Charting the future of training and education
Developing the Pedagogy of Presence with XR, featuring Georgian College’s Rob Theriault
Rob Theriault has recently become Georgian College’s immersive lead, finding ways to employ XR technologies to enhance learning in various courses. He explains how faculties need to become innovation adopters if their students are to do the same.
Julie: Hello, my name is Julie Smithson, and I am your XR for Learning podcast host. I look forward to bringing you insight into changing the way that we learn and teach using XR technologies to explore, enhance, and individualize learning for everyone. And today, my guest is a good friend from here in Barrie, Ontario, in Canada. Welcome Rob Theriault, an immersive technology lead from Georgian College. Rob has been a part of the paramedics program, and asked just most recently to start taking over a lot more of the technology at the college. Thank you so much for joining me today, Rob. I'd love to get right into it and learn about your story and your position in the college. So thank you so much for being here today.
Rob: Hi, Julie. It's a pleasure. Thank you. You want some background?
Julie: Yeah, I would love that. Why don't you do a bit of introduction?
Rob: Sure. I've been a paramedic for 36 years and teaching paramedics for the last 20. And I've always had a keen interest in educational technology. But I'm also a skeptic when it comes to technology. So I think educators would be wise to be somewhat skeptical and cautious about using technology, ensuring that it actually enhances learning or provides something new to learning. A couple of years ago, I introduced virtual reality into our paramedic program for patient simulation primarily, and that led to a conversation with our president and vice president of academic, who wanted to know where I thought virtual and augmented reality was going. So I told them that I felt that it needed some investment, that it needed some leadership. And surprisingly, they agreed, created a position and set out. So now I'm the immersive technology lead for the college. And my role is to communicate with the faculty, to engage in exploring virtual reality, engage in its potential pedagogy, and to see about integrating virtual or augmented reality into curriculum.
Julie: That's amazing, because you're really introducing this technology into multiple different courses. So maybe you can actually talk a little bit about Georgian College's highlighted programs, because I know you and I have talked a lot over the past couple of years of knowing each other, and not every course can be put into these immersive technologies. You still need that one-on-one. So maybe do you want to talk a little bit about Georgian College's programs, and then taking a look at all the programs, which ones could have this technology applied to them and the ones that couldn't?
Rob: Yeah, I'm not sure about the ones that couldn't. I'm not convinced of the fact they're any-- that would not be amenable to virtual or augmented reality. But cross that bridge when I come to it. So our architectural technology program has been using virtual reality for the last three years. They were the first at the college. And it's a remarkable experience for students to be able to construct or design buildings from within the building, and have that spatial awareness and be able to test building materials in the process simultaneously. So they were the leaders in that area. And then we introduced it in the paramedic program. And I'm hoping to get funding to continue to use virtual reality in our advanced care paramedic program this fall. We're going to be using a program that involves students resuscitating patients from cardiac arrest and with different abnormal heart rhythms. And the program we're proposing to use employs artificial intelligence and voice recognition.
Cultivating Curiosity & Encouraging Innovation with 3D Learning, featuring AltruTec’s Olivia Wenzel
Olivia Wenzel may be Julie’s youngest guest yet, but her youth hasn’t stopped her from launching a startup — AltruTec — or teaming with Julie on the VRARA’s Parent & Student Resource, or using VR to combat dementia.
Julie: Hello, everyone, my name is Julie Smithson and I am your XR for Learning podcast host. I look forward to bringing you insight into changing the way that we learn and teach using XR technologies, to explore, enhance, and individualize learning for everyone. Today, my special guest is Olivia Wenzel, a student and founder of AltruTec, developing video games for adults suffering from dementia. Thank you so much, Olivia, for joining me today on this podcast.
Olivia: Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Julie: It is so great to have somebody from the next generation join me. You happen to be the youngest one of my guests. So thank you so much for being here. And I'm really excited to be able to share with everyone some of the works that we've been doing, since you and I have been working together for the last year and a half on the student committee with the Virtual and Augmented Reality Association, developing and building out resources for everyone. So first of all, I'd like to give you a chance to introduce yourself and then we'll step into a little bit about some of the work that we're doing.
