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Education Dept. Seeks Virtual Reality, Video Game Devs for Next-Gen Tech

Children wearing the Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, experience virtual reality technology.

Children wearing the Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, experience virtual reality technology. // Ahn Young-joon/AP

Video game developers and virtual reality experts could be working on the next wave of educational technology.

This week, the Education Department kicked off the EdSim Challenge, a $680,000 contest in search of ways to use simulation in the classroom, especially for career and technical skills training in preparation for joining the workforce.

The contest is designed to "stimulate the marketplace" for virtual and augmented reality technology. Virtual reality is loosely defined as systems that convince the users they're somewhere else; augmented reality involves features overlaid on the real world. The agency also encourages developers to make their technology shareable, perhaps by using open source licenses.

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Finalists could win $50,000 and help with building a prototype. A grand prize winner could get $430,000. Winners will be evaluated on their concept's ability to change "learning outcomes" or whether it "spurs change or improvement in the user’s knowledge and skills," among other criteria.

Interested developers must submit a concept proposal by Jan. 17.

The competition comes a few months after a group of virtual reality proponents came to Washington, urging Congress to consider investing in the technology for education and training purposes.

During that event, the Education Department's acting assistant secretary for career, technical and adult education, Johan Uvin, said virtual reality headsets could be used to expose children to environments that are vocabulary-rich, even if their home life isn't.

Investing in virtual reality could "get us to a point where our infrastructure for learning is not based on brick and mortar," Uvin said then.

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