The Cost of Innovation: When Does It Make Cents to Buy In?

Future Reality
Future Reality

I’ve been deep in conversations with colleagues as well as friends and anyone else who will listen about Learning Technology’s next three-year plan and what might be best to include in it. This has surfaced topics of discussion that have ranged from computational thinking & coding to mobile learning practices to assessment & digital portfolios; what these might look like and how best to implement these successfully at various grade levels; and our thoughts about what the next great innovation in the educational technology space will be.

We often turn to documents like the Horizon Report for guidance on such matters. It provides a look at the short, middle and long-term outlook regarding innovative practices and supportive technologies, the cost/benefits of these and likely adoption timing of said practices/technology combinations in various educational spaces (k-8, high school, and beyond).

One topic that continually is on our radar is Virtual Reality or VR. Check out some examples here : Flipside, Co-Spaces, Tinkercad, Unity, Sketchfab; 8 Amazing Uses of Vr That Will Blow Your Mind ; When VR Meets Education; 7 Top Educational Virtual Reality Apps ; Real Uses of Virtual Reality in Education; 10 COMPANIES WORKING ON EDUCATION IN VIRTUAL REALITY. A very promising technology that “refers to computer-generated environments that simulate the physical presence of people and/or objects and realistic sensory experiences. At a basic level, this technology takes the form of 3D images that users interact with and manipulate via a computer interface.”

“VR devices break down into two categories: high-end headsets, such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or Sony PlayStation VR, and budget headsets that include the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard along with accessories like headphones and haptic controller accessories.”

“Contemporary applications allow users to more authentically ‘feel’ the objects in these displays through gesture-based and haptic devices, which provide tactile information through force feedback. VR models can be created using a variety of CAD software such as Flipside, Co-Spaces, Tinkercad, Unity, and Sketchfab. These content creation tools along with the viewers can make learning more authentic, allow for empathetic experiences, and increase student engagement.” – excerpts from the Horizon Report 2017

For the last number of years, VR has held a position in the “four to five years out” and has only just this year moved into the “two to three years out” position in the Horizon Report. This is excellent news for educators and learners alike. It brings the benefits of VR learning and the creative spaces provided by application environments like Flipside or Co-Spaces to be leveraged in classrooms closer to reality.

There is no denying that VR in education has many educational benefits. It doesn’t take much looking on the Internet or elsewhere to find resources dedicated to this topic:

As Terry Heick said in Why Virtual Reality is So Important, “Through the use of digital technology, virtual realities can be designed precisely for human interaction for very specific reasons to create experiences not otherwise possible.

By suspending disbelief the same way we do when we read a novel or watch a movie, an artificial reality can be designed to enable experiential learning, scenario-based learning, social learning, workplace training, and more. Virtual reality can be used for pure entertainment–digital toys, video games, or to swim with whales.”

There are many reasons to laud the possibilities inherent in this blossoming new technology… Sylvia Duckworth presents some these in her Sketchnote fashion.

10 Reasons To Use Virtual Reality In The Classroom
10 Reasons To Use Virtual Reality In The Classroom

Here’s a few other samplings from around the Net:

  • Not possible in reality is likely possible in virtual reality
  • Virtual game-based experience increases students’ motivation/engagement
  • Bridging cultures and fostering understanding among young students
  • VR allow learners to collaboratively construct architectural models, recreations of historic or natural sites and other spatial renderings
  • VR engages students in topics related to literature, history and economics by offering a deeply immersive sense of place and time, whether historic or evolving.
SAMR Continuum
SAMR Continuum

If we were to look at the SAMR continuum model originally created by Ruben R. Puentedura, many VR tools would be considered transformative in nature, redefining how traditional tasks would be done; changing them so dramatically that the original task could not be completed in the same way NOT using the tool.