Olivia: Absolutely. I just graduated from high school and I'm headed to Harvard this fall. I'm interested in studying at the intersection of health and technology. So I'm thinking computer science and neuroscience, or computer science and psychology. I'm not quite sure yet. I have a startup called AltruTec. I'm really interested in improving the quality of life for older adults. But perhaps what's most relevant to today's discussion is my co-leadership of the student committee with Julie. I have the great pleasure of leading this committee of students, parents, and VR and AR industry professionals with Julie, an amazing mentor. We aim to support parents, students, and schools in adopting immersive technologies and 3D learning. But let me take a step back and answer your question about how I got involved. My interest in virtual and augmented reality is actually heavily tied to AltruTec. I have a family history of dementia, and when I first started exploring other approaches to improve people with dementia's quality of life, I ended up coming across several virtual reality applications. Long story short, they were using this immersive platform to deliver non-pharmacological therapy, such as reminiscence and music therapy. I found the mediums to be extremely promising. The early research that was coming out was so exciting. And so I ended up reaching out to some universities and companies in the area, because I really didn't have any background in technology or virtual/augmented reality, especially at the time. And I met someone in Cleveland named Reynaldo Zabala, who was involved in the VR/AR Association. And after some further correspondences, he helped me develop my ideas some more. I ended up being introduced to the committee, and soon I was heading it up. [laughs]
Julie: [laughs] Which has been a long time coming for us, to finally put a project together that we can work on. And I think it was over a good six, seven months period of time of us just talking to each other, and then figuring out what kind of mission could we work on together, that could give back to the community. And that's where we came up with the parent and student resource.
Olivia: Yes, yep.
Julie: So, yeah, we came up with a few ideas on how to do this, but this was kind of a zero
XR for Crossover Podcast - Julie and Alan Smithson Chat About Education and Immersive Learning
After a short hiatus, Julie is back with a special episode, where she interviews (is interviewed by?) her partner in business and life, Alan Smithon, who you may know from our sister podcast, XR for Business.
Julie: Hi, my name is Julie Smithson.
Alan: And I'm Alan Smithson.
Julie: And this is the XR for Learning podcast.
Alan: Well... which podcast are we on? Is it mine or yours?
Julie: I think it's mine.
Alan: Yours, so the XR for Learning podcast.
Alan: I'm going to interview you.
Alan: OK, cool.
Julie: Hi, my name is Julie Smithson, and I am your XR for Learning podcast host. In all of my episodes, I talk about the way that we need to change the way that we learn and we teach, to adapt to the immersive technologies that are being implemented in enterprise and business today. So today, my guest -- my special guest -- is Alan Smithson.
Julie: My partner and husband of almost 20 years. And we're going to talk about education. So welcome. Thanks for being on *my* podcast.
Alan: Thank you so much for having me. I'm a little nervous, I'm not going to lie. This is an interesting podcast dynamic.
Julie: It really is. We've never done this before.
Alan: No, we have not. So I want to ask you questions, because you are the guru in immersive learning systems. So we'll hopefully kind of dig up where this lies, and what we have to do as a society to really push the needle forward.
Julie: So what I like to do with all my podcasts is start with a baseline technology. Where are we today? Like, what's going on today? Which is really good question, because it's definitely different than it was six months ago.
Alan: I would say, in the industry-- I'm coming from the business side of things. What we've seen is there's been a hyper-acceleration of digitization. So in retail and e-com, it has been decimated. People couldn't go to a store physically, and so everything moved online. And in e-commerce, we're seeing shopping trends that would have existed in 2030 happen today. This is trickling down to everything, not only retail, but then also meetings. Everybody's meeting on Zoom these days. Everybody. There's just-- we're moving to digital and we're moving to these things much faster than we had ever, ever hoped to do. Plans of digital transformation that would have taken five years are now happening today. So it's an interesting time to revisit and relook at what does education look like in an exponential world of digital transformation.
Julie: And this is where the skillsets that are now needed -- in enterprise, business, and organizations today to digitally transform -- those skillsets are not being taught in the school system today. So COVID coming in and forcing people to virtually connect online, the education systems were forced to actually be online and rethink how they're teaching things. But the unfortunate thing is, is that we didn't get to the point of talking about what we were actually teaching. It was just more of a digital connection for the past six months.
Alan: Well, I think since this thing has hit, it's been really just how do we make the technology work in a seamless way that is comfortable for both the teachers and the students? And to be honest, we're not quite there yet. My kids are more tech savvy than--
Julie: Our kids.
