• russ scott

XR and the Jobs of the Future

5 years ago, the job of Virtual Reality Designer didn’t exist, nor did augmented reality jobs feature anywhere. Now there are lots of these types of jobs, and it is a rapidly growing industry. For schools preparing their students for jobs of the future it is a dizzyingly difficult task, how do you prepare students for a world that is seemingly flipping on its head every 5 years?

Missing Links in the Dazzle

Microsoft recently released Mesh, a futuristic virtual collaboration tool. The release came with a promo with kickass visuals of a car and an awesome Earth to accompany it. At the same time Unity released its latest video of Unity 2020, while a little earlier, Unreal Engine 5 made a spectacular demonstration of its coming feature set. It’s all very flashy and can get your mind to drift off into powerful future dreaming – today’s students collaborating in tomorrow’s world, sharing their work, collaborating holographically and interactively with glorious visuals.

For all their glitzy demos, each platform faces one key issue for their uptake. For Microsoft Mesh, or Unity or Unreal to be useful, the user needs to technologically literate. Technological literacy is a key 21st century skill that all schools work to address, but it is a very abstract idea. What is it to be technologically literate, especially in an unknown future?

Most schools lean on coding to develop technological literacy, if you can code, then you sure know computers! Right?

Except, when watching the Microsoft video, ask yourself, who modelled the car or the Earth, or the buildings and airplanes? Who lit the scene, who coloured the models? What did they build it in and how did they get it into Mesh? Who designed the immersive experience?

The Microsoft Mesh demo promises codeless holographic experiences, and yet despite not needing any coding, the vast majority of users will lack the technological literacy the unlock its potential. The Mesh demo provides a great place to move away from the abstract concept of technological literacy, and to start considering the specifics of what technological literacy for the future really requires.

A Bold Claim

The future is 3D. On the internet, in printing, in AR, in VR, in film, in volumetric video and simulation, 3D is already everywhere and will only become more ubiquitous. “The future is 3D” is a bold claim but it’s easy to put down in numbers.

The AR and VR market is currently significant at $11 billion globally but is projected to be almost $25 billion by 2025. The gaming market is currently $60 billion and is forecast to exceed $250 billion. The visual effects and animation industry is $200 billion, 3D printing is forecast to exceed $40 billion. CAD markets will be $9 billion.

The clear point being that 3D enabled technology is already a huge part of our lives, driving architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing and more, and across the board projections show that 3D markets are growing substantially.

Most users are completely new to 3D, knowing only how to consume it in pre-packaged software. Many have no idea how a 3D model works, or even the most basic issue - how to deal with the differences in 3D file formats. This is not a small gap in knowledge, this is systemic – a fundamental gap in operational knowledge of the vast majority of students going through school. The Australian digital technologies curriculum for example, explicitly requires year 9s to be taught about jpgs and pngs, mp3s and wav files, and of course mp4s. But nothing about 3D or 3D formats.

If you look at the Mesh or unreal demo and think “of course that’s a future I want my students to be part of”, then student technological literacy needs to expand beyond just coding into areas like real-time and 3D technology. Being able to build and troubleshoot your way through the 3D environment is a valuable current skill and will be a vital 21st century skill.

More than Meets the Eye

The benefit of working in 3D space is more than just about file formats and Hollywood visuals. 3D space allows you to introduce incredibly complex math and physics in a visual way. To move an object in 3D you are introduced to the idea of vectors and matrices. If you texture your model you come across a visual example of coordinate transposition. 3D model shaders introduce physics concepts like refraction, reflection, and inverse square laws for lighting.

For visual learners, understanding 3D space can be a game changer when they later deal with these same topics in a more numerical way. It can reinvigorate students who have become disaffected from engaging with technology because they only associate coding with technical ability.

One of the strengths of getting students to create using XR is that they encounter these 3D space concepts as part of the digital design chain. To create an AR or VR experience a student will have to work with 2D design, 3D objects, VR video, and audio. Importantly, they will have to take those designs and make practical data transfer choices – should the 2D images be png or jpg, should audio be mp3 or wav, how compressed should the VR video be and what format should the 3D files be? What package will they create their 3D objects in and how will they transfer it into the XR scene?

Best of all, the 3D concepts that students will encounter in XR will be found in all the 3D future technology. Unity, Unreal, and Microsoft Mesh all of course have significant differences, but the underlying fundamentals that underpin the software are the same. For students and teachers, the endless stream of technology advancement becomes a non-issue because the fundamental concepts that underpin all 3D systems remain the same.

XR and the Future

Extended realty will provide numerous jobs of the future, but it also points the way for schools to understand what technological literacy should look like.

In the abstract, technological literacy described in the 21st century skills list might make you think “internet” or ‘coding’, but technological literacy requires a base of fundamental concepts across the digital design chain. This ranges from understanding hardware interaction, to word processing skills through to coding, to 2D and 3D environments, and to real time systems that drive AR, VR and games.

The Vortals learning materials cover these fundamentals, from real time technology to the basics of 3D. We provide students with problem solving tasks that gets them to analyse the algorithmic thinking behind software design choices. For students, it’s usually the first time they’ve ever analysed their own approach to problem solving in a software environment.

We aim to give students a baseline framework with which to approach the digital world, because if you give them that, then they are empowered to create the content, the applications, and the holographic future that we are all being promised.

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