Co-Spaces Edu is a VR Creation/Coding tool that is gaining ground in the Division. Co-Spaces Edu is a creative platform for all ages and subjects. It complements traditional teaching methods by immersing students into a world where they can create, consume and connect with the curriculum on a completely new level, even through the revolutionary visual medium of virtual reality! Learners/Teachers can easily create 3D & VR content. They can code spaces with Blockly, JavaScript or TypeScript. Learners/Teachers can explore creations even in VR. Teachers can manage and observe their students’ creation process.

Sounds impressive, and it is! What’s not to like?

Recently some select members of our Division had a bit of tour of an amazingly promising tool called Flipside. This tool is probably best described as a VR film/animation making VR environment. On their website, Flipside describe their tool as “your own virtual TV studio. With nothing more than an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, you can produce your own animated shows in real-time, whether they’re recorded or streamed live to the web.” Sounds incredible and the experience for “VR-naut” was immersive and unlike anything experienced before. Fully enriching, multiple opportunities for cross-curricular connections, much more flexible and forgiving than an actual film/animation making environment. Truly amazing, gobsmacking even! The ability for a learner to succeed in such an environment is huge.

What’s not to like? At first glance, nothing really.

Nothing that is until we look at accessibility. By accessibility, I am referring to total cost of ownership in terms of funds, at least, necessary for purchasing the hardware to provide the above enriched experience for a single VR-naut. As you may have surmised, It’s not inexpensive.

And here’s where we come to the crux of this article and perhaps speaks to the reason why VR hovers for now, just out of reach in the adoption timing stated in the Horizon Report: the costs may not yet justify the benefits.

Let’s look at the two scenarios, not from an educational stand point, because both provide experiences that are transformative and valuable in nature, but from a cost stand point:

Both platforms require a VR headset of some sort. Here’s the lay of the land in that department. Despite the fact that VR is still developing, some progress has been seen in the economic scaling of this technology. The cost to the consumer of VR hardware (headsets, in particular, but also prefer computer desktops to drive the headsets, particularly the Video RAM, RAM and overall speed requirements which are hefty) are steadily declining, as noted in the head­-mounted displays (HMDs) commercially available today: Google Cardboard for $11 and Samsung Gear VR for $80 or the Oculus Rift, a desktop VR device, is available for $599/HTC VIVE retailing for $799.

The “For Now” Cost Breakdown:

Co-spaces Edu:

  1. Google Cardboard: $10
  2. With an iPhone (possibly older phones and iPods), or Android Phone: $199 (or personal devices)
  3. Platform costs – Basic : free, Pro: USD $75 per year (best use for education)


  1. Oculus Rift for $599/HTC VIVE for $799
  2. Desktop Device (minimum requirements 8GB RAM, intel i5 or better, NVIDIA GTX 1060 / AMD Radeon RX 480 or greater). One should note that minimum requirements are just that. This will allow ONE OCULUS RIFT/VIVE device to function with your Desktop, but not necessarily within the game or program that you want to use it with. Devices such as these will run somewhere in the the $1500-$2000 range and if you would like more than one headset connection, you will need more RAM, greater number of connection ports, potentially a faster graphics card and processor.
  3. Platform costs: at the moment an indy licence is $200 monthly for a single seat, or for a business licence, $1000 monthly. This may change as educational licensing is discussed, but this is not in place at the moment.

The cost to get ONE VR-naut into VR-land is approximately $211 for Cospaces per year( $10 + $199 + (US$75/50seats) ) and Flipside will be at least $4,099 per year ($599 Oculus Rift + $1500 Minimum Requirements + ($200 x 10 months of the school year) ).

VR has a definitive place of value, but are these kinds of costs an educational reality when so many other critical learning technology priorities are pressing as well?

Here are the facts as of the writing of this article and as best as I can present them. We have a transformative technology with great potential for enhancing some learners’ pathways.

