With Tim Cook and Apple pushing AR whilst Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook push VR, there has never been a brighter light shone on the world of AR and VR. One question I seem to be getting asked quite regularly at events I am presenting at recently is, “What’s better for education – AR or VR?” It’s a fair question - educators are hearing more and more about these emergent technologies and simply want to know if one or the other should be their focus. Their concerns are also often compounded by confusion over the terminology and nature of each format.
Obviously I feel that they both bring something to education, otherwise this site would only be dedicated to one of them. That being said, there are definitely pros and cons to each if you compare them. So I thought it would be fun to actually do this. In true UFC style, I’m pitting AR vs VR in five rounds of head-to-head analysis using a set of five key criteria. I will be publishing these over the next month, one round at a time. Please do join the conversation by sharing the posts on social media or adding your own comments to each round.
I guess there’s only one way to start then. Mr Buffer?
ROUND 1: Ease of Implementation
Being able to implement technology in the classroom easily is crucial for educators. Not only do they not want to have to deal with an overly complex setup, they want a simple interface that is equally accessible by staff and students. This is also key to the principle of “invisible IT” – i.e. technology not overpowering the actual pedagogy and hijacking a lesson. In order to maximise learning time, edtech tools need to integrate seamlessly into the natural flow of learning. So how do AR and VR stack up in the regard?
AR is broadly very easy to use since it is often just a case of aim at a target and observe the content on the screen. With the advent of iOS 11 and ARkit, the need for a physical marker is being negated too.
Being able to access AR content from regular mobile devices without any additional equipment is a definite plus for augmented reality in education. At this point most schools have access to at least some mobile technology, be it iPads, iPods or Android devices. If these devices are centrally managed by an MDM, this also means that AR apps can be deployed en masses to a large group of students.
Students can use AR resources from the comfort of their desks as readily as they can in a larger space. Content can often be scaled and manipulated on screen using touch control gestures or, if trigger markers are employed, these can be physically moved to view the augmented reality content from new angles etc. AR models will sometimes lose tracking if you angle the device awkwardly, but most are then able to stabilise and return to the correct scale/angle quite quickly once you reposition.
Students can also take screenshots of AR in action (sometimes within the apps themselves but if not using the native screenshot function) which means the content can then be exported into other learning platforms. This could include digital journal platforms like Seesaw, ebook creation apps like Book Creator or presentation tools like Keynote. If video clips are exported (and with iOS 11, screencasting is now a possibility) then AR footage can be imported into something like iMovie, where narration can be added to create documentary style films!
AR creation tools like Aurasma and Blippar are somewhat trickier to harness as you need to go through the process of tagging content to your selected trigger image. Still, this is a process that become streamlined with practice and can be done outside of teaching time - so it does not impact learning.
Overall, AR is very easy to implement in the classroom, even for educators that are new to the technology.
VR is somewhat trickier to tie down in regards to ease of integration as it does depend on the level of VR educators are looking to harness. Most 360 images and videos can be accessed directly on a classroom device just as readily as the AR apps, without the need for a headset. This is not true VR though so I think we have to factor in some form of headset.
The easiest headsets to integrate are mobile ones which integrate a phone or iPod. I recently published an article on how to select a mobile VR headset which you can read here. The simplest option is the Cardboard type of headset which is pretty easy to use but lacks functionality and precision. Once you start looking at slightly more advanced headsets, you need to factor in training staff to understand the relative complexity that these headsets entail. How do you get the devices in? Will they all fit if they aren’t uniform in size? How do I change the focal length/adjust the lenses/interact with an experience?
In terms of using VR apps and online VR content with these headsets, some will automatically run in stereoscopic mode and can simply be placed inside the headset for viewing. Others will require some navigation and perhaps the selection of a VR headset mode before experiences can be accessed properly. This is usually pretty painless… until you get a notification on your device whilst it’s inside the headset (like a low battery warning) which then means you have to go through the process of removing the device. It’s a little thing but, depending on the age of your students, can be a pain in the middle of a lesson – especially if it happens on multiple devices.
Many schools aren’t harnessing the higher level VR headsets like Vive and Oculus yet and this is likely due in part to the far more complicated setup required. Not only do you need more physical space to use them but you need to set up Steam VR and understand how to prepare your space for room-scale virtual reality. Unless you have a VR lab or permanent fixture somewhere on your campus, it can be a lengthy process and one you would need to take care of outside of lesson time.
You may also have to deal with a pantheon of potential tech problems that seem determined to prohibit your VR experience. The compositor may refuse to run, tracking may be lost, graphics cards may reset (thank you Windows Fall Creators update for that little treat a couple of weeks ago!) Simply put, to integrate a high end VR headset in your classroom, you need to be pretty well versed in the technology or have an IT technician on stand-by.
Ultimately, since VR use relies on the integration of another device (the headset), the process can definitely be more time consuming and complex. As such it’s likely to prove more daunting to the un-initiated teacher.
I think I have to give this first round to AR. The fact that no additional technology is needed beyond the devices which schools already utilise, definitely makes it easier to integrate into the classroom. In turn this means that it becomes easier to train staff and they will become more confident using it quicker.
Next week will see the start of Round 2 and the focus switching to the range of educational experiences available through each platform.