Girls in IT: HoloLens At GirlsInnov8 2017

This week I had the real privilege to talk to 20 enthusiastic Year 9-13 girls who had come from all over the country to attend the GirlsInnov8 2017 ICT Camp hosted at St Cuthbert’s College. I went there with Technology Evangelist Hannes Nel  where we shared with the girls options for careers in ICT along with some great tools to start programming with. After the morning tea break, we brought out the main attraction – two HoloLens and allowed each girl to try it out for themselves across three apps:

The feedback from the girls was incredibly positive and they started to understand how this technology could be used and think up future possibilities.

Prior to experiencing the HoloLens, I talked to the girls about their favourite subjects, with many identifying the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) as their most enjoyable subjects. In 2016 for International Women’s Day Microsoft released their annual video and asked if girls could name female inventors:

I asked the girls the same question and I did manage to get one successful answer from one of the girls, and most were determined to what to go on and invent something themselves. The key is keeping them interested in STEM and going on to complete degrees at University in these areas:

Additionally, I showed those in attendance how they could learn JavaScript using a range of block based coding technologies at http://www.makecode.com

 

makecode

Learn programming and play with Minecraft:EE at MakeCode.com

 

To see some examples of how to use MakeCode with Minecraft:EE then click here.

What was particularly pleasing was seeing two Old Girls from St Cuthbert’s College back helping out with the GirlsInnov8 camp – both were in their fourth year studying Computer Science. This type of role modelling and encouragement is critical to keeping students engaged in these areas.

A huge congratulations to Klaris Philipson the Director of Technologies at St Cuthbert’s who organises this annual event in her school holiday break.

Microsoft’s May Education Event – Overview

As many readers will have caught up on, Microsoft had a major education event yesterday with the key announcements of a new member of the Surface device family, Surface Laptop, and a new variation on Windows 10, called Windows 10 S.

Keen readers can watch the entire launch event here however the 101 second summary is below:

At this stage, I’ve not got my head across all of the implications for schools from these announcements so I’ll just refer you to the official blog posts here:

For an independent view you can read Dr Joe Sweeney’s initial thoughts on his LinkedIn post here. Joe is an industry analyst for mobility, education and digital innovation and offers an outsiders view of these latest announcements from Microsoft.

If you’re a real device nut and want to see some very cool animations of the internals of the Surface Laptop then this video is for you:

If you’re an ICT Admin in a school and interested in how you can easily manage Win10 devices (including Win10 S) then this might be more for you:

Microsoft is clearly also pushing for affordable STEM resources to support teachers in preparing students for the jobs that “don’t exist yet” – lots of stats about this but some suggestions are that as many as 65% of students will be working in jobs not yet created … interesting stuff! Here’s a video around STEM engagement from Microsoft:

Related to this, of course, is Minecraft Education Edition and with a new release allowing you to integrate third party coding tools (such as Scratch by MIT and Tynker  to teach computational thinking for students, this is a powerful addition to an already great product:

Whilst many schools in New Zealand and elsewhere around the world have already jumped into using the public preview of Microsoft Classroom, we learnt yesterday that this is now going to be discontinued and replaced with Teams for Education:

If you’re a school using Microsoft Classroom and wondering how you will be affected it’s worth reading the below:

1). End-of-support for the Northern Hemisphere school closing July 31, 2017 and for the Southern Hemisphere school closing January 31, 2018.
2). Class structures themselves will not showup in MS Teams. Various data component – files, calendars, OneNotes will be accessible through Office Groups.
3). Classroom experience in MS Teams is expected to be available before the dates mentioned in item#1 above in the respective regions.

Lastly, Mixed Reality gets a boost and focus in education with Pearson Education investing big in this area – have a look at the video below that shows Canberra Grammar School using HoloLens and Pearson Education immersive content:

With more affordable mixed reality devices coming from OEM partners such as Acer and others, schools will be able to utilize this more readily than being required to purchase the more expensive HoloLens.

Clearly a lot to process – exciting times for Microsoft and as I start to get hands on with some of these technologies I’ll be sure to post back thoughts here.

Windows 10 Creators Update Is Here

Many of you will have been waiting for the official release date of the Windows 10 Creators Update last week and now that it is launched the best place to get an overview of the new features is the official Windows Blog.

You can read the post introducing Creators Update here.

For a visual overview, here is a good video clip:

Some of the features that really stand out for me are:

  • 3D Paint – the ease of building out 3D apps in Creators Update is a neat feature with plenty of real world application, especially in education.
  • Mixed Reality – the announcement of lower-cost devices that will support mixed reality is exciting as it means more students can develop in this space without the cost of a HoloLens headset.
  • Beam Game Broadcasting – for the gamers amongst us, you can now easily stream your games in real time to the web for others to follow along with – no need for third party tools.
  • Updates to the Edge Browser, including better tab management and preview options, default support of PDF and eBook reading is now a feature as well.
  • Mini View Feature – an “always on top” frame allowing you to keep an eye on a critical app, skype call, or browser window, whilst working in another window at the same time.
  • A whole range of new security updates to keep your device safe.

Read the blog overview here.

