3600ed democra­tises ed­u­ca­tion with vir­tual head­sets

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Local Business - SHIU WANG CHAU busi­ness@mm­times.com

THE ac­tual fig­ure for to­tal rev­enue, world­wide, for the Vir­tual Re­al­ity in­dus­try has not yet ful­filled the hype it re­ceived. How­ever, in Myan­mar, be­liev­ers in this tech­nol­ogy have not lost their faith, and they are not gam­ing con­sole pro­fes­sion­als – they work for an ed­u­ca­tion en­ter­prise. From “tele­port­ing” Myan­mar teach­ers for them to learn about best prac­tices to democratis­ing knowl­edge in an era of open­ing up, an ed­u­ca­tion start-up in Yangon sounds ͼ both

am­bi­tious and vi­sion­ary. 360 ed – a non-profit ed­u­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy en­ter­prise based out of Sin­gu­lar­ity Univer­sity in NASA Re­search Park, Sil­i­con Val­ley in July 2016 – aims to trans­form Myan­mar’s ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor us­ing dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy such as Vir­tual Re­al­ity (VR) and Aug­mented Re­al­ity (AR).

VR utilises com­puter-gen­er­ated sim­u­la­tions of a three-di­men­sional en­vi­ron­ment which can be in­ter­acted with in a seem­ingly real or phys­i­cal way by way of us­ing spe­cial electronic sen­sors. In con­trast, AR uses tech­nol­ogy which su­per­im­poses a com­put­er­gen­er­ated in­ter­face of the real world through a screen and a cam­era.

The non-profit sees the po­ten­tial in those two tech­nolo­gies to bring about fun­da­men­tal changes in how ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices or op­por­tu­ni­ties can reach out to the pop­u­la­tion.

Ad­vances in both VR and AR will al­low the tech­nolo­gies to po­ten­tially

ͼ be an in­te­gral part of the “21 -cen­tury

st learn­ing”, ac­cord­ing to 360 ed, which seeks to lev­er­age those tools to re­vamp the na­tion-wide ed­u­ca­tion re­form pro­cesses.

In or­der to un­der­stand how this grand am­bi­tion works, The Myan­mar Times vis­ited the head­quar­ters of the tech-ͼ-start-up in Tamwe township.

Daw Hla Hla Win, a co-founder of 360 ed told The Myan­mar Times that they have four pil­lars within their pri­mary ob­jec­tive.

Teach­ers and teach­ing Us­ing VR tech­nol­ogy in teacher train­ing is the first pil­lar. Daw Hla Hla Win at­taches great im­por­tance to teach­ers in Myan­mar ac­cept­ing, un­der­stand­ing and us­ing the tech­nol­ogy. She is anx­ious that teach­ers will not ac­cept the op­por­tu­ni­ties opened up.

“What I re­ally worry about are the teach­ers.

“Teach­ers are very in­flu­en­tial in Myan­mar, and they are the gate­keep­ers. If they are scared of the tech­nol­ogy, they keep the gates closed, and that’s the end of our fu­ture gen­er­a­tion,” she said.

“In my last trip to the US, I vis­ited schools in the East Coast, I also vis­ited schools in Sil­i­con Val­ley. I was so over­whelm­ingly in­spired and I wish I could bring more teach­ers to those class­rooms, we [Myan­mar] have about 400-500,000 more teach­ers, and it was

360ͼed a dream,” she added.

With VR, aims to pro­vide teach­ers in Myan­mar ac­cess to class­rooms all around the world, so they can learn first­hand about best prac­tices and learn from ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als in other coun­tries.

The sec­ond pil­lar is im­ple­ment­ing VR ex­ten­sively in class­room teach­ing. VR al­lows stu­dents to per­son­ally ex­pe­ri­ence what they are learn­ing by im­mer­sion – us­ing footage which gives stu­dents the sense of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the topic. This will largely im­prove stu­dents’ learn­ing curve and their mem­ory.

The third goal for the tech start-up con­cerns the use of AR in teach­ing and self-study. Chil­dren grow­ing up in the present dig­i­tal era may find con­ven­tional study­ing meth­ods such as read­ing

360ͼed and writ­ing notes rather repet­i­tive and bor­ing. Hence, seeks to in­cor­po­rate mo­bile de­vices into their ev­ery­day learn­ing process.

The en­ter­prise plans to de­velop an AR app which is com­pat­i­ble with both stu­dents and teach­ers.

With the app, users can just sim­ply scan their phone cam­era over a cer­tain page of book then a two-di­men­sional or three-di­men­sional image, which re­lates to the text, will ap­pear. This en­cour­ages young­sters to read more and vi­su­al­is­ing in­for­ma­tion en­ables bet­ter un­der­stand­ing and mem­ory re­ten­tion. As for teach­ers, AR images from the app can be pro­jected onto a class­room screen, cre­at­ing a more in­ter­ac­tive and en­gag­ing learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Made in China Ex­pen­sive gear is one of the main ob­sta­cles stand­ing in the way of wide­spread use of VR head­sets. In­ter­na­tion­ally, the gear re­quires a so­phis­ti­cated com­puter or gam­ing con­sole to func­tion. But China has come up with a way to de­sign a gear which, once a smart phone is in­serted, be­comes a de facto head­set.

