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Board of Trustees tries virtual reality equipment

Virtual and augmented reality may impact future curriculum.

During the Board of Trustees retreat on March 7, Head of School Mr. Christian Talbot and the technology department presented a workshop in the Learning Commons unveiling recently purchased virtual reality technology.

“It’s my conviction that two of the greatest forces that will affect education over the next few years are virtual reality and artificial intelligence,” Talbot said.

According to Talbot, the workshop featured demonstrations of virtual reality and augmented reality.

“Augmented reality doesn’t immerse you in a different or virtual reality, rather it lays over the current reality,” Talbot said. “The easiest way to explain this is Snapchat filters. When you put a filter over this picture it puts a layer or mask over it.”

In order to demonstrate augmented reality, Talbot invited Board members to use Microsoft’s Hololens. According to the Hololens website, the device is the first self-contained, holographic computer. Users can interact with holograms in the world around them.

The cost for these headsets range from fairly inexpensive to hundreds of dollars for higher-end models.

A Google Cardboard headset costs only about $10. Talbot said Middle School Head Mr. Patrick Sillup is considering getting the 8th grade some Google Cardboard headsets for their study on Syria. Though Talbot has not purchased any Google Cardboard headsets yet for the school, Malvern did purchase two HTC Vive systems which cost about $800 each.

Talbot said that the school also purchased two Samsung Gear headsets, which he compared to a higher version of the Google Cardboard. The Gear VR headsets currently retail for around $80.

These systems are currently in the basement of Tolentine with the technology department until a more permanent location is identified.  

Talbot thinks that the virtual reality equipment could be beneficial to the school’s academic programs by allowing students to experience their topics rather than just learning about them.

He cited a potential use of the technology in the social entrepreneurship class.

“It would be a pretty powerful thing, I think, once a student team has identified the impact project they want to work on to immediately immerse them in some virtual reality experience of that situation that context,” he said.

Students who saw the new equipment in use during the Board retreat had some mixed opinions.

Junior Tim Mclaughlin has mixed feelings about the equipment. “I don’t really see the purpose of getting the VR stuff, I’m not sure what they use it for,” Mclaughlin said. “I think it’s cool, but what is it for?”

Sophomore AJ Wirtel has high hopes for the involvement of VR in Malvern academics. “VR is a great new technology,” he said. “I can’t imagine all the possibilities for it’s use in teaching, training and also just for fun.”

Sophomore Ethan Surovcik has been interning for the technology department, and was asked to assist the Board with the new equipment.

Surovcik has a positive outlook for the new equipment. “I think Virtual Reality is the future and it could help us understand complex things that are hard to learn from just reading a textbook,” he said.

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