The issue is, it will only impact a very few at present. Costs of Ownership help inform my decision making in many situations especially related to bigger ticket educational items as do solid educational rationales. Are the costs for one-person-at-a-time cycling through an experience, assembly-line style, to get at the true benefits of an incredible technology worth it? I not entirely certain, for a number of reasons:

    1. First off, I am sure that this is not meaningful practice! Using technology for technology sake when we can’t ensure we implement it using educational practices that are solid and effective seems backwards, inefficient and, at best, exclusive. Let’s take a minute to harken back to Smartboard days! In their heyday, these devices were a hot technology commodity, despite the fact they were essentially large mice allowing initially one (and much later on, up to four people) to manipulate objects at the same time on an interactive surface (although truthfully, in my experience, the implementation is most always done with one person touching the board at a time). When looking at the SAMR Continuum model, Smartboards primarily enhance learning, they tend not to be used in a transformative way. Teachers simply took existing ways of doing things and digitized them with no or hardly any functional change – for example a work sheet could be presented and completed digitally, usually by one person, with the rest of the class looking on. Not a terribly effective, efficient or a fully class-engaging activity.Sounding familiar? We may be setting up a similar situation with the VR-naut in the Flipside scenario. A school may only be able to afford one VR setup for the school. So one VR-naut gets to drive and be fully immersed in and benefit from the VR experience. And what of the rest of the class? Well, they can watch. Or they could be involved in other parts of a larger process involving planning for the VR-naut experience when it’s their turn, or supporting the existing VR-naut. But they are NOT experiencing the VR experience directly or often. This could be a problem. So how is this issue best addressed?
    2. Secondly, spending a lot money to impact a few rather than having a solid plan for impacting the many seems wasteful in times of fiscal responsibility and restraint.
    3. Thirdly, even the soothsayers and technology pundits involved in assembling the venerable Horizon Report peg VR technology as being “2 to 3 or more years out” of mainstream education. Should we wait then for the right time?
    4. Finally, the markets will hopefully play in our favour: prices for these devices, the headsets in particular, will continue to drop if the developers of such tools want to break into the educational markets at all.

It’s a tough decision to make. This decision is made even more difficult when we consider things like:

  • Are all schools device equitable? Do all schools have the same proportion of devices available per student? Is there a reasonable ratio of devices per student in the Division (say 3:1)? Do all students have reasonable access to devices?
  • Do all schools have ubiquitous wireless enough to handle B.Y.O.D. needs as well as all Divisional devices in the building? What’s needed to bolster and augment this in buildings? How are dead spaces addressed?
  • Are all schools prepared for a mobile learning, maker-space learning environments and what these mean in terms of pedagogical changes? Is the training in place? Does VR learning fit in a mobile learning milieu easily (hardware-wise/pedegoical-wise)?
  • What about assessment training and connecting this meaningfully to digital portfolio development? What supports are needed here? What are the costs?

These are all incredibly vital Learning Technology initiatives that need attention, training dollars and development & resource money. Where will this come from if monies are being redirected in large amounts to VR? Can this funding gap be offset possibly by parent groups? Possibly by fund raising? Possibly grants? Or even from school-based decision making. None of these options are sustainable or even desirable necessarily as they can promote the “haves and have-nots” syndrome. Yes, we could talk about priorities and yes, VR could come out on top. In my opinion, this could be a tragic mistake. The list above contains too many highly critical items, much more important and pressing than pushing forward into VR at this moment.

However, I wanted to be able to go back to my colleagues with some information to assist in trying to figure out how best to build this idea of VR learning successfully into our next three year plan. We could, after all, start small.

To that end, I have been casually surveying administrators, teachers, parents, business people from around Winnipeg over the holiday to get a sense of their thinking regarding this innovative technology idea. Here are their thoughts in brief:

  • Great idea. Love this VR stuff. Can you really create like that in VR? Virtual Reality is the future. I can’t wait for this to be brought into schools. How much time will my kid get to use this?
  • How can we justify these costs when classrooms can’t even manage wireless?
  • What about just regular devices for students? Are there enough of those available to students?
  • What did you say the costs were for just one student to use this technology again? Seriously? Your joking?
  • What about balance? Surely we don’t have to jump immediately into every new thing as it comes out!
  • What about evaluating things? Can’t we see if the benefits really justify the costs? How is this done effectively?

