home: A VR Spacewalk
The BBC’s marked their launch into the world of educational VR experiences with an app that was quite literally astronomical. There have been other apps that focused on the International Space Station but none that did so with quite the same majesty and attention to immersive detail. This is now already among my list of go-to “first VR experience” apps to show to people trying the Vive for the first time.
Home also inspired my recent post about Space themed VR apps which you can read here.
With Tilt Brush being such a centerpiece for the Vive, it takes a lot for other virtual reality art apps to stand out. Masterpiece VR definitely does that though, boasting several tools that Tilt Brush either does not offer or has updated to mirror. Crucially Masterpiece allows for multiple users to collaborate on the same piece of art or design which is definitely something we’ll start to see more of more of in VR over the next couple of years. It also offers sculpting tools alongside traditional brushes etc, adding a level of precision and finesse to the creation of more detailed 3D models. Well worth exploring with your art students.
Look for an article focused on Masterpiece coming soon on VirtualiTeach.
Micro Cosmic Worlds
Short but very sweet, Micro Cosmic Worlds shrinks you to the size of an ant then to the size of pollen and ultimately down to atomic levels to stand atop molecules. It’s a little passive but is nonetheless a incomparable learning experience for would-be microbiologists. I’d like to see more apps that take you into the world of the microscopic next year as there is so much potential both for scientific learning and inspiring creative writing in a “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” style.
Read my feature on Micro Cosmic Worlds here.
Was it intended for the classroom? No
Does it offer a taste of something pretty transformational in education? Definitely.
Mindshow’s home-grown motion capture platform is like the evolution of the avatar puppet apps (Puppet Pals, Tellagami etc) that have become overwhelmingly popular in classrooms over the last few years. An app that allows students to stage a scene then actually step inside characters to emotively portray them before framing and recording the performance, Mindshow is truly unique and a genuine glimpse into the future of VR in the English/language arts/drama classroom.
Oh and for those that haven't seen my infamous Twinkie video... enjoy:
Read my piece on Mindshow from the original Beta here .
Definitely one of my favourite apps on the Vive full stop, Noda takes a simple concept and delivers it incredibly well – VR mindmapping. The power and potential for mindmapping within a full 3D environment is something I really want to explore further in 2018 as it provides students the freedom and space to visualize data in a unique way that could well become the standard in years to come.
Read my piece about Noda from earlier in the year right here.
Having just covered Apex in detail for my last blog post (which you can read here) I won’t add much more here. I absolutely loved this app though - a brilliant mix of ecological learning, engaging game mechanics and some stunning visuals. Curiscope have set a really high benchmark for themselves right from the off with Operation Apex.
Immersive VR Education’s epic follow up to their award winning Apollo 11 app (and of course the ever-developing Engage platform I use for the #CPDinVR sessions) is an authentic, consuming VR experience that was well worth the wait. Releasing in two halves, the initial part puts you in the role of an underwater archaeologist exploring the wreckage of the most infamous ship of all time. From the sound to the visuals to the interface, it’s a masterclass in how a great educational experience can be put together.
The fact that the demo alone produced one of the VR highlights of 2017 for me is testament to the power of this phenomenal app. I can’t wait to see the second part debut in early 2018 – and experience the events of the disaster itself.