Demonstrations of the HoloLens, Microsoft’s entry into the virtual reality field, have convinced a number of teachers that it will change STEM education. Professors of medicine, archeology and art history at Case Western Reserve University are testing the new technology and their reactions are unequivocally positive.
What is HoloLens?
The HoloLens is a device able to project holograms, overlaying objects and places, even people, directly onto whatever is already in place. Using it, virtual reality meets physical reality.
Made by Microsoft, the HoloLens augments current reality. It is a holographic computer that you wear. The headset is your gateway to seeing, hearing and connecting with objects in your environment.
Users can actually interact with holograms when they wear the headset. With just a twitch of your thumb and index finger, you can make things smaller, bigger or even cover a wall with specific objects. This makes more sense once you view the two-minute video from Microsoft.
The device is self-contained, requiring no connection to a PC. Using high-definition lenses and spatial sound technology, it has the power to immerse users into the holographic experience while still rooting them in the physical world.
And What’s a Hologram?
To appreciate how advanced the HoloLens is, you need to understand a bit about hologram technology. LiveScience describes it as a type of photography that can record the light that every object naturally scatters. This light is then presented as a three-dimensional object.
To make a hologram, you shine a laser beam on the object you want to record and on the medium used for the recording. It is essential to use the correct recording material so the object is clear. You also need an unclouded environment so the beams of light can intersect.
Think Star Wars and Iron Man. What you see in those movies is a bit more advanced than what scientists can create so far, but they are quickly catching up to Hollywood.
HoloLens and STEM Education
Sci-fi and STEM are a natural pairing; HoloLens is science fiction made real. That’s why teachers are excited try out this technology in their classrooms and see how it will change STEM education. Microsoft has demonstrated how one could play games like Minecraft, put together 3D models and power a robot. With these kinds of applications, teachers can incorporate this into STEM education curriculum and provide students with a more interactive learning environment.
The consumer release date has not been announced, so you won’t be seeing them in your classroom anytime soon, but you can sign up for a demo at the Microsoft site here. You can also apply for a developer’s kit at a cost of $3,000.
HoloLens and NASA
NASA is using HoloLens technology for Project Sidekick. The agency has long been interested in virtual and mixed reality devices to help with future space exploration. Sidekick lets space station crews get the assistance they need, on demand. The hope is that it will increase their efficiency and reduce the amount of training they require.
Sidekick uses two modes. Remote Expert Mode connects the crewmember to ground control via Skype. That way the person on the ground and the one in space are both seeing the same thing at the same time. Crews can get guidance for problems in real time as well as visual help.
The second is called Procedure Mode. As a crewmember interacts with an item, animated illustrations appear on top of the object. This means space station personnel don’t need to be in contact with the ground to get assistance. For deep space missions, this is a big advantage.
Resources for Educators
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=28&v=SKpKlh1-en0 — This video that explains how Case Western Reserve University is using the HoloLens. It shows students using them as they learn art history, medicine and archeology.
- http://www.trustedreviews.com/opinions/HoloLens-release-date-news-and-price — Here is the official Microsoft video that announced the HoloLens. It shows how easy it is for a person to interact with holograms.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu0gM0_vxIM — This is a 25-minute video presented by Microsoft at Build 2015. It explains the HoloLens technology in detail.
- http://www.emergingedtech.com/2012/11/7-ways-holographic-technology-will-make-learning-more-fun/ — This is an article on how emerging holographic technology will impact the classroom of the future.
- http://www.integraf.com/resources/articles/a-teaching-holography-in-classrooms — A paper about teaching holograph workshops in classrooms, museums, homes and businesses. The target age group ranges from young children to adults in all types of professions.