Virtual Reality Platform Wins Top ‘EdSim’ Prize for Career and Technical Ed

Associate Editor

A virtual reality platform that allows students to simulate hands-on orthopedic surgical training won the top prize in the EdSim Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.

The competition invited companies to design the next-generation of simulations that strengthen career and technical education.

Osso VR was selected from five finalists and received $430,000 in cash and additional in-kind prizes from IBM and Microsoft for the challenge. The competition invited applicants to submit concepts for immersive simulations that would prepare students for a globally competitive workforce.

The other goal of the challenge was to “spur an ecosystem of virtual and augmented reality technology in education,” according to the department. Nearly 250 companies applied to the competition, which focused on virtual reality, video game developer, and ed-tech communities.

“We’re really interested in VR’s ability to get students who are typically underrepresented in specialties like surgery to gain the skills and confidence to break into the field,” said Osso VR CEO Justin Barad.

For the EdSim challenge, his company tested Osso VR with a large class of high school students at Eastside Preparatory School in Seattle, he said. Plans are underway to try it in a small summer pilot program with another group of high school students as well, to try integrating medical VR content into their programs.

“Eventually, we want to make some of the tools we’ve developed available so educators can create their own training simulations,” said Barad. The prize money will allow his company to bring on “more quality- assurance employees, learning curriculum designers, VR designers, and better meet the needs of our users.” It will also pay for more validation studies.

The five finalist companies in the challenge each received $50,000 in cash as well as in-kind prizes from Oculus and Samsung, and refined their submissions during the Virtual Accelerator. Finalists presented playable prototypes to the judges at Demo Day at the end of the Virtual Accelerator.

Three of the five finalists aim to prepare users for work in the medical field, while two had a more general focus in career and technical education.

One was a VR experience called “The Irregular: A Mystery at Baker Street” from Octothorpe LLC. It uses critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork to explore skills related to success in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The other non-medical offering was “LifeCraft,” from Smart Sparrow, which explores the story of life on earth with VR voyages through biology, archaeology, and astronomy.

The other medical education finalists were “Holographic Applications to Transform Learning” from  Case Western Reserve University, which uses holographic display technology to help students advance medical educational experiences and outcomes, and “Embodied Labs,” by Embodied Labs, Inc., which uses virtual reality in an “embodied patient experience” to train students to become better caregivers of aging populations.

“All five finalists’ solutions highlight the potential of virtual and augmented reality for teaching and learning in unique and powerful ways,” said Michael E. Wooten, deputy assistant secretary for career, technical, and adult education, in an announcement about the winner.

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