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ISTE 2016: Virtual Reality, Big Ideas, and a Freak Hailstorm

Iste

ISTE 2016: Virtual Reality, Big Ideas, and a Freak Hailstorm

Here’s what caught my eye during a typically busy ed-tech show.

By Wayne D’Orio

DENVER—The beauty of going to a conference like ISTE is that actual experiences can replace preconceived notions. More than once, I found myself changing my mind as I came face-to-face with products I’d only heard about. While I certainly wasn’t able to cover the whole floor, never mind hit the sessions, here’s my short list of interesting developments at the three-day show.

Virtual Reality

The star category of last year was back, and despite my big dose of skepticism, I was impressed with the variety of experiences that falls under this heading. The category ranges from Samsung’s Gear VR headsets to Google’s inexpensive Cardboard experience. I visited two companies new to me, Lifeliqe and zSpace. Lifeliqe puts out a large headset that was so realistic it caused me to stumble a bit; I was impressed by the depth of STEM-related topics, from engines to a human heart, available with the set. zSpace uses a special computer monitor and a much lighter pair of glasses. It even allows for the experience to be shared with classmates who don a pair of glasses that look like they came straight from the local multiplex. zSpace also targets STEM topics, and school officials who already use the product raved about how much their students loved the experience.

Amazon’s Belated Unveiling

When Amazon officials told me on June 27 that they were “introducing” Amazon Inspire, I had to check a calendar. The service, a way for schoolteachers and administrators to locate open educational resources, or OERs, has been openly discussed for months, so its official launch seemed a little anticlimactic. The good news? The service works just like I (and probably you) imagined it would: Users can sift through a wide variety of materials using various filters, from student grades to authors to subjects. As the site ramps up, the number of items posted will exponentially increase, as will the number of practitioner grades and playlists that will help users better find the exact materials they want. I do have to note that the company faced some immediate copyright claims as several people claimed materials were posted without permission. This could be a key problem if Amazon can't solve the discrepancies quickly. In a flip, Apple executives were at the show to talk about something that had a quiet launch just prior to ISTE—Swift. This new open language is meant to help students learn to code and build apps for everything Apple, from iOS to the Apple Watch.

Vernier’s Latest

Maybe the single best device I saw at the show was the small Vernier FLIR ONE thermal camera. This device docks into an iPad’s lightning port and, using a free app, allows students to take thermal images and instantly compare the temperatures from a single video, whether it’s the air you exhale out of your nostrils or the glass of ice water you’re holding next to your face. The $250 device allows young scientists to export their data to create charts.

Discovery’s Big Hire

While not technically a part of ISTE, Discovery Education announced that decorated Mooresville superintendent Mark Edwards will join its team as senior vice president of digital learning. Edwards, whom we’ve written about several times in the past, is known for transitioning his small, poorly funded North Carolina school district to one of the top educational models in the country. Among many accolades, President Obama chose Mooresville as the location to announce the White House’s Digitial Promise program.

 

Denver Weather

While walking to an event on June 28, I found myself caught in some weather I didn’t think possible. When the summer skies opened up, superball-size hail pelted me as I sought cover under a courthouse’s overhang. Forty-five minutes later, after some torrential rain and heavy winds, the streets were so flooded that cars were stalling out. I was able to finally able to leave my refuge, and I dragged my wet self back to my hotel. A 15-minute walk had turned into a Gilligan’s Island experience. Lessons learned: It can hail during the summer, and a cab isn’t always a bad idea.

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