Becoming Sherlock Holmes

“When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning, I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”

“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”

-Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Scandal in Bohemia”, 1891


About a month ago we at Concordia University had the great fortune of bringing Harvard Professor Christopher Dede to Portland to talk about the potential of immersive technologies. One of his more salient remarks was how virtual and augmented reality gives us the opportunity to go from being Dr. Watson, our communal stand-in throughout Conan Doyle’s mysteries, to being more like the seemingly omniscient Sherlock Holmes. We see, but we do not see in quite the same way that Holmes does.  Until now, when the affordances of immersive technologies have given us the ability to see the world as Holmes does, with all of its richness, intricacy and connection.  It’s only taken us a hundred or so years to do so, but now that we are at that point, what an opportunity for those of us working in technology, education or gaming.

As Dr. Dede continued to explain the progress that his research teams, often joint collaborations between Harvard and MIT, made over the course of nearly 20 years of working with immersive technologies, it became apparent to me just how close we are.  The success of Pokemon Go this past summer, whether or not we enjoyed the throwback, should signal the wide berth to develop in this space.  What Niantic did (besides hitting pay dirt) was offer a pathway to teach those who didn’t recognize the power of augmented reality.   While many of us have toiled with nary a notice, now the larger community is intrigued by virtuality.

Interestingly, one of the questions that Dr. Dede was asked that morning was about trying to make Pokemon Go more educational. I was somewhat offended by the question, and almost (as the moderator) didn’t want to ask.  Yet, Dede was able to, in his response, talk to its educational strengths, and how it was a great for health, family dynamics, and teamwork. While we could overtly display those educational aspects, that would be folly.  As we who have studied educational gaming know quite well, bringing that to the forefront would kill user engagement.  We instead need to craft more like Pokemon Go, cleverly embedding the educational opportunity within an immersive narrative framework.  Dede has been working toward doing just this with his various EcoLearn group projects that integrate immersive tech with science education in Massachusetts.

Which is why I left the talk that morning enthused for what we can create together.  Consider this a call to action – why not collaborate to create powerful gaming/educational experiences with immersive technologies?  The division at Concordia that I lead, the Office of University Innovation, is willing to partner with the gaming community here in Portland so that our city is the hub of development in virtuality.  Since we already are aware from research that these technologies are so powerful, why not act now to truly change our viewpoint from Watson’s to Holmes’s?

Guest author Shawn Daley is the Chief Innovation Officer and Associate Professor of Education at Concordia University.