Today, Oculus Rift, the company that pioneered VR, will be launching a pilot program that includes providing 100 units to libraries in California. These units include Oculus headsets, hand controls, and the computers needed to run the software. The program includes several software titles as well, designed to aid in education.
The program is a pilot that started as a smaller pilot by John MacLeod of VAR Libraries, who started a program on his own in a few libraries in California before ever interacting with Oculus. Once Oculus saw the interest in the program, they decided to partner with VAR Libraries and Califa to expand the program into 100 California libraries.
Oculus had made approximately 500 Rift donations to-date, including the ones to the California library systems, and:
- 260 Rifts and PCs to the TechStart Program (Facebook’s computer science initiative), installed in Arkansas
- 100 Rifts to the Oculus VR for Good and NextGen programs
- A small number of donations to several universities, giving them the opportunity for them to explore
As educational research projects are green-lit, Oculus support will include hardware donations, along with financial grants.
This project has three primary goals, which will help inform future Oculus Education projects. “The primary goal of the library project is to support equitable access to technology. Regardless of your gender, race, religion, or socioeconomic status, you are welcomed at the library and have free access to all the resources it provides.” The program aims to get as many people as possible to give VR a try.
Many industries are starting to transform through AR/VR technologies, and as that increases, career opportunities will evolve. If everyone is going to have a shot at participating in those new VR-based roles and economies, it’s important that as many people as possible are exposed to VR and thereby inspired to participate in the industry.
Second, the hope is that this program will help Oculus to understand the benefits and challenges of deploying a program like this at scale. For states and other organizations to scale large programs in the future, it’s important they understand what works well and what doesn’t.
And third, Oculus plans to encourage the layering of more educational content and experiences to add to the educational benefits. Collaborations with Facebook’s TechStart and inspirED programs, experiences developed through educational research investments, as well as the educational content available through the Oculus Store will be just the start.
“We’re early in our understanding of how VR works with education,” Cindy Ball, Program Manager for Oculus Education says. “The driver for VR has been so far, and will continue to be gaming. We want to focus on understanding how VR can also have a unique and positive impact on learning.”
This means that in addition to libraries, Oculus will be partnering with 30 research groups and non-profits soon to test how VR really works. Essentially the researchers will take an existing science curriculum and that perhaps uses simulations and gaming, and “transform those programs using VR,” says Ball. “We would then compare the student outcomes in the programs with and without VR. These results will show us whether VR is a good at enhancing that area of learning or it wasn’t. We are approaching this with an open mind, understanding VR may not be the solution in every area.”
Research groups are focusing on several areas from STEM education to the arts and storytelling. “Our definition of learning is broad. Using VR for drug intervention and situational training is something we are very interested in.”
Califa, the California Library Association, is very active nationally. It is hoped that as they feel the positive effects for their patrons, they will evangelize the importance of VR in libraries in other states.
Washington State has already shown interest, and Oculus has already had discussions with Cindy Aden, the state librarian, about putting pilot programs into four to five libraries throughout the state hopefully by the end of 2017. Expansion in Washington would be demand driven and involve well-educated decision making based on the success of the California program along with the pilot program in Washington.
“Oculus and Facebook both care about encouraging and attracting passionate technology talent,” Cindy Ball said. “Hopefully, this initiative inspires more people to consider taking part in our industry, helps them understand the many different skills and opportunities involved in creating VR experiences, and lets them envision being a part of that ecosystem.”
As the program is scaled nationwide, it is hoped that libraries and other organizations will prioritize funding for VR programs as they see it’s value in the library. “I think we are doing very well,” says Ball. “But if I had magical powers, I would accelerate and expand the educational programming across libraries. The end-goal is for more people to be inspired, educated and empowered. We’ll get there—I just want to get there faster!”