3600ed democratises education with virtual headsets
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