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6 Experts Helping to Bring the Finalists Simulations to Life: Meet the Challenge Mentors

Our five finalists are hard at work in the Virtual Accelerator, where they’re focused on further developing their solutions for Demo Day. An integral part of this phase is the opportunity for finalists to receive individualized advice from industry-leading mentors. The Challenge mentors represent an impressive spectrum of expertise, from instructional design to software architecture to VR game design. We’d like to thank each for their contribution to the Challenge.

Robert Bourgeois: Expert in using VR in the CTE classroom

Robert has been a middle school and high school Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher in Durham, NC since 2003. He has instructed high school students in the use of various applications including the Adobe CS Suite, 3ds Max, and the Unity game engine. During the 2016 -17 school year, he taught and managed a small team of CTE Advanced Studies students who modeled an abandoned prison in rural Laurinburg, NC and created a virtual reality walkthrough of the site for real-world clients.

Dicxiana CarbonellExpert in the development of CTE instruction

Dicxiana is the Assistant Superintendent of the Essex County Vocational Technical Schools. Throughout her tenure in education, she has focused on integrating innovative technologies into the instructional process. Through the GenCyber grant, awarded by the NSA, she exposed over 400 students to cyber security, and used this foundational knowledge as an introduction to computer science, web design, gaming, engineering, and cyber forensics.

Tyler Hopf: Expert in UX/UI design and 3D modeling

Tyler is a Creative Director at IrisVR where he helps professionals visualize, share, and create 3D models using virtual reality. He is also a teacher of Immersive and Virtual Reality Design at the School of Visual Arts. His expertise lies in UX/UI design and 3D modeling, along with a working knowledge of Unity.

Dalton Grey: Expert in iterative design and learning games

Dalton is a Game Designer at Institute of Play, whose aim is to transform education through play. He was the founder of State of Play NY, a R&D design studio focused on iterative design. His specialties include learning games design, iterative design, and paper prototyping with a focus on designing for constraints in education.

Dario Laverde: Expert in software architecture

Dario is a senior developer evangelist at HTC with an engineering background and over 25 years of software development experience. He has worked as an instructor, consultant, software architect, author, entrepreneur, and mentor. Dario founded several developer communities including NYC Java, NYC-GDG, NY Android, and is currently active within the VR community.

Leah Potter: Expert in instructional design

Leah has focused her career on instructional design, and has developed expertise in middle and high school curriculum development, game-based learning, digital badges, and academic and CTE standards alignment. Leah was the winner of the U.S. Department of Education’s Reach Higher Career App Challenge for her solution Hats & Ladders, a career learning platform.

5 Teams Changing Career Education: Meet Smart Sparrow

This post is the fifth of a special “5 Teams Changing Career Education” series, featuring Q&A with the EdSim Challenge finalists. These solutions demonstrate the exciting potential for an ecosystem of next-generation simulations to strengthen in-demand career skills.  

Our last post features a Q&A with Jacqui Hayes, Director of Inspark Courseware Production at Smart Sparrow and David Sarno, Founder and President of Lighthaus. They developed LifeCraft which explores the story of life on Earth with VR voyages through biology, archaeology, astronomy, and beyond.

How will your concept help students prepare for future careers?

Jacqui: When we develop science courseware, we focus on developing experiences that teach (and assess) critical thinking skills. These skills in observations, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation are important to many career paths.

David: Many careers paths have a deep component of observing and interacting with your immediate environment: nursing, farming, architecture and construction, or being a biologist or a chemist. Being able to create lifelike environments and simulate real situations is one of the VR’s great promises. We’re starting with biology — allowing students to observe and take control of a microscopic animal cell. But later we’ll expand this approach — explore, observe and interact — to many other fields.

What’s the biggest insight you’ve uncovered through the Challenge so far?

Jacqui: The gimmick trap is exactly what we want to avoid – we’re very interested in seeing how VR in the classroom can meaningfully improve learning outcomes for students. I suspect that at first we will see an increase in learning outcomes, but it won’t necessarily be because the learning experience is better in VR. Instead, there’s something called the Novelty Effect, where you can see an improvement in learning outcomes by changing something not relevant to what is being taught – for example, if the teacher wears a hat, paints a wall in the classroom red, or flicks a light switch in the middle of a lesson. So, our idea from the beginning has been to make a series of small VR experiences that integrate into a course in a meaningful way that gets beyond the Novelty Effect. And it was great to hear that assumption validated by what students want from the new technology as well.

David: We visited a high school in New York – UA Maker Academy – to talk to students about how they like to learn and how they would like to use VR. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the students themselves articulate a desire for meaningful VR experiences that integrated with other lessons at school, rather that one-off gimmicky experiences.

How do you see your solution evolving over the next six months to a year?

Jacqui: This is a really interesting time in education and VR because the field is so wide open. There is rapid innovation in the user experience in VR, let alone in learning experiences. There is a lot of room to play and analyze to figure out what the best learning routines are in this new medium. So, we’re planning to test our experiences a lot as we develop them to get this guidance from watching students use the experience.

David: It’s a little bit like panning for gold. We’re setting up the infrastructure that’s going to let out students discover valuable little bits of experiential learning, and we’ll be watching closely to see what those look like so we can make room for more of them. And the more gold dust you find, the closer you are to the motherlode. Said another way: We’ll keep taking this approach, enabling students to explore, measure, and interact with simulated environments, and build on the best parts of it based on the feedback we get from teachers and students.

