In a previous post, I provided some observations as to why I thought the Quest was problematic for education. I would like to go even deeper into the issues to illustrate how the Quest may not be the right platform for educational purposes. This has become a long article, but will give you a clear-eyed look at what buying an Oculus Quest will mean for you, your school, district or institution.
As a short refresher, I will state very clearly that the Quest is a very good product being offered at a very good price. Neither of these is at issue. Also note that if you wanted to consider what company, globally, would benefit the most within the education sector from a device created by Oculus, I would submit that it would be Veative. Being an education content creator, Veative is concerned about what you learn with the VR, and not what you play that content on. The hardware is a means of delivery… period.
A recent exchange with a mid-sized (135 employees) company in Japan is an example of an entity with full intent of using the Quest as its go-to device of choice, ultimately shying away from that decision. Although they had purchased a number of devices for internal R&D, once they fully realized what the platform entailed and learned of other concerns through dialogue, they have completely scrapped that initial plan and will move to a mass-deployment-friendly 3 DoF VR device. If you are unsure what 3 DoF means, please refer to this article.
The above is by no means an isolated incident, and constantly needing to field such inquiries prompted the writing of the first article, as well as this follow-up.
As an educator myself, I completely understand the process when looking at something new like virtual reality. You read the articles and see demonstrations and figure that there is something to this immersive learning you keep hearing about. Then you go deeper and see plenty of research that shows efficacy in this type of learning and that beyond motivation and confidence gains, there really are improvements in understanding and conceptualizing, while offering positive effects on outcomes. You finish this up by reading about hardware and see the vast majority of people saying that the Oculus Quest is a great device and has a price which seems reasonable, if not lower than expected. Great!
However, I would put forth that although all of this may be true, it is still missing the point with respect to what our education goals are (connecting students with complex ideas), what is available (what content can be used right now), and are those in my charge safely and securely taken care of. I can’t honestly give an affirmative answer to these points, when considering the Quest.
So here is my pledge: convince me that the Quest is a fantastic choice for education, and we will convert our world’s largest library of STEM and ELL content to the Oculus Quest and fill the curriculum-aligned content needs of schools worldwide. I read many, many reviews and comments made by edtech influencers and self-professed experts in immersive learning who tout the Quest, and I will profess that I am someone who is very easily “guided by science.” Give me a cogent argument and I will abide. As yet, this has not happened.
This continues to be a major issue, for reasons previously discussed, but one in which I have read about the Quest with an alarming exclamatory statement, “that has been solved!” This sentiment alone is more concerning to me than the original lack of content problem. For that reason, let’s take a closer look at App Lab and SideQuest, the apparent “solutions” for dealing with content needs.
Loading content with App Lab requires an account with Oculus, submission of your app and they will decide if you can use your device as you would like to use it. Replace the word OCULUS with MICROSOFT and see how many people would be open to Microsoft as being the go-to body for decisions on what is acceptable for education. In my opinion, few would be so accepting of such a notion. It baffles me that Oculus would somehow be afforded such power, much the way that Apple traditionally has been.
In simple terms, what is happening here is that if you have made something that you would like to have on your Quest, you would first need to submit that for approval by Oculus, who would then bestow upon you the right to have that on your device. Read that line again if it didn’t sink in the first time.
For us, this becomes quite a big issue on its own with the reason being that we want students to work up to the point that they can create their own modules and play them in the headset. The six levels of Bloom’s taxonomy consist of remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. Creating is where we want to drive students to, and creating is where the Quest hits the brakes.
I know there will be those who say that students can build WebXR modules and stream them onto a Quest, via the Oculus Browser. There is merit to that, but I would suggest that if you are going to be a true solution for education, you need to consider the needs of all students, and by and large, all students do not have reliable access to high bandwidth that this would entail, especially when considering full classes streaming extremely dense and heavy VR projects. There needs to be a local solution if this will be used in classrooms in every country. App Lab makes no provision for teacher or student-created materials. App Lab is also not a commercial option for a company with a rich set of apps or modules (lots of content) which may opt to make them available as a budget-friendly subscription for schools with limited resources, namely, almost all of them.
To some, the answer to the problem of getting desirable content onto this VR device is SideQuest. I think not.
