How Lenovo is Aiding the Emergence of VR In Education

eWEEK INNOVATION PERSPECTIVE: The biggest problem for teachers in this post-COVID world? They don’t feel like they are teaching. VR may be one answer for all of this.

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I attended an updated briefing from Lenovo this week on their education offerings, particularly those offered through their LanSchool acquisition. This acquisition and related service have been instrumental in getting schools to pivot to homeschooling, and what makes the difference is that it is a service for teachers designed by teachers.

The teacher focus makes it the one tool that addresses what has been reported as the biggest problem for teachers in this post-COVID world; they don’t feel like they are teaching. This service covers 12 million users across 75 countries in 14 languages; this solution has been impressively successful. 

But toward the end of the presentation, they showcased the hardware they were supplying, and that hardware included a laptop and their high-performance VR Headset. That headset reminded me that one of the big problems concerning teaching kids while remote is the distractions. In a classroom, you can shut out the outside world, tell the students to stop texting, and even take their distracting technology away from them, but when they are home, they are surrounded by even more distractions, and the teacher has far less control. But with VR, you should be able to isolate the child better and provide an experience far closer to what the child would have had in a classroom.

Let’s talk about that this week. 

The Big Problem With Home Schooling

If you look at how kids have been traditionally home-schooled, a parent decides to make the job their own, they stay home and make sure the lessons are taught, and the work is done. They emulate the classroom experience in the home and blend teaching with housework to deliver a highly focused, heavily monitored solution. These people were only minimally impacted, at least about their kid’s education, during the shutdown because they’d already committed to a working process for the home.

But classrooms aren’t one or two kids. You can have 30 or more kids in the average classroom, and, as you move up to middle school, the students aren’t even in the same room or have the same teacher. This last is a model that introduces extra complexity into homeschooling because the student, who really would rather be doing something else.

As a result, there is a considerable desire to isolate the student from the distractions in the home and focus them back on the lesson. You need a way to engage the student better while isolating them from the things they would rather be doing. 

VR To The Rescue

Maybe the ideal tool to address this need to isolate the student, using headphones and a VR Headset the student is effectively locked into a virtual world controlled by the teacher. The virtual environment can be made to emulate a classroom and the student if visually and audibly isolated from the things going on around them by virtue of the VR headset. 

Now the best experiences will be those designed for VR because they’ll likely be more compelling. Still, for those lessons not yet in VR, the software can create a virtual Second Life like a classroom where the teacher can use a Waldo or screen sharing to introduce school elements into the virtual classroom.

Besides, given the headset will link to a speaker and microphone, students can interact and work on real projects together. And many of these students will have already developed VR skills through gaming that can then be applied to their virtual school experience. 

But it still is important that the offering falls under something like Lenovo’s LanSchool because you, as a teacher, would want to assure that what you rolled out actually worked and wouldn’t experience the kinds of problems the early Zoom classrooms experienced concerning bad behavior. 

Wrapping Up: Completing The Solution

One of the issues I see with this solution is that the VR hardware wasn’t designed with home-schooling in mind. I think the headset needs three additional features. 

  • It needs to have a sensor that will report if the student is wearing the headset and hasn’t laid it down to do other things during class. 
  • Second, you want to have and have access to sensors that would tell you if the student is getting fatigued or having a health problem while using the product. VR headset can be very tiring, and you shouldn’t push a child to the point of causing injury, and if they fall asleep, you’ll need to wake them up. 
  • Finally, there needs to be a way for the student to safely use the technology with peers to work on school projects without direct oversight but also without student risk. This last suggests an AI oversight implementation that the students trust and that can alert others that a student is being bullied, abused, or simply becomes overwhelmed. 

There is undoubtedly a broader use of AI long term regarding student coaching, customizing school content and providing both the identification and focus on areas where the student is struggling. As it matures and future VR offerings like the one from Lenovo’s LanSchool emerge, our ability to virtually home school students at scale will improve potentially shifting most schools to virtual over time. But this last one will take a while and require improving the tools to be far more ergonomic and the related classrooms more focused.

As we continue to deal with this, pandemic technology is being re-missioned to help us with our new remote lives, and VR may be key to not only what we use to collaborate in the future but how kids can safely learn in the present. 

Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to eWEEK and Pund-IT.