The general feeling was that the technology is incredible, but too costly at the moment. So how to proceed?

Maybe we need to set our sights on the what schools can actually use now rather on what they may be able to afford for all sometime. I have heard the term “pockets of innovation” over-used too often lately. People have used it to rationalize the purchasing of expensive technology before really evaluating whether that technology is an appropriate purchase for the learners for whom it’s intended. I find this statement used this way supercilious and in the end an unwise rationale. So not a pocket of innovation! What will our focus be then?

We should probably try to start small. Looking at what’s affordable today, we have the Google Cardboard glasses option and Co-spaces or Tinkercad that seem within reach. Flipside seems out of reach for the time being, despite it’s incredible potential. In fact, anything related to higher end headsets like the Oculus Rift or the VIVE seems financially problematic at this time! The requirements are simply too rich for the next few years. Building this into a three-year plan? Maybe a Professional Learning Community (P.L.C.) to explore Co-spaces, the effective use of Google cardboard, effective; efficient teaching/learning practices within and surround a VR environment; how VR and mobile learning dovetail; perhaps where VR fits in the new LwICT continuum. Those are the kinds of investigations we should be perhaps exploring in the plan.

I think it behooves us to take a step back, to slow down and to look at the quickly blossoming landscape of both augmented and virtual reality and see how it makes sense to infuse it into our existing system. This is going to take some careful thinking from a group of intelligent people. How do we start? How do we make it learning/learner focused? How can we make it cost-effective? How can it be sustainable? This is possible and perhaps the WSD VR PLC is the way to make this a VIRTUAL REALITY!

8 Tried and True Edtech Tools to Try in 2018

Steve Dembo on episode 222 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Sometimes the best tools have been around awhile. Steve Dembo @teach42 talks about the tried and true tools that teachers should still use.

8 edtech tools to try in 2018

Richard Byrne, author of Free Technology for Teachers has several online professional development options  to check out: GSuite for Teachers, Teaching History with Technology, and Practical Edtech Coaching.

See all of Richard’s Courses at Richard is not a sponsor of the show, however I am an affiliate.

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Enhanced Transcript

Tried and True Edtech Tools to Try in 2018

Link to show:
Date: January 2, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with my friend, Steve Dembo @teach42, coauthor of Untangling the Web. He was one of my first blogs that I read, and first podcasts I listened to.

Steve, today for Ed Tech Tool Tuesday, what are some things that people need to try in 2018? Do we need to always be doing the new latest and greatest, or are there some things that maybe we might need to dust off?

Why Time-Tested Tried and True Tools Are So Useful

Steve: Well, I think it’s interesting, because a lot of times when people go to conferences, they’re always seeking out, “What are the ones I haven’t heard of before?” They’re looking for something new and shiny and sexy and so on.

But the reality is, the new ones are sometimes the ones that aren’t necessarily well established, that don’t necessarily have a good financial plan in place. They’re the ones that you can’t necessarily depend on still being there Monday when you want to start using it with students.

And yet, there are all of these great tried and true Web 2.0 tools, or online technologies that not only have a firm financial plan in place or they will withstand the test of time, and they’ve actually been well developed over the year, with new features and so on.

I think sometimes people — instead of focusing on what’s new and what they haven’t seen before — they need to be focusing more on making better and more effective use of the ones that are well established.

Vicki: OK, give us some of those well established.

Tool #1 Padlet

Steve: Well, I’ll take Padlet.

I think Padlet is a perfect first example because everybody kind of knows what it does. For a little while, everybody was talking about it because it was the greatest, newest, shiniest thing.

And yet nobody really talks about it much anymore. There’s an entire generation of teachers that aren’t familiar with Padlet because nobody’s evangelizing it anymore.

And, they have done a phenomenal job of upgrading it over time, of adding more educational-friendly features, of adding things like commenting, adding new layouts and columns and so on. So it can function sort of like a Trello, where you can have upvoting ala Reddit, making it a lot more interactive and kind of changing the nature of the way these Padlets can function so that it can fit a lot more needs.

