It may have only ended a couple of weeks ago, but MWC 19 feels like an eternity ago, especially when you consider all of the smartphones which were unveiled, and the numerous announcements regarding 5G.
While both of those themes garnered the most attention, some companies focused on other themes for the event.
One such company was Lenovo, which showcased its plans for the education industry and in particular its vision for the classroom of the future.
To that end we were treated to demo session at the Lenovo MWC 19 booth, where the company showcased how it plans to use VR headsets to not only make classrooms more interactive, but also open up a wider range of experiences for learners who may be limited by financial constraints.
Getting it up and running
So this is how our VR classroom experience went.
With regards to the headsets themselves, Lenovo is utilising its own Mirage Solo offering, with four designated to learners and one for the teacher.
The headsets are slightly different to those that Lenovo debuted last year, with a more solid construction and leather-esque padding on the does that can be removed and easily wiped down. The latter is rather important, according to Lenovo, with them noting that germs and bacteria are things that teachers need to be aware of, especially if a set of headsets were shared between several classrooms.
The initial setup of the VR demo took a few minutes, with each headset needing to be calibrated first for the correct program. While we were only five people in all, we can certainly see this taking quite a bit of time in a class of 20 or 25. Not to mention trying to keep younger learners focused on the task at hand.
We can see the need for a good amount of training time for teachers, as they not only need to be familiar with the hardware, but also needing to know how to troubleshoot any issues, which will undoubtedly come up should a few kids start messing around with their headset during the setup phase.
As for the headset themselves, they fit quite snugly and feel solid given the weighty design of the Mirage Solo. As such they should sit nicely once fitted onto a child, even of they have a penchant for wriggling or cannot sit still for long periods of time.
Shifting to the display, the one of the Mirage Solo is one of the better we’ve encountered on a VR headset. It’s fairly comparable to the HTC Vive, but has the added advantage of working sans any cords or external power supply, another important consideration in a classroom setup.
Making sure things stay focused
As for the content, Lenovo ran one application in particular, which explored the inside of the International Space Station (ISS). One of the tools that the company showcased on the Mirage Solo headsets, was the ability to direct the wearer’s attention to one aspect of the 360-degree environment.
This is done with an arrow that appears on the edge of the display and disappears once you’ve zeroed in on the desired spot. The teacher wearing the main headset also has the ability to see which wearers are looking at the spot or not, as well as knowing what they’re display is showing.
It’s a handy feature to ensure that the entire class is on the same page, but even there was a group larger than 15, we can see this becoming quite a labour intensive task, as teachers become more concerned about who’s paying attention than actually delivering an engaging lesson.
Overall the experience was enjoyable, and for the right subject matter, such as geography, science or biology, it could prove useful as a teaching aid. Some elements need to be ironed out, however, such as the time to set up and ensuring learners are paying attention.
These are issues that Lenovo hopefully aims to tackle while this initiative is still in the pilot phase for a small number of European countries.
When asked whether such an initiative could be brought to Africa, and SA in particular, Lenovo says it’s certainly a possibility, but for remains limited to a small pilot. Part of the reason why, we’re assuming, is that such a system is quite resource and data intensive.
There also needs to be a market for it. With local schools struggling to give their learners paper-based resources, making the jump to VR headsets doesn’t make sense at the moment. That said, Lenovo at least has the tools at its disposal should an innovative institution have the will.