Alan: Our kids. I'm sor
Designing Accessibility into UX, with Dylan Fox & Devin Boyle
Designing a user experience (UX) and ensuring accessibility in XR boils down to basically the same task; addressing the needs of the user. We have Dylan Fox and Devin Boyle from XR Access on to talk about designing with accessibility in mind from the start, and discuss the upcoming 2020 XR Access Symposium.
Julie: Hello, my name is Julie Smithson, and I am your XR for Learning podcast host. I look forward to bring you insight into changing the way that we learn and teach using XR technologies to explore, enhance and individualize learning for everyone. Today, my guests come from XR Access. Dylan Fox is a user experience designer, specializing in design for emerging technologies. He brings together user needs, technological capabilities, and stakeholder requirements to design accessible products. And his master's thesis was on augmented reality for the visually impaired, exploring Microsoft Hololens as an assistive device. And Devin Boyle is an advisor to XR Access, working groups and emerging technology lead for the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology -- otherwise known as PEAT -- supporting efforts to ensure emerging technologies are born accessible. She has more than 10 years of experience in policy analysis and development, stakeholder engagement, strategic communication, and advocacy and partnership building. Thank you both for joining me today.
So, Dylan, can you give me a little bit of an outline of the work that you're doing in building a better user experience for those with accessibility challenges?
Dylan: All right. Thanks, Julie. I'm Dylan. I'm a user experience designer. Just recently finished up my Master's at UC Berkeley, and now working in accessible design for bridging technologies for all sorts of things. So for me, I see my role initially as a UX designer, which is a user experience designer and somebody who understands user needs; what people need out of technology, what people expect from technology, how they understand it, and how we can design it to better work for them. And I worked for as a UX designer for a couple of years, but only recently have I really realized just how much UX can learn from the field of accessibility, because accessibility is fundamentally about addressing user needs. Some of the work I've been doing lately is with XR Access, of course. We've been trying to understand what those user needs are, across a wide spectrum when it comes to virtual and augmented reality. I've also been doing some work with UC Berkeley, doing some research with private companies who want to make their work more accessible, and make sure their users get everything that they need out of their software.
Julie: We'll dive a little bit more into the UI and the work that you're doing at XR access. But I wanted to allow Devin to just give a little bit of an introduction, and how you got involved and what your involvement is with XR Access and working with Dylan and accessibility.
Devin: Sure. Thanks, Julie, for having us on. I'm Devin Boyle. I am an adviser to XR Access and emerging tech lead for the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology. And I came to this space in a little different road from Dylan, a little bit different path. I actually come from a background of being a convener. So one of my roles within XR Access is to bring together these six different working groups -- that we'll likely get into in this conversation -- but to bring folks together and also to support communications, communicating internally and externally why industry needs to ensure different technologies, emerging technologies are accessible.
Julie: Let's kick off with what are those working groups? And then we can go over and talk about it with Dylan. How about
Going From What to Why with Experiential Learning, featuring Inspirit VR’s Aditya Vishwanath
Learning complex STEM concepts like physics or chemistry off a chalkboard is no easy task, because it removes a key factor from the equation - presence. Inspirit VR’s Aditya Vishwanath explains how giving that presence back ignites a learner’s innate curiosity.
Julie: Hello, my name is Julie Smithson, and I am your XR for Learning podcast host. I look forward to bringing you insight into changing the way that we learn and teach using XR technologies to explore, enhance, and individualize learning for everyone. Today my guest is Aditya Vishwanath. Aditya is a PhD candidate in Learning Sciences and Technology Design and a Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford University. He's the co-founder of Inspirit, a company that develops virtual reality learning content. And his research focuses on developing technologies that support universal access to immersive learning content. Welcome to the show.
Aditya: Thank you. I'm so excited to be doing this.
Julie: That's great. And we've had a couple of conversations about education, and the courses that need to be implemented into classes, and that sort of thing. Why don't you tell me a little bit about Inspirit, where you started from, and where you guys are today?
