Classroom scene: Ain’t no-one looking at the prof.

Major pedagogical milestone reached: a class in which every single person in the room was looking at a phone.

classroom

I especially like the multiple head angles here, none of them directed professorward or, indeed, anywhere within the room itself. Many are in the “Virtual Reality” (VR) world, abetted by Google Cardboard headsets. For about ten bucks you can get a device that lets you swim with dolphins, play a game, or visit a refugee camp, all while sitting in class.

Eh? What’s going on? Well, I could not teach a class in nonfiction writing without a short experiment in VR. The last two years have seen an explosion of VR designed to be viewed on phones via simple headsets. Many of the developments in the field have been driven by journalists (e.g., New York Times), so any student considering a career in writing needs to have a sense of what’s happening in the very real world of “virtual” storytelling. And so, on with the headsets and: boom! we’re in a 3D world that moves with your head, giving you an uncanny sense of immersion and connection.

When we read a “traditional” printed page, the author’s words activate our imagination and we move our consciousness from its current location. In VR, the images, sound, and kinetics of the experience grab our senses and, again, move our consciousness to another place. In the former case, the imagination is activated and we move under the power of our minds. In the latter, our senses pull our minds with them and imagination follows.

VR is known as an “empathy machine” for the depth of its effects on our emotions. A well-written book does the same, through other means. Now imagine a storyteller who can combine both approaches. The possibilities for good (reportage, art, education) and ill (manipulation and even torture of the human mind — Google Cardboard Guantanamo edition?) are many.

And, let’s face it, there is no way that I can compete with dolphins in the classroom. (The Google-Best Buy alliance knows this well — they’re already marketing more expensive VR to classrooms for younger kids.)

And now, back to the carboardless classroom to discuss the meaning of allegory.

3 thoughts on “Classroom scene: Ain’t no-one looking at the prof.

  1. Mark

    David, I e-mailed a “biological systems” professor at UW a couple of years ago and asked him to settle a bar bet. Which is more complex, an Iphone or a single moss plant? He said the newest Iphones had more “cells” — microprocessors — but each was only a 0 or a 1. Every cell of the moss plant was unimaginably more complex than all the cells of the Iphone combined. What would that make a real dolphin compared to a VR one? Never surrender!

    Reply
  2. Scott

    I thought that VR was pretty hokey until I tried it at a recent street festival. I was whisked to the top of a skyscraper and then invited to “walk the plank” off the top of the building. Even though the graphics weren’t all that good, I couldn’t make myself do it and turned around and “took the elevator” back to the ground floor. (Lots of kids much younger than I took the plunge.)

    Reply

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