Welcome to the Extended Reality Initiative (XRi) blog page! In this initial blog post, I’m going to briefly explain what extended reality is, our current work at XRi, and the overarching goals of XRi at Kent State.
First, let’s talk about extended reality. Extended reality, or XR, is an umbrella term including, but not limited to: virtual reality, 360 video / photos, augmented reality, mixed reality, etc. If you are not familiar with some of these terms, here is a brief summary of the major terms discussed here:
360 Photo: Photographs that encompass a spherical view from the point of the camera. If you have ever used Google Maps Streetview to look “around” from a certain point on the map, you are using a 360 photo.
360 Video: This is a video version of 360 photos, and a primary medium for the current work of XRi at Kent State. Thus, 360 videos record video in a spherical form. Watching a 360 video means you can look left, right, up, down, in any direction.
Augmented Reality: This involves ‘augmenting’ a video or photograph digitally with some or several elements. An example includes some of the video/photo filters you see on social media. If you’ve ever taken a photo that adds a unicorn horn to your head and glitter coming out of your nose, you’ve used augmented reality.
Mixed Reality: This is essentially augmented reality but does a better job of blending the digital and real. For example, someone may create an AR (augmented reality) filter to add a dancing cat to a video chat. If someone walks around in the video where the dancing cat appears, the cat is always digitally ‘on top’ of the video. However, in MR (mixed reality), as the person walks back and forth, the dancing cat may appear to be behind the person walking, or in front, depending on where the person is walking in the video.
Virtual Reality: VR tends involve a 100% digitally created environment. Second Life is a famous example of VR.
Each of these terms has a particular take on XR. Although it is tempting to parse out specific experiences as belonging to one camp or another, in many cases something can have characteristics of several of these terms. For example, someone can view a 360 video using a VR headset and use AR elements to supplement their experience. Thus, XR allows for discussions of specific experiences as involving one or more of the above elements.
XRi at Kent State was born out of our work with 360 video to represent teaching practice. We began going into elementary classrooms and recording our mathematics teaching with different 360 video cameras. We then piloted use of one of these videos with preservice elementary teachers, comparing this with the standard “back of the room” video of the same lesson. What we found is that our future teachers not only felt more immersed watching 360 videos, they noticed more specific elements in the video. That’s right – they had more to look at and saw more specific detail. We used our pilot work to propose a project to the National Science Foundation and recently were awarded funds to expand our work. Over the next three years, we will create 360 video experiences that 1) include multiple vantage points (not just one camera perspective), 2) include AR elements to help scaffold teachers’ interactions with the 360 videos they engage, and 3) create and share the tools for others to make their own immersive 360 experiences. Essentially, we are trying to get as close to creating a holodeck for training teachers as we can. We recognize these tools can also be used to train professionals outside of the field of K-12 teaching, and plan to also share these tools with other fields.
Our current project (funded by NSF) is focused on using 360 video to train professional teachers. This focus has natural connections with various aspects of XR. As technologies emerge and become more affordable for wider use, we will continue to expand our interests and work. We are particularly interested in facilitating the application of consumer-grade equipment to XR. Too often, expensive equipment is promoted that then requires substantial skill (i.e., hiring a trained professional) to create viewable material for an audience. This results in relatively few XR experiences available to a wider audience, or if it is available, it is at significant cost. In our current project, we purposefully use cameras that can be purchased at a reasonable cost (or we provide recommendations for lower cost cameras that can provide useable video, albeit at slightly lower quality).
Future blog posts will focus on sharing news related to the project, and provide general “tips and tricks” we have learned (or are in the process of learning) related to XR. Thus, we hope that these posts become a resource for anyone interested in XR, generally, and the use of XR to train professionals, in particular.