Aditya: Inspirit was actually a research project that I started out with a friend and now co-founder of mine -- her name is Amrita -- and the two of us were both researchers in a lab at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. And we really stumbled upon this opportunity to explore and study what it would take to bring immersive VR to a few public schools in the city of Atlanta. And it was really just a phenomenal experience for the two of us, because what we thought was going to be just a few weeks of a project -- where we were playing the roles of research assistance -- exploded into what is Inspirit today. Our mission -- and my research too, at Stanford -- is really trying to be that bridge between the best of academic research and what we know about virtual reality and education, and then cutting edge technologies that can be used in industry and go straight into classrooms and learning environments. Inspirit was founded with that goal of accelerating the pace at which we could bring research findings of VR and education into schools, into universities, into learning environments around the world.
Julie: It's definitely a big concern now, the speed of education. And not just how much we're learning, because I feel like every day it's like a firehose of things to learn. Now it's a matter of how did the education systems keep up with the demands of change that's taking place, both through innovation and changes within a company? It sounds like that's something that Inspirit is trying to address?
Aditya: STEM education is what we do at Inspirit. And fundamentally, somewhere down the road, STEM education stopped becoming a hands-on interactive learning experience. And this was largely due to the needs of supporting larger and larger classrooms, more and more students, both in an online and an offline learning environment. And suddenly that personalization, that hands-on, that immersive interactive aspect to science and STEM education was completely lost. But a lot of the science learning today happens in a very passive way, with a video lecture or somebody giving you a passive lecture with a set of PowerPoint slides. And very rarely, are you interacting or actively solving a problem outside of a science lab. So our goal with Inspirit really was to bring back that hands-on piece and that interactive piece in a self-based, in a comfortable, and in an immersive environment using the power of virtual reality, both offline in schools and universities, and also online, if you're learning anything from anywhere in the world.
Putting XR Accessibility First, with CNIB’s Yvonne Felix
XR tech often has a visual focus, but we have to be careful in that line of thinking; those who are visually impaired might be left out of the conversation otherwise. Yvonne Felix, an inclusion expert at CNIB, knows from experience that the visually impaired - or anyone with any impairment - don’t have to be excluded from XR; we just have to be forward-thinking and make accessibility considerations to include users from all walks of life.
Julie: Hello, my name is Julie Smithson, and I am your XR for Learning podcast host. Today, I look forward to bringing you insight into changing the way we learn and teach using XR technologies to explore, enhance, and individualize learning for everyone. Today, my guest is Yvonne Felix, who works with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in the Accessibility and Inclusion Division as an experienced community specialist, with a demonstrated history of working in the medical industry. Thank you so much for joining me today, Yvonne. I'm really, really excited to have you here.
Yvonne: Thank you, Julie. I'm very excited, too.
Julie: Let's start with your role at CNIB. We've had several conversations over the last year just on-- a little bit about immersive technologies and how it affects people with disabilities, such as being visually impaired. And maybe we can start off with what your role is and, of course, how you got involved.
Yvonne: Sure. First, I'll start by just sort of explaining why I wanted to work at CNIB and actually how I became interested and involved in assistive technology, and also life changing technology in general. So I was born with an eye disease called Stargardt's, and it primarily affects your central vision loss. So in the center of your eye, in your macula, you have your rods and cones. And basically, it sends a message to say that I don't need those photoreceptors for my central vision to work. So it's considered sort of an autoimmune disease. But over the years -- as I did lose my central vision fully by the time I was seven -- I learned that I would just have the type of life that required me to use technology. And so it was just really embedded in my day-to-day. I thought everybody's life was like that. I think I was in the timeframe of the world where technology was becoming very advanced very quickly. I have partial sight, compared to total blindness, and the differences I identify with using my sight. So there are many people that still do have some sight left, but they don't use it. So it's the same partial sight just identified, that I do use the sight that I do have left, in comparison to using other devices that focus on sight substitution as opposed to sight enhancement. So that's how I got involved in CNIB. My role really is about inclusion and accessibility. And accessibility is a component of inclusion. You can take accessibility and it's just one building block to other components that make inclusion a universally accessible culture, as opposed to just focusing on accessibility as one thing that you need to embed. It's just one small part of looking at that bigger picture of universal design.
Julie: And this is where we start to talk about immersive technologies becoming-- providing superpowers to those like yourself, who are visually impaired. And being able to substitute and to assist you in day-to-day situations and present this technology in a way to help you get through your days in places where it can help you being immersed into something. So it's really interesting how all of this digital technology in the last couple of years kind of compounded just recently with COVID-19. And maybe you can speak to how the organization is adjusting to becoming remote, and what that baseline was like for the CNIB to be able to convert, and where you play a role in that.