5 Teams Changing Career Education: Meet Osso VR

This post is the fourth of a special “5 Teams Changing Career Education” series, featuring Q&A with the EdSim Challenge finalists. These solutions demonstrate the exciting potential for an ecosystem of next-generation simulations to strengthen in-demand career skills. 

Our fourth post features a Q&A with Justin Barad, Founder & CEO of Osso VR. Osso VR is a highly-mobile surgical training platform that enables healthcare professionals to practice cutting edge techniques through realistic, hands-on simulations.

Describe your first experience with VR or AR. What aspect of it did you find most compelling

My first experience with VR was completely transformative. It was the Oculus DK1 Tuscany demo, where you find yourself in a peaceful villa in Italy. I was able to get the demo working with some discontinued hand tracking controllers and once I was able to get my hands into the virtual world I realized just how important this technology was going to be for our field. I think what struck me the most about how unique this initial experience was is that my memory of that first demo is not something I witnessed passively, but something that actually happened to me. Even now writing about it I have a memory of being in that villa, like it was yesterday. It’s something that is completely unique to VR.

How will your concept help students prepare for future careers?

Our concept will help students prepare for future careers in three ways:

  1. Our realistic simulations will increase the likelihood that students will pursue careers in medicine and surgery they may not have previously been interested in. For example, in my field of orthopaedics, women are underrepresented by a shocking degree. As of 2011, 13% of orthopaedic surgery residents were female. In a prospective analysis in the journal Orthopaedics entitled: “Factors Affecting Interest in Orthopedics Among Female Medical Students: A Prospective Analysis,” the authors found that increasing exposure to orthopaedics to medical students before an applicant made their career selection improved their likelihood of picking that career. Through VR training we are able to provide that exposure to an unprecedented degree and in doing so address a critical issue that is endemic in many healthcare technical careers.
  2. Osso’s simulations will give students the technical skills they need to rapidly excel as they prepare and ultimately pursue their healthcare career aspirations. I am confident that we will see more and more VR simulations used in classrooms and on college campuses in formal curriculums. The critical threshold to cross to accelerate the adoption of simulation technology is to enable more efficient and economical skill and knowledge transfer than traditional teaching—a threshold we believe we have crossed at Osso VR.
  3. Osso’s simulations will engage students by giving not just the ability to see and learn about a specific career path, but to DO it, which can completely change the context and energy of a classroom based discussion. Experiencing a subject in a highly interactive manner is far more impactful than observation alone, and will lead to more stimulating discussions and career interest.

What’s the biggest insight you’ve uncovered through the Challenge so far?

One of our immediate takeaways is that high schoolers are an incredible source of blunt and honest feedback, which is awesome. Another takeaway is that the other finalists in the EdSim Challenge are stellar with great leaders and technologies. I’m sure we will continue to collaborate in the years to come. Finally, I think we all have realized that we have only begun to scratch the surface of the importance of VR for knowledge transfer – ensuring that the next generation will be adequately equipped to deal with the rapidly expanding challenges awaiting us. It is exciting to see the U.S. Department of Education apply design thinking principles to increase engagement and skill development for children and young adults.

5 Teams Changing Career Education: Meet Octothorpe

This post is the third of a special “5 Teams Changing Career Education” series, featuring Q&A with the EdSim Challenge finalists. These solutions demonstrate the exciting potential for an ecosystem of next-generation simulations to strengthen in-demand career skills. 

Our third post features a Q&A with Matt Anderson, Design Director at Octothorpe. His team developed The Irregular: A Mystery at Baker Street, a VR experience that uses critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork to explore skills related to success in STEM fields.

What inspired you to create this educational VR/AR experience?

The concept of The Irregular came about when several of us had fun solving a visual puzzle over coffee that had been making the rounds on Facebook, which you can view below.

After we solved the puzzle, a rapid conversation followed about why digital games have somewhat abandoned the joy of using deductive reasoning. There’s something going on in this puzzle that is largely absent in even more traditional puzzle game genres, such as Point-and-Click, or even classic Text Adventures. The above puzzle creates a deep understanding of an obtuse situation through visual clues and contextual information. After extensive concepting, writing, scrapping, re-concepting, paper prototyping and technical exploration, we originated an interaction model that facilitated this type of experience. Shortly after, the vast potential for educational use became apparent.

How will your concept help students prepare for future careers?

The Irregular is actually a framework for episodic content addressing different components of the CTE Career Clusters per episode. Every Irregular experience will exercise employability skills, such as applied academic skills, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, information use, and systems thinking. Our first episodes will focus in STEM, as we believe STEM undergirds success in many of the career clusters. Each episode emphasizes learning-by-doing, so the technical and academic skills will be directly pertinent to the associated career. Our testing of the paper prototype has shown that students are motivated to complete the content when wrapped in an engaging mystery.

How do you see your solution evolving over the next six months to a year?

Our technology, interactions, and visuals are just getting stronger day by day, and our understanding of how to create fun, engaging methods for learning in VR is always expanding. We have four points of focus over the next six to twelve months: improve the teaching methods in the Irregular framework, generate a breadth of episodic content, ramp up the engagement through impressive visuals and fun interactions, and work with our advisory board on ways to most effectively demonstrate teaching efficacy and relate results in an effective way to the educators engaging with the software.