Virtual E-Learning?

E-learning has taken the education world by storm. According to ‘elearningfeeds.com’ 98% of organizations are predicted to use some form of e-learning coursework as part of their learning approach. In an article published by the University of North Texas at Dallas, e-learning is proven to increase knowledge retention from 25% to 60% (certifyme.net). Currently there are more than 4.6 million college students taking at least one course online (certifyme.net). Perhaps the most eyeopening statistic is the projection stating that 50% of all college courses will be taught online by 2019 (certifyme.net).

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It is fair to say that e-learning is a certified mega-trend. The ubiquitous digital age is introducing increasingly convenient modes of content organization that caters well to pedagogical curricula. This post won’t continue to beat down a very apparent evolution that everyone is accustomed to, but rather, I would like to emphasize the potential role of virtual reality in the e-learning industry. Many online courses have leveraged video as a controlled medium that is readily available for consumption. Echo360 is considered a leader in lecture capture solutions. Many classes within Boston College are utilizing the Echo360 platform as an accompanied resource for selected courses; the company touts themselves as a leader in the industry, providing solutions for over 6000 classrooms. In my opinion the platform is very robust, providing a variety of options for video and audio capture quality. The issue is that video quality is less than sub-par. As a student I found it very difficult to decipher what the Professor was writing on the board because of quality issues.

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I wondered; is this the best the e-learning industry can do? With such an undertow of a demand, one would think that video quality would be passed 480 pixels. The cameras themselves certainly look futuristic, the software panel provides endless options for the instructor but still, we’re working with 480 pixels. From a learning prospective, shouldn’t the video quality take precedence? The user is merely viewing a video in a controlled state, absorbing what needs to be absorbed when it is absorbed, therefore, I would argue, that video quality should be a priority when providing an e-learning solution. Another question worth asking is; what is beneficial from the classroom environment? The exchange of ideas without any barriers is a value that is presented in the classroom setting. A community of fellow learners can ask a question that leads to answers, providing a highly interactive environment that isn’t completely focused on the Professor but rather the classroom as a whole; learning within and from a community.

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Virtual reality will successfully leverage the valuable classroom environment and present a learning experience in a controlled e-learning environment. Imagine a 360 degree camera that is placed at the center of a live classroom. The user can interact with the footage and look around the classroom to gauge the environment of fellow students. This type of learning experience would give rise to greater flexibility in regards to engaging not only the professor but the learning community. Users would be able to engage questions, zoom in at 4K resolution and look at the finest details on the chalk board. They would be able to chime in on opportune interactive discussions between individual/groups and the professor, all while having the luxury of repeating the footage as many times as one would like. 3D camera solutions are in development, GoPro has taken a different route, developing a rig that holds 6 GoPro cameras (spherical rig). The patched footage successfully compiles into a lush, interactive 3D video experience. Last Monday Google released a VR campaign dubbed; the Expeditions Pioneer Program, a free field trip simulator that allows students to experience distant environments to spec, such as Mars. The Expeditions program offers over 100 virtual sites for students to engage with. The release of the program extended to other international countries such as Brazil, New Zealand and the UK (observer.com).  Interactivity goes hand in hand with virtual reality, the growth in the e-learning industry must eventually address the value of the parallel trend that is virtual reality.

7 comments

  1. Interesting post. I took an online class last semester. The video quality was horrible and I personally did not feel that I gained the same as I do in regular classes. The reason was not so much the bad quality, but more the lack of interaction with the professor and the other students. As you said, the highly interactive environment enables us to learn from each other, so I think it will be interesting if virtual reality can in fact improve the online learning experience.

  2. My experience with online learning has come out personal interest in certain subject matters. This Summer I “took” a course in computer graphics at Stanford but really all I did was find the class syllabus, do the readings and attempt the homeworks. Although there’s nothing too profound about this from an enabling technology perspective, I was still pleasantly surprised at how legitimate a course experience could feel online and even with no professor.

    Having mentioned this, must say that I can’t quite relate in regards to the subject of poor video quality in online classes. I do agree however, that having significantly higher quality video available for students to see the whiteboard and whatnot is compulsory. An hour of 4k video may still be too much to ask of our storage and steaming abilities, but I do see both that and VR coming into play in the near future.

    PS- to anyone who cares about CG, here’s the Stanford Course.. It was facsinating: http://web.stanford.edu/class/cs148/lectures.html

  3. Wow, this was a very insightful and intriguing post. I enjoyed the fact that you had a lot of data to back up your claims, it really enhanced you credibility. What is interesting about the way we learn today and have learned in the past is that someone decided a very long time ago the atmosphere and interaction within the classroom. There must be a group of less knowledgeable people being led by a knowledgeable professor on the topic. The greatest thing about this class is that it is mostly run by the students. In the future, I think we will have to change the entire structure of the classroom, and virtual learning will be the instrument for this change.

  4. E-learning is definitely spreading throughout the field of education. I think a great aspect of e-learning is that it can be implemented in schools that don’t have many recourses. For example an environmental studies class can be taught at a school that does not have a teacher to teach the subject. E-learning can can also provide lab stimulations to schools that do not have the funds to have classroom science labs.

  5. I think e-learning has both its benefits and downfalls. On the good side, e-learning is convenient as everything can be done from your computer in your own room. The ability to potentially run educational simulations could be a huge step in the right direction. The obvious downsides include the inability to be in the actual classroom environment. When you are in the classroom with other students and a physical professor there is a more studious environment. I believe physical classrooms force students to pay more attention overall. Further, e-learning can make it easier to procrastinate doing your work or listening to the lectures. The though of virtual reality in classrooms is extremely intriguing. I think that it will take time until it becomes mainstream, but overall I think it could be a great way to enhance learning through activities like simulations. Great blog!

  6. I agree with many of the other commenters – there are benefits and drawbacks to online classes. I’m in an online class right now and majority of our discussions happen via group chat. It’s hard to keep up with everything that’s happening and since the course only meets once a week, we are unable to build connections and create shared learning experiences with our peers.

    I think online classes were there isn’t a need for a lot of collaboration work best since you can take the course at your on pace and work independently. Otherwise, the hybrid model, such as the one we have in this class works better (for me, anyway) because the conversations that are happening online can also happen in person.

    The idea of VR is interesting – and I know they’re doing it for warfare and crisis situations (like in nursing school) – so that might be something worth exploring.

  7. Nice. I do think technology is changing learning. I am always experimenting in this class, and would never return to “traditional” teaching. Did hear an example where in VR classroom, they can make it so it looks like the prof is always looking directly at you, which improves attention. Cool concept

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