Meeting Up with Educators in VR

A few days ago, I described how I was hanging out and shooting hoops, with some friends in VR. We were doing it in AltspaceVR , a social space where you can meet up with friends as well as strangers. AltspaceVR hosts a variety of events (music festivals, improv nights), educational programming (English conversation classes, C# Programming), and special interest groups (LGBTQ+ hangout, recovery groups, VR church).

While in AltspaceVR, I went to an Educators in VR meetup. Much of my interest in VR comes from questions I have about its potential for learning and exploration (both academic sorts of learning and exploration, as well as other sorts of learning and exploration, like therapy or simulation-based training).  A few years ago, I blogged about a great panel of educators using VR here, so it seemed like good luck that an Educators in VR meetup was happening the day I first logged on to AltspaceVR. I found it without a problem, and when I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout—about 3 dozen people (avatars) gathered in an outdoor social space.

Screen Shot 2020-04-05 at 3.40.39 PM
Educators in VR have been doing this for a while

The energetic MC of the meet-up was great—offering advice to newbies and setting expectations for behavior in an environment where it wasn’t clear which social norms applied. After a brief introduction, we broke into groups and people shared experiences of life and education at this crazy moment. The event itself sounded a lot like most every meeting of educators I’ve heard in the last month: when everything changes, suddenly and unexpectedly, it’s all anyone is talking about, whether over the phone, on social media or Zoom, or in VR.

At another level, the conversations felt like they followed a familiar train of thought, where the inquiry followed a sort of three step structure: first, a recognition that everything has changed (and/or, this changes everything–whether the agent of change is VR or Covid-19); second, this moment/technology has so much potential; and third, what do we do now?

Educators in VR seems to be trying to answer this question. It offers speakers and panels, advice and resources, and claims to be an “open, global, cross-platform community of educators, researchers, and trainers exploring and collaborating with and in virtual and augmented reality. Educators in VR is the connective tissue between academia and businesses in the VR education industry.” Its calendar is full: hosting several workshops a week and periodic conferences and other events.

Ultimately, only time will tell what VR actually revolutionizes. From the outside, now seems like a down moment in VR hype; but inside VR, it seems obvious that this is going to change the world. I remain convinced that there’s deep work to be done to figure out how we do real human things (learn, collaborate, explore, communicate, be with each other, etc.) in VR. Everyone at the Educators in VR event seemed similarly curious, and also similarly lacking answers. It seems like the sort of thing that will be discovered by actually doing and exploring, by meeting up and making things together, not by thinking about in the abstract or theorizing from the outside.

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