SideQuest is a 3rd party application required to allow you to use the apps you want, on your Quest. You may wish to read that one more time, because it is significant. You need to use a 3rd party application, which may not exist tomorrow (there is no official affiliation with Oculus) to be able to use the apps you want, on your Quest. You are essentially hacking your way into this device with educational content because there is no in-built provision for allowing you to use the device to your greatest advantage, or most pressing need. This is an education solution?
Now, let’s assume that this is not a concern to most people and grant that SideQuest is a wonderful way to load content (tongue in cheek, of course). What’s involved?
- Sign up for an Oculus Developer Account (they need your personal information before allowing you to access your device)
- Put your Quest into Developer Mode, to allow access into the device
- You need a mobile phone for this step
- Connect that phone with the device, make sure it is paired with the correct device
- Go to Settings and change to Developer Mode
- You will need to find your content in Unknown Sources
- When you add a 360 image or video, you need to switch OUT of Developer Mode and then load those onto the device.
- When you want to access your own apps again, you need to start over and do the entire process again, so that you can access the Unknown Sources section where your apps now reside.
- Remember to Allow USB Debugging on each headset (a pop-up which will appear once you have plugged in).
- And finally, note that this works with an Android phone, so if you are an iPhone user, you’ll just need to locate, purchase or “acquire” some Android phones.
Veative delivered 48 Oculus (Go) headsets to a school in Montreal. We loaded hundreds of interactive STEM modules onto these headsets, which of course looked and played beautifully. That is not the issue. The issue was the expectation of an “education company” like Oculus (oops… Facebook) with respect to the hoops a school would need to go through to load 48 headsets. Did they intend us to pair 48 different phones when we deployed, with 48 different accounts from 48 different people? Is that reasonable? No, it’s a nightmare.
Or perhaps the thinking was to assume we would pair 48 devices to one phone, and one account? Maybe that’s the alternative! Of course it should be of little surprise that it was simply an alternate nightmare.
In the end, it is not an overly difficult process should you have one device and a couple of apps. However, in an education setting, to fulfill the learning needs of students in a meaningful way would require more devices (we have sold from 8-48), and rich, interactive content which is aligned to the curriculum needs of a 15 year old Chemistry student, a 12 year old Math student, a 17 year old Physics student… and on and on. This is the very reason why we currently offer 543 STEM modules, aligned to various curricula, with assessment inside the environment and scores sent back to teachers. There must be something for everyone and our belief is that a half a dozen fun activities on a Quest do not meet the burden of the realities of education.
This is an area which is somewhat controversial, which is extraordinarily odd as we are simply considering buying a VR device. In the US, the price is $299US for the basic, 64 Gb model. If you require more storage (256 Gb), it will cost you $100US more. It’s a great price, and what could be controversial about that? Once again, it boils down to the absolute mandate to be a registered Facebook customer to be able to use this device. It is not a question of whether there is a value to Facebook by increasing their user base, because it would be childishly naïve to assume there is no value to that. In a PCGamer article, Alan Dexter surmises that the user data Facebook gets may be valued at $500, because there is a business version of the Quest (same device) which is sold for $799US. The math might not be that simple in that the business version includes some extras such as management tools, privacy, and support and warranty benefits. However, in Year 2 and beyond, Oculus applies a $180US yearly surcharge on this business version, which one would assume is in place to offset the extra tools. This would logically make one believe that the pricing delta ($320US) could be the value placed on user data.
We are not the customers of Facebook, we are the product. Facebook is selling us to advertisers. –Douglas Rushkoff
To allow this into any institution would extend explicit agreement of such a policy, because none of this is unknown or hidden. Some highlights from the Terms of Service:
- Preamble – Oculus Products are intended solely for users who are 13 or older. Any registration for, or use of, Oculus Products by anyone under the age of 13 is unauthorized, unlicensed and in violation of these Oculus Terms.
- 2.1 – You may only use Oculus Products for personal non-commercial purposes subject to the Terms and any other terms made available by us relating to Oculus Products.
- 3.3 – Permission to use your name, profile picture, and information about your actions with ads and sponsored content. You give us permission to use your name and profile picture and information about actions you have taken in Oculus Products next to or in connection with ads, offers, and other sponsored content that we display across our Facebook Products, without any compensation to you.
