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A-Frame, Unity 3D, and VR Creation in the Classroom

by Edorble

Quick Note: If you're interested in using Edorble, you can sign up to be an Edorble Pioneer here. If you're in the online learning or training space and you have your own idea for a 3D/VR application, you can hire us to build it for you. Read more here.

At Edorble, we've always been huge fans of Unity 3D for education. We built Edorble itself with Unity, we run a course for teachers that gives them a gentle introduction to Unity, and we think that Unity could have a place in the classroom for nearly any subject or level. We also wrote a blog post a few months ago about the Unity VR editor that lets you create VR experiences while in VR itself, and some of the new tools in Unity 2017 that make it easier to create experiences with 360 video. The new timeline feature for animating objects in Unity scenes is a great example of how Unity can take a process, one which is often too complicated for someone to jump into with ease, and place it within the reach of teachers and students who might have no animation experience whatsoever.

Unity is showing no sign of slowing down and has successfully positioned itself as one of the backbone technologies of the AR/VR wave. There's another development tool that we want to draw attention to here, the one that we're using to build Edorble WebVR, our lightweight, browser-based version of Edorble. This tool is called A-Frame. We think A-Frame is an invaluable tool for teachers and students who, for whatever reason, aren't able to download or use Unity. For those in the education space, these reasons might sound familiar: hardware limitations, Chromebooks don't support Unity, downloads of third party software are prohibited, etc. A-Frame, in contrast to Unity, is a web-based framework that lets you publish WebVR experiences. You can script A-Frame scenes right from a browser, view them from a browser, and visually manipulate the scene right from a browser. Here's me visually inspecting a scene from Edorble WebVR from Chrome.

Because A-Frame is a framework that lets people use conventional web development languages to design and script their 3D experiences, A-Frame could also be more accessible than Unity for a classroom if students have already been learning web dev languages like HTML and CSS. For students and teachers that already have some experience with web development, this gives them a huge head start and an easy entry point into 3D creation.

Both A-Frame and Unity have active learning communities online. A-Frame is still in way earlier stages of development, but the A-Frame creators are already showing a keen interest in helping out beginners and making the tools accessible. Just like Unity, which has plenty of free plug-ins and assets available, A-Frame has a growing library of open-source "components", chunks of re-usable, editable code that you can add to your scene to give it some really exciting features.

We ourselves at Edorble are working on components that might be particularly useful to teachers making learning content and synchronous online learning environments, and of course we're making our own synchronous learning environment with A-Frame for students and teachers that want a pre-built online classroom. Here are two students checking out the news together in Edorble WebVR. One is on a desktop, the other one on a Google Cardboard.

‍We think A-Frame is already quite exciting, and given the rate of improvements, the brilliance of those building it, and the spirit of generosity and sharing in the A-Frame community, it's only getting started.

Check out Unity 3D and A-Frame, and if you'd like to hear more about what we do at Edorble, check out our home page.