And yet, a lot of people think, “Oh, I’m familiar with Padlet, or I’m familiar with Wallwisher,” (note: Wallwisher is now Padlet) and they don’t take the time to go explore, “What can it do for me NOW?”

Vicki: OH, and it’s such a fantastic tool to use. I don’t know why we keep thinking we have to use what’s new instead of using what absolutely just works, rock solid.

Are there any other rock-solid examples besides Padlet?

Tool #2: VoiceThread

Steve: You know, it’s funny because there are some that are very, very solid and dependable, like VoiceThread that haven’t necessarily evolved all that much,

Tool #3: WeVideo

and then you take others like WeVideo that have just done and an even better job of establishing really great business plans.

You know, they’re making most of their money on the personal accounts, on the business accounts, on the enterprise accounts and so on, which means that they can offer educators even more features for free and they keep on adding things in there, too.

One of the things that they added recently that I love is this “motion graphics” element. It’s basically like an after-effects, in a sense. And you can do some really incredibly brilliant and subtle things in it. If you really want to get creative and push the envelope, you can do some really mind-blowing green screen type things with the motion graphics. It’s one of the most full-featured video editing products out there, and considering that it will work on a Chromebook is just amazing.

Vicki: Yeah. It brings video in the reach of everybody, doesn’t it?

What else do you have?

Tool #4 Kahoot

Steve: Well, let’s see. A lot of times what I like is these ones that are doing consistent development. They’re listening to users and really putting in the features that the users are requesting and wanting to see. Kahoot has done a very nice job of that.

Tool #5: Sutori

One of the other ones that has kind of flown under the radar is a site called Sutori. Sutori has now been around for about I think a year and a half, maybe even almost two years. It kind of defies definition. It’s sort of created its own genre.

But what I really love about it is that they’ve got new features that are coming out every two or three months, and they’re all in direct response to the things that educators have been asking. That’s one of the things I demonstrate when I show this in presentations.

A lot of times people don’t really think the developers want to hear from educators, or that it’s going to have much of an impact. What they don’t realize is that a lot of these online ed tech tools — they’re teams of three or four people. The people who are answering the support questions are the same people who are doing the primary development on them.

So when you say to the support person in the chat room, “I’d like to see this feature,” or “If you did this, then I could use it with my students,” you’re talking to the people who can actually make that happen! So that’s another one that I’ve become a huge fan of.

Vicki: So Kahoot obviously helps us do quizzes, and our students can make them, and that’s awesome.

So Sutori… Is that really more for vocabulary? I haven’t used it.

Steve: No, it’s sort of… a way to sort of publish stories but in a sort of linear fashion. It’s sort of like a timeline, but it’s not a timeline because there aren’t necessarily and numbers. It almost defies definition, but it’s a way to publish something almost like a blog except that it is actually interactive. It can be collaborative ala Google Docs style.

If you’re not familiar with it yet, you should definitely — if nothing else — go to the website and look at their gallery. Their gallery has an excellent selection of great examples that would appeal to educators. One of the other nice things about it is that you can take any one of those, copy it to your own account, and use them as templates and just modify them to your heart’s content.

Tool #6: Wordle

Vicki: Now, before the show, you were even talking about Wordle. I mean, how can you explain that? That’s such a powerful tool, and I use it all the time with my students.

Steve: (laughs)

Wordle is sort of my litmus test. Now Wordle hasn’t changed one iota from the very beginning, which a lot of people can appreciate because we all know what it’s like when you pull it up on Monday with the students and all of a sudden it looks completely different. Wordle’s not going to.

But what I find ironic — that sort of encapsulates this whole problem of people only evangelizing the newest items in the tech scene — is that as soon as everybody’s familiar with it (and when I say everybody, I mean the people that are hanging out in Twitter chats, the people that go to ISTE, the people that go to the affiliate conferences) as soon as everybody knows about a web tool, most of those people stop talking about it, they stop blogging about it, they stop sharing it in presentations.