- 4.1 – We, at our sole discretion, may remove, delete or restrict access to content that we determine to violate such terms and policies…
- Section 8 of the Commercial Terms document states, We do not warrant that an Oculus Product can be commercially used in any specific regulated field or sector (for example, government, healthcare, financial services, or educational fields), or is suitable or designed for use for any particular commercial use, field or sector, or security environment. This is the only mention of education in either document.
And finally, that leads us to the elephant in the room. Facebook has faced a number of privacy concerns over the years, and continues to be excoriated for uses and abuses. These stem partly from the company’s revenue model that involves selling information about its users, and the loss of privacy this entails. As a result, individuals’ identities have sometimes been compromised without their permission. The second hidden danger of Facebook involves your privacy settings. Every time Facebook redesigns its website, your privacy settings revert to an unsafe default mode – essentially making all your info public. These redesigns happen about twice a year, and Facebook does not always notify you when they make changes. Vigilance is upon you.
I do believe that it is completely up to an individual to make that determination, on their own. If a buyer of a Facebook product (like the Oculus Quest) sees no harm in this and enjoys what could be viewed as a great convenience to be tied into the platform, it is absolutely that person’s right and choice. What I cannot do is make that decision for others, be it fellow teachers, administrators or students themselves.
One argument which has been brought to me on more than one occasion is that “all students are using Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat already, so what’s the harm?” Two things. It’s simply not true that all students use these. Many do, and possibly the majority, but definitely not all. And secondly, what right do I have to make that determination for all academic users, exposing their personal data because “I don’t think it’s a big deal.” I would argue that none of us has that right.
If it hasn’t become obvious quite yet, I will dig into what it means to make corporate decisions in the face of everything we know about the Oculus Quest and Facebook. We can all agree (well, almost all of us) that content is what should be the driver of a hardware purchase to be used for educational or institutional needs. Knowing this, it is extremely problematic for an educational content creator to invest large sums to develop rich, extensive modules, lessons or materials for a device which appears to be unsuitable for our audience. It would signal that we either don’t understand the needs of the education market, or that we are not concerned about those needs. Both cases are extremely troubling.
I will reiterate once again, as I do in person (ad nauseam!), that the Quest is a wonderful product, is offered at a great price and fills a great need for gaming and entertainment. It is a product that I desperately would love to promote and recommend, and would make my life as a creator of educational content infinitely easier. We have the ability to make our entire library of content available on the Quest… but we cannot. As a company fundamentally concerned with moving the immersive learning industry forward, we cannot support this device while also being a trusted ally for schools, districts and institutions as they move into this new realm of learning.
What’s the Answer?
So if the Quest is a bad option for education, then what is the right choice? There are some really good devices available, both 3 DoF and 6 DoF. Don’t make the wrong assumption that a 6 DoF headset is automatically better than a 3 DoF one. Again, the VR device chosen is the vehicle of delivery and what’s being delivered, content, should be the driver of all choices. But to answer the hardware question I am always asked, here are some options, with respect to education, or any scalable, mass deployment model (every fire department in India, every electrical lineman in North America, every newly-hired oil worker in Saudi Arabia):
- Veative EduPro
- Lenovo S3
- Pico Goblin
- HTC Vive Pro
- Pico Neo
I implore you to make your school or institutional choice based on what you will do with the device first, rightly placing the highest regard with respect to content. You will undoubtedly spend more on existing or custom-created content so being overly concerned about a few hundred dollars on the hardware side will surely end up costing far more in the end. So choose the best device that allows access to the content you want and need while also factoring in price, security, privacy, flexibility, battery life, convenience (online and offline), and possible future needs. Done this way, you won’t go wrong.
Media theorist and writer Douglas Rushkoff https://www.wired.co.uk/article/doug-rushkoff-hello-etsy
PCGamer article by Alan Dexter https://www.pcgamer.com/oculus-will-sell-you-a-quest-2-headset-that-doesnt-need-facebook-for-an-extra-dollar500/
Ben Lang (@benz145) twitter post https://twitter.com/benz145/status/1392243024462110721
Oculus Terms of Service https://www.oculus.com/legal/terms-of-service/
Oculus Commercial Terms https://www.oculus.com/legal/oculus-commercial-terms/
Oculus Quest and Education, Dave Dolan LinkedIn post https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/oculus-quest-education-dave-dolan/
Degrees of Freedom… 3DoF vs 6DoF https://www.veative.com/blog/degrees-of-freedom-3dof-vs-6dof/
Foto: Interactive Chemistry lab