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D&H Partners: K-12 Demand For Virtual Reality Tools Is 'Almost Like The Early Days Of Chromebooks'

As D&H rolls out customized virtual reality product bundles, solution providers say the technology has the power to fundamentally change the way students work in segments ranging from science and mathematics to career exploration.

Virtual reality is the next big opportunity in K-12 education, according to D&H Distributing partners, and is enabling the channel to go beyond the IT department and speak with curriculum experts.

"The demand and interest [in virtual reality] is more than anything else we do," said Matthew Worthen, director of educational IT consulting at Cincinnati-based solution provider NextStep Networking. "It's almost like the early days of Chromebooks. I really see it like that."

School districts are clamoring for NextStep Networking to meet with their parent-teacher organizations, incorporate student feedback and run pilots, Worthen said. Some teachers, meanwhile, have put together GoFundMe pages to help raise the $10,000 needed to purchase an entry-level virtual reality solution, according to Worthen.

[RELATED: CRN Exclusive: D&H Brings Learning To Life With Cutting-Edge K-12 Virtual, Augmented Reality Tools]

"If the teachers see it and want it, they'll get it done," Worthen said. "They'll sell candy bars until they can buy their VR gear."

Programs like Google Expeditions give children in Title 1 schools, which have a large low-income student population, the opportunity to experience things around the world they likely wouldn't have otherwise seen, according to Ken Candela, vice president of Clearwater, Fla.-based solution provider Kynetic Technologies. Worthen and Candela spoke with CRN during D&H Distributing's 2017 Fall Mid-Atlantic Technology Show.

Adoption of virtual reality in public schools has been more gradual since the expense wasn't anticipated in previous budget cycles, Candela said, leading to more pitched funding battles. In contrast, Candela said some well-heeled private schools can simply write a check to cover the initial expenses associated with virtual reality technology.

Virtual reality has the power to fundamentally change the way students work in spaces ranging from science and mathematics to career exploration, Worthen said. It holds particular appeal for school districts in more rural areas that cannot easily access America's landmark sites, according to Worthen.

"It is the cornerstone of the future of education, having AR [augmented reality] and VR [virtual reality]," Worthen said. "You allow students to do impossible things, to go to impractical places, to do hazardous things."

But virtual reality is also popular in places like the Boston Public Schools, Worthen said, which use the devices to introduce students to places they'll be visiting, allowing them to learn their way around and identify the things they want to see most before they're on-site, Worthen said. Previewing the site using virtual reality made students more engaged and on-task during the actual visit, according to Worthen.

D&H unveiled customizable product bundles Thursday around the Google Expeditions immersive platform that includes virtual reality headsets, routers, cases, tablets, smartphones and monitors, as well as a desire to fuse together detailed 3-D scanning and 3-D printing capabilities using HP Inc.'s Sprout Pro by G2.

Kynetic Technologies' Candela said D&H's offering is largely similar to the bundles offered by other distributors, including the fact that it runs on Android. The D&H toolset represents a good first try at breaking into the virtual reality space, and will likely be improved upon over time, NextStep Networking's Worthen said.

A lot of the improvements will be centered around particular components, Worthen said, such as offering headsets that don't strap to the student's face while allowing their hands to be completely free.

"It's those little practicality pieces where we could see some improvements," Worthen said. "A lot of that is driven by the customer, not by D&H and not even by us."

The biggest play for solution providers, though, is around consulting rather than the hardware piece itself, according to Worthen. By hiring teachers, Worthen said solution providers can engage curriculum experts in a conversation about how to create virtual reality experiences that are meaningful, sustainable, and meet the needs of each individual student.

One classroom management technique around virtual reality that Worthen has found to be effective is the "two-minute rule," where students are required to put the devices down after two minutes and write or type a reflection.

"The value of VR is not the experience," Worthen said. "The value of VR is what you can create based on the experience you just had."

Liberty Technology is continuously looking for new technologies and addressable markets to go after, according to President Ben Johnson. The Griffin, Ga.-based solution provider does a lot of state and local government work today, Johnson said, but isn't involved in the education space.

Johnson compared virtual reality to the internet of the early 1990s, pointing out that there will be applications none of us can even conceive of today that will emerge from this space. And from a personal standpoint, Johnson said he'd like his daughter to have access to educational experiences that simply aren't available in his local school district today.

"This is obviously something that is of value," Johnson said. "It sounds really intriguing."

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