The net result is that when I go into schools and I talk to teachers and I talk to educators in general, I would estimate that more than half of them haven’t heard of Wordle. Most of them just have never even seen it, because no one’s taking the time to share it anymore because it’s not new to them.

Tool #7 & 8 WordPress and Edublogs

It’s sort of the reason why it doesn’t seem new and sexy to talk about blogging or to evangelize blogging anymore or show people how to use EduBlog, or how to use WordPress. And yet, you know what? There’s still a need for it.

Vicki: (agrees)

Steve: It may not be the newest and freshest thing in the world, but there’s still this whole generation of teachers that didn’t get the same exposure to it and haven’t had the same journey that we have.

Vicki: Well, when I do my “Fifty-Plus Tools” presentation, I always show how you can go on Wikitext and you can pull out, say, the Emancipation Proclamation, and you can put it into Wordle, and you really frontload that vocabulary. It’s such an important teaching technique, whatever you’re teaching, particularly if the subject you’re teaching is on public domain, and you can pull the text out and put it in there. It’s just a fantastic method.

So, Steve, as we finish up, what kind of inspiration do you have for educators who feel overwhelmed by all of this ed tech, to get started and try something new?

Inspiration for Overwhelmed Teachers

Steve: (laughs)

Well, the first thing to keep in mind is… I love doing this exercise during a presentation… I ask people to just raise their hands if they feel like they’re behind the technology curve. And nearly two-thirds to three-quarters of the audience will raise their hand.

The reality is that every single one of those people — just by being at a tech conference, by listening to podcasts like yours — you’re ahead of the technology curve. You’re far more tech-savvy than most other people, most other educators that are just… I don’t want to say just punching the card and going through the routine… but who aren’t necessarily seeking out new sources of professional development.

So first of all, I strongly urge people not to be so critical of themselves. But then it’s the traditional, “You have to make the time to do it.” There will never be a time when you say, “Boy! What am I going to do with all this extra free time that I have?

Vicki: (laughs)

Steve: It just doesn’t happen!

Vicki: No, it doesn’t.

Steve: So you have to schedule yourself that time. You have to build it in and say, “For this hour, I’m going to play. Because play is going to make me a better educator.” And not force yourself to feel guilty for not taking the time to play with a new technology.

Vicki: Yes, and as I always say innovate like a turtle. Take tiny little steps forward every day, because it’s about forward progress. We can all learn something new. Now I’m going to be playing with Sutori, so I’ve learned something new today.

Thank you so much, Steve. We will put all of your information in the Shownotes so folks can follow you.

Steve: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Steve Dembo Bio as submitted

A pioneer in the field of educational social networking, Dembo was among the first to realize the power of blogging, podcasting, Twitter, and other Web 2.0 technologies in connecting educators and creating professional learning communities.

Steve Dembo served for ten years as Discovery Education’s Director of Learning Communities and led their Innovation and Strategy team. He is the co-author of the book Untangling the Web: 20 Tools to Power Up Your Teaching. The National School Board Association named him one of 2010’s “Twenty to Watch,” a list honoring individuals finding innovative ways to use technology to increase classroom learning. In 2013 he began serving the Skokie/Morton Grove District 69 as a member of the School Board. Dembo is a course designer and adjunct professor for Wilkes University where he serves as class instructor for the Internet Tools for Teaching course within the Instructional Media degree program.

Steve Dembo is also a dynamic speaker on the capabilities of social networking, the power of educational technologies and Web 2.0 tools, and the ability of digital content to empower teachers to improve student achievement. He has delivered keynotes and featured presentations at dozens of conferences globally including ISTE, TCEA, FETC, MACUL, GaETC, METC, CUE, ICE, TEDxCorpus Christi, #140Edu, EduWeb, .EDU and the Social Media Masters Summit. Dembo was also a featured panelist at Nokia Open Labs as an expert on mobile device integration in education.


Twitter: @teach42

Disclosure of Material Connection: This episode mentions an affiliate program. This means that if you choose to buy I will be paid a commission on the affiliate program. However, this is at no additional cost to you.  Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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