Education Department launches virtual reality challenge

A woman uses a Samsung VR headset at SXSW in 2015. (Nan Palmero/Flickr)

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The Department of Education is looking at new ways to deliver educational content to students to prepare them for 21st century skills and careers.

The federal agency this week launched the EdSim Challenge, a $680,000 competition to explore how virtual and augmented reality, 3-D simulations and multiplayer video games can enhance learning.

The contest taps into the brightest minds in virtual reality, video game developing and educational technology communities to submit immersive simulation ideas that will help students prepare for the workforce when they graduate.

According to the department, students who participate in digital learning simulations in science, technology, engineering and math had a 23 percent higher achievement rate than those who do not.

“This initiative is an exciting example of how virtual reality and game technologies can be applied to give students everywhere the tools to prepare for future success,” said Johan Uvin, acting assistant secretary for career, technical and adult education. “We encourage developers from all disciplines to answer our call and help define the future of applied learning.”

Officials encourage game developers to collaborate to come up with computer-generated virtual and augmented reality educational experiences, and make them available through open source licenses so that they are low cost.

Participants should submit their simulation concepts by Jan. 17, 2017. A panel of judges will evaluate the submissions and select up to five finalists who will move on to the Virtual Accelerator phase and then model their submissions at Demo Day.

Judges will be looking at five criteria, including learning outcomes, engagement, commitment, implementation strategy, and scalability and expansion.

Each finalist will win $50,000 and get access to mentors to help them refine their ideas and build prototypes. The Challenge grand prize winner will be awarded the remainder of the cash pool, around $430,000. The winner will also receive additional winnings from sponsors like IBM, Microsoft, Oculus and Samsung.

Another contest for game developers in the education field is coming up – the Small Business Innovation Research grant program, which is run out of several agencies including the Department of Education, is hosting its fourth annual ED Games Expo on Dec. 14. Developers from startups like Schell Games, Filament and Teachley will be at the expo to demonstrate their products and give out info.

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