The start-up showed The Myan­mar Times the “Chi­nese-made” head­set, which is much cheaper. Its af­ford­abil­ity presents a pos­si­bil­ity that the pop­u­la­tion can adopt the de­vice en masse.

“The good thing about Myan­mar is that since we all have th­ese smart phones, we don’t have to in­vest in th­ese new de­vices ... They can just down­load the app,” Hla Hla Win ob­served.

Some of the AR images are linked to Youtube videos and teach­ers may even up­load their own videos onto the app as a user gen­er­ated con­tent (UGC), which fur­ther ex­plains rel­e­vant in­form at ion ͼ re­gard­ing

the image or text. 360 ed cur­rently fo­cuses this tech­nol­ogy on 9th to 10th graders, who are aged be­tween 14 and 15, and par­tic­u­larly for chil­dren in re­mote ar­eas of the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to Daw Hla Hla Win, in those ar­eas, it is hard to se­cure a suf­fi­cient num­ber of good teach­ers, even if there is the money

360ͼed’s and re­sources. The key to the prob­lem is the AR app. With the app, stu­dents can self-teach and con­duct learn­ing based on re­li­able con­tent cre­ated from cred­i­ble teach­ers – ful­fill­ing Daw Hla Hla Win’s vi­sion to democra­tise the qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion.

STEAM The fourth pil­lar is set­ting up a 360 marker school by us­ing a project-based learn­ing cur­ricu­lum which fo­cuses on science, tech­nol­ogy, engineering, arts and math­e­mat­ics (STEAM). The aim of the cur­ricu­lum is to im­prove chil­dren’s cre­ativ­ity, crit­i­cal think­ing and prob­lem solv­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion, and tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity of their own work by let­ting stu­dents take charge of their own projects.

Our in­ter­vie­wee is proud to share the achieve­ments of her team since the

ͼ found­ing of the start-up.

In Septem­ber 2016, 360 ed held a beta-test­ing event in Man­dalay, invit­ing 128 pri­vate schools within Myan­mar to see if VR and AR tech­nol­ogy has a place in Myan­mar ed­u­ca­tion. “The test was pretty pos­i­tive,” Daw

ͼ Hla Hla Win noted.

360 ed has also held three VR Hackathons since Fe­bru­ary 2017. The pur­poses of th­ese com­pe­ti­tions are to pro­mote the idea of VR tech­nol­ogy in Myan­mar.

“There is not much tal­ent here, even for app writ­ing, so we are hold­ing events such as Hackathon to cre­ate more VR film-mak­ers in Myan­mar. Some of my em­ploy­ees are the par­tic­i­pants of this VR Hackathon,” she added.

Daw Hla Hla Win and her col­leagues’ work have at­tracted a lot of in­ter­est from both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ties, with abun­dant fund­ing com­ing in for equip­ments and gears. How­ever, money is not the so­lu­tion to all of their prob­lems. She in­sisted on cre­at­ing the ed­u­ca­tion con­tent in Myan­mar, be­cause of her con­cern that teach­ing ma­te­ri­als pro­duced abroad may not fit the needs of lo­cal teach­ers.

“We need to take time to cre­ate the con­tent, we have many of th­ese gad­gets, but that’s not the so­lu­tion. We need sub­stance as well.

“And there has to be a lo­cal con­text, be­cause a teacher in Sil­i­con Val­ley will have dif­fer­ent chal­lenges than teach­ers here … like work­ing with 80 chil­dren

360ͼed in one class­room,” she added.

is cur­rently in a part­ner­ship with var­i­ous lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies, uni­ver­si­ties and gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions, from the Univer­sity of Man­dalay, Myan­mar In­sti­tute of In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy (MIIT) and Bard Col­lege in New York to the Bri­tish Coun­cil. Ja­pan In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion

ͼ(JICA) Agency is cur­rently sup­port­ing 360 ed in de­vel­op­ing an AR app for kinder­garten-based learn­ing ma­te­rial, al­though the prod­uct is still a pro­to­type. JICA is also over­look­ing the pri­mary lev­els of teach­ers train­ing, aim­ing to pro­vide pro­fes­sional-qual­ity train­ing to teach­ers, and hopes to ex­tend th­ese train­ings to all re­gional or state lev­els us­ing VR.

For the broader VR in­dus­try, games de­vel­op­ers need to know how to en­gage play­ers and keep them cap­ti­vated, and

ͼ how to tell sto­ries in a non-lin­ear fash­ion. 360 ed might as well trans­form into a gam­ing en­ter­prise – by com­bin­ing ed­u­ca­tion and the wide tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try in one mis­sion, the democrati­sa­tion of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence, the tech start-up has cer­tainly told The Myan­mar Times a fas­ci­nat­ing story.

‘Teach­ers are very in­flu­en­tial in Myan­mar, and they are the gate­keep­ers. If they are scared of the tech­nol­ogy, they keep the gates closed, and that’s the end of our fu­ture gen­er­a­tion.’ Daw Hla Hla Win 3600ed

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