There are a range of different ways to get Windows 10 Creators Update, from the blog link above:

You can get the Creators Update in a few different ways. If you already have a Windows 10 PC and have automatic updates enabled, the update will be delivered to you when it’s ready. If you are an advanced user and would like to get the update manually, visit this blog post to learn how to get the Creators Update.

So go get started creating and leave comments with your experience below.

HoloLens – Seeing IS Believing

hololens-0-0I’m in Seattle this week for the Microsoft S4 Conference and am enjoying seeing the truly global perspective of Microsoft as a company. Virtually all of the sessions I’ve attended are covered by the NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) I’ve signed as an employee so I can’t discuss anything from those unfortunately, but yesterday I did have some great luck.

I was provided a HoloLens unit for the night to have a good play with. If you’re not familiar with what HoloLens is then the official description is:

Microsoft HoloLens is the first self-contained, holographic computer, enabling you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the world around you.

I’ve known about the HoloLens for a while now and, I have to admit, I had been a bit skeptical about videos like the above – surely these were “mocked up” demos of what could be possible, not what was actually already here with the current iterations of HoloLens.

I was dead wrong.

The last time I was truly blown away by a bit of tech I was hands on with was around February last year (2016) when I saw the HP Sprout in Melbourne. The HoloLens is staggeringly immersive – I definitely “lost” three or four hours playing on it last night with most of that on Fragments:

Fragment.PNG

You become the detective in a high-tech crime thriller. Experience compelling new possibilities for storytelling and gameplay.

Some thoughts on Fragments in no particular order (keep in mind I’m not a gamer at all, this did a lot to draw me in!):

  • You start by scanning/mapping the room(s) you’re in so that the game understands your environment – you are not restricted to a pre-build world to play in.
  • The audio – it’s amazing surround sound from the HoloLens – you just get used to hearing someone talking “over your shoulder” and turning around and seeing the holographic representations of people; it’s entirely believable and lifelike audio.
  • The game play – it responds to your environment i.e. characters sit down on your furniture, they walk through your doors. It’s really difficult to describe just how amazing that is and the value it adds to game play until you’ve actually experienced it for yourself.
  • You very quickly adapt to the tools at your disposable in this mixed-reality environment:
    • You forget within 5 minutes that you’re wearing a headset (honestly, you no longer notice it).
    • You start to rely on virtual tools e.g. you have your “crime lab” and “maps” pinned to one of your walls and you just get used to returning to that time and again during the investigation.
    • Voice commands – leveraging Cortana you just speak naturally during the game e.g. “examine this evidence” or “launch scan” “close” – you can use the hand gestures to do all of this as well, but you often find it faster using voice. Further to this, you quickly increase your speed of interacting – you pick up, examine, dispose of evidence faster and faster as you get used to it.
  • You’re very active
    • You’re literally walking around your room, scanning for evidence and exploring what is being holographically represented on the floors, walls, roof, tables etc
    • As you move around the room the characters move too – they watch you, their eyes follow your movements etc.
    • When the action freezes as part of the game play, you can “walk around” or “circle” the scenes/characters to see the full 3D elements of the game play.
  • You’ll lose track of time! I only stopped playing because the battery was going critically flat!

If I sound excited, it’s because I am. I’ve seen Occulus Rift before and they’re amazing too however you are always tethered to a PC generating the content. To be able to wander around within a mixed reality environment with no cables was liberating.

I could go on, but you probably get the idea. Another app I played with was the HoloLens HoloTour:

This was also very immersive and educational. I’ve never been to the Colosseum in Rome before but with this, being able to walk around inside it, it felt like the next best thing. Whilst I am sure it is very expensive to develop this kind of content, you can definitely see how this has a place in education. Speaking of education, the HoloLens Insight Heart app is a good medical training application that shows a proof of concept about how students could potentially be trained. Again, the voice commands were super easy and responsive e.g. “make bigger/smaller” or “rotate” or “pause” – the app responded immediately to these commands:

The guy that loaned me the HoloLens said he now uses it as his primary device for completing “work” at home – from email to Excel spreadsheets to browsing the web, he just sits on his couch with a bluetooth paired keyboard/mouse and gets to work. He will pin a browser to one wall, his email to another and flip between them by moving his head. Because HoloLens will remember the layout of your house/room and always keep your pinned apps in the same place you can do things like pin a weather app to the back of your front door so you always know the weather forecast as you’re exiting the house.

Furthermore, the natural interaction between the real vs holographic world is evident and natural. For example, if you have an open app as you move it around the room to “pin” it somewhere you may decide you want to put in on table. As you move your hands to lower the app onto the table it will meet slight “resistance” as HoloLens recognises the real, physical table and provides resistance as a prompt so you can set the app down on the surface of the table. You can override this of course by pushing a bit harder, but this highlights the fact that HoloLens has a true awareness of the physical reality around you and applies that to everything you’re doing virtually.

I think this is a key point: whilst the truly immersive 3D apps are still largely in development, you can run any Win32 app via HoloLens still because it is a fully functioning Win10 device. This means it is both useful immediately and will only increase in usefulness as more apps are developed.

Here’s an example of a developer building such an app for a proof of concept:

The take home message is this – if you get a chance to play with a HoloLens jump at it! It’s an experience that you’re not likely to replicate easily elsewhere and it is truly hinting at the innovation and future that is coming.