Most educators that have connected with me over the last five years associate me with iPads and Apple technology in general but whilst I still use my iPad and iPhone every single day, I am a man of many devices and over the last two years Microsoft technology has begun to play a bigger role once again. This is partly due to our deployment of Office 365 across JESS Dubai, partly due to my need for a “superlaptop”to run my HTC Vive (I use an Acer Predator) and partly due to our launch of the Surface Pro 4 as the device for staff and students in KS3 of our secondary school. The school is now a Microsoft Showcase School and last year I myself went from being a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert to a Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow.
Those that have connected with me through VirtualiTeach however will likely have realized that I have been somewhat sceptical of Microsoft’s approach to immersive technology. Mostly this is due to the fact I firmly agree with many other VR enthusiasts that Microsoft’s decision to co-opt the term Mixed Reality as a blanket term for anything AR or VR related is ultimately detrimental to the lay-person’s understanding of these new technologies.
Nonetheless I have been endeavouring to get my hands on one of the Windows Mixed Reality (aka VR) headsets to test but so far none have been released here in Dubai and I am reticent to pay expensive shipping rates for one. It’s looking like Acer might loan me one in the coming weeks so I will feedback on that if and when it happens. What I have been playing around with though is the Windows Mixed Reality (aka AR – see how things get confusing!) Viewer app on my Surface.
As a part of the excellent Windows 10 Creator’s Update, released towards the end of 2017, Windows introduced a trio of new tools that interlink: Paint 3D, Remix 3D and the Mixed Reality Viewer. These are now freely available on ALL Windows 10 devices – whether they are touch screen or not. What these tools offer is actually pretty special – the ability for students to design in 3D and instantly export into augmented reality.
Let’s look at each piece of this puzzle individually then pull it all together with some examples for classroom use.
Paint 3D is a fantastic app for allowing students to design in 3D. Ideally suited to touch-screen devices that come with a stylus (like the Surface Pro), it allows you to create using 2D and 3D objects which can easily be manipulated, attached to each other, duplicated etc – making the 3D design process more accessible than I’ve seen on a 2D screen for some time. The app also boasts a wide range of artistic tools from brushes to stickers to textures which are used to embellish your model and you can apply them directly within the 3D view. The texturing is particularly impressive as you can select and apply textures directly to a model or choose metallic-style brushes to paint with. Here’s a little look at it in action from Art Director Alberto Cerriteno:
It’s a great platform and one that we are already planning to integrate into art lessons in our KS3 classes next term.
Accessible via www.remix3d.com or directly within the Paint 3D interface, Remix 3D is a similar platform to Google’s Poly – an online catalogue of user created models being shared freely for others to access. There are three great benefits to this for students:
1. They can access models to include in their projects. As well as simpler, user-created models, there are also some truly impressive, highly detailed models from the Microsoft team.
2. They can access template models and projects. These include blank models (heads, animals etc.) as well as models of empty scenes (rooms, villages etc.) which can be used as a base for design projects. These also help facilitate inclusion if less able students need support to get started with the 3D design process.
3. Students have a platform to share their own creations! Empowering students to create and share their designs with a global audience is fantastic and Remix 3D provides a safe space for them to do this. Content is tightly moderated by Microsoft and whilst models can be “liked” by other users, they can’t be commented on - so there is no fear of exposing them to abusive or inappropriate feedback.
Mixed Reality Viewer
Accessible directly within Paint 3D, the Windows MR Viewer also you to drop your creations into the real world in augmented reality with ease. I must admit that I was surprised at how seamlessly this worked to be honest. There’s no need for target markers as the app uses plane detection to identify a surface. One little touch that I really like is that when you click to place the model into the shot, it hits the surface with a little “thump” sound effect and a subtle bump animation which add to the illusion of it really being there.
Ideas for the classroom
This combination of Paint 3D, Remix 3D and the Mixed Reality Viewer is a pretty potent combination for the classroom. Just yesterday I gave my Surface to my 5 year old daughter and she loved designing a cat (starting with one of the blank templates) then making it pop up on the table in front of her.
I talk a lot, both on here and during presentations, about the need for educational AR content to be “more than just a model” – it needs to have some deeper educational value. This combination of apps inherently bypasses this issue by allowing students to be creators rather than consumers of the content. Here are five ideas from me for how Paint 3D and the related augmented reality experiences can be used in the classroom.
Having students create a unique design using one of the templates would be a great introduction to the platform. There are dozens of blank faces, animals and more to choose from and students could then decorate them using the brushes, textures and stickers to make them their own. With Easter close at hand, you could even create an egg shape using the sphere tool, have them decorate this and then hold it in augmented reality – could be a nice addition to an Easter card for the family.
Paint 3D can be used to build whole scenes with ease – especially since assets can be imported from Remix 3D to include. Students could build the scene from a story or recreate an historical scene.
You can actually add both 2D and 3D text to a model directly within Paint 3D which is great for creating annotated diagrams, labels and more. Another option for something like this would be to take a screenshot of the model in augmented reality and then use the built-in annotation feature of Windows Photos (or an equivalent tool.)
Screencasting the MR Viewer
The MR Viewer app includes a camera tool but you can only take still images. If you want to record video footage from within the app, you’ll need to run a second app like Office Mix. This would enable students to collaborate on projects where they appear alongside the augmented reality model – perhaps to explain the design or to use it as a presentation tool.
Many of the art exhibitions at our school incorporate some forms of digital media such as looped projections. It’d be quite the unique addition to include an augmented reality artwork! A student could set up an empty display block with a device aligned to it. Visitors would then view the art in augmented reality using the MR Viewer.