Creating a Dialogue Between Innovators and Educators, with VirtualiTeach’s Steve Bambury

Using VR in the classroom is a no-brainer. It’s immersive tech, and can teach kids in new, innovative ways. But if the people developing the technology don’t understand how kids’ brains learn, it’s not going to take, no matter how innovative. VirtualiTeach’s Steve Bambury drops by to explain how he’s trying to bridge that gap.

Alan: Hey, everyone, my name’s Alan Smithson. Coming up next on the XR for Business podcast, we have Steve Bambury, founder of VirtualiTeach. We’re gonna be talking about digital literacy, the virtual/augmented reality platforms, and the question on everybody’s mind: What are the key barriers to adopting VR and AR in schools and how to overcome them? All this and more, coming up next on the XR for Business Podcast. Welcome to the show, Steve. How are you?

Steve: I’m good, man. It’s good to speak to you.

Alan: It’s really great. The last time we saw each other, we were in Dubai — where you live — and you took me to the Dubai Mall, and we went in and we went to the VR Park, the giant VR Park. And I was just blown away by how big and ostentatious everything was. And it was a really great experience. I can’t thank you enough for your warm hospitality in Dubai. But today it’s all about you. So let’s talk about what you’re doing, and how did you get into this? And what are you doing now?

Steve: I’ve been in Dubai for 11 years. And for those 11 years, I’ve always worked at the same school. I was working a school group here known as GESS — which is the acronym for Jumeirah English Speaking School — also broadly referred to as GESS Dubai now. GESS is one of the leading schools in the Middle East. It’s a very old school, at least in terms of international schools in this region. It’s only, I think four years or three years younger than the UAE as a country. So it is very well established. And yeah, so I worked there for 11 years. I worked as a class teacher in one of the primary schools, and curriculum leader. Eventually become head of computing at the primary school. So I was teaching digital literacy and computer science content to four year olds, 3 to 11 year olds. And I ended up in that role primarily because of all the work I’ve been doing to integrate the iPads in the classroom. From 2011, we were one of the first schools in the Middle East to to roll out iPads in the classroom. And then three years ago, I moved into a role that was created for me, which was the head of digital learning and innovation, working underneath the new director, Mark Steed, who’d just come in from the UK. Mark had the pedigree in terms of digital learning from what he’d done at this very, very prestigious school in the UK called Berkhamsted. He’d also chaired the Independent Digital Strategy Group for eight years there. And so Mark created this role and this role took me out of the classroom most of the time. A lot of it involved training with staff. It also involved going back into departments and helping them with enrichment projects. And it was kind of in parallel to that. I mean, part of the reason that my work with virtual reality really took off is because I moved into this new role, and had this freedom to innovate and to explore new technologies. My first VR headset was just a [garbled] headset I imported from the States in 2014. But it was not long after I started this new role as head of digital learning at GESS that I got my first Vive. I took that Vive into the school and started looking for ways to integrate it into different curriculum areas. In actual fact, I’ve just recently started writing a series of guest posts for Vive on the Vive blog. You can go into Google, like “HTC Vive blog Steve Bambury” or something, you’ll probably find them. But I’ve been writing a series of blogs about my journey using and integrating the HTC Vive headsets at GESS. The first one focused on all those initial trials that we’ve run. My background is in film. So before I was a teacher, I worked in the film industry. So I’ve always done a lot of film projects with kids. So one of things that I was doing throughout our journey with virtual reality was documenting all of the projects that we were carrying out. I was capturing student voice. I was capturing staff feedback. And I think that was invaluable in terms of the success of our deployment of higher end VR at GESS, because it enabled me to then use these — not only internally but also externally — to promote what we were doing at the school. But internally it meant that I had this evidence that there was definite impact in terms of the integration of this technology, and the results that were tangible when you were using the Vives in the classroom. And then from there, we ended up investing in more Vives. We brought in Acer mixed reality headsets, as well. I ended up doing trials with the Vive Focus and other hardware. The one thing obviously that is already clearly missing from this mix, is the word Oculus. For those that are outside of the Middle East region, just for context, Oculus has next to no presence in the Middle East at all. The Rift never launched here. The Go never launched here. The Quest has launched here, but only in shops. 100 percent markup price from the Europe and US price.

Alan: Oh wow.

Steve: So it’s been– yeah. I mean, Facebook are here, but they don’t seem to value the region, so everything tends to be Vive, with the WMI headsets sort of in the wings somewhat. So yeah. So I did a lot of cool stuff with VR and started becoming kind of known for the work I was doing with VR. Couple of years ago I set up VirtualiTeach as a platform to share best practice and share my ideas, my theory, my projects. And… yeah. Broadly that became all I ended up speaking about at conferences around the region and internationally. I was becoming “the VR guy”. So–

Alan: You are the VR– You’re the VR education guy!

Steve: So yeah. And it is something that I’m really passionate about, and it’s something that I see the future of education, in terms of where spatial computing will take us. It isn’t just another gadget that schools need to consider weighing up buying into or not. This is the evolution of computing in general. So yeah, so I did that role — the head a digital learning — for three years. And at this point I’d worked for the company for 11 years, and I was looking for the next step. And Mark — the director — he was headhunted to go off to Hong Kong and work in Hong Kong, which he now has. And so in parallel to that, I decided to strike out on my own and set up my consultancy, which is broadly how I’ve spent my summer. Normally in the summer, everybody leaves Dubai, because it’s so ridiculously hot. And there’s so many expats here — 80 percent of the country is expats — so everybody leaves and Dubai’s a ghost town in the summer. Very hot ghost town.

Alan: Oh, it’s so hot. Oh my God. I was there this summer and oh my God…

Steve: So I was stuck here this summer, because I had to deal with all the logistics and the paperwork of getting my company license, my new visa, and everything like that. And yeah, and this is me now, a couple of months in, working for myself the first time in my life. I set up my consultancy called Digital Inception. Anecdotally, the name refers to– it was actually the name of a remote keynote presentation that myself and my friend Luke Reece delivered in 2013, I believe, to the University of Southern California from here in Dubai using the Nearpod platform. And the presentation kind of riffed on the movie Inception and the ideas from the movie Inception, and the idea that if professional development is good enough that you walk away, and you feel like the idea was there all along, that you already knew it, it isn’t something you’ve been preached, you’ve had something unlocked that was already within you. And I always kind of liked that title, I thought it was cool. And it was fitting that I could use it to encompass the work that I was going to be doing with immersive technologies, but also broad enough to encompass some of the other areas that I work with. I mean, I was a distinguished educator. I do a lot with Apple technology. I’m a Microsoft master trainer, so I do a lot of work with Microsoft technology. So I needed something that was kind of broader to encompass all of those things. So yeah, that’s where I’m at.

Alan: [chuckles] So you’ve done all of these things. You’ve been a pioneer. You also do the CPD talks where you interview people. So by all intents and purposes, you are an expert. Well, I would say the world’s leading expert on VR and AR in education. And you also have VirtualiTeach. What is that platform all about? Was that just a repository, a place for you to kind of store everything that you saw? And then it became a website. How did that happen?

Steve: Yeah, kind of. So in 2012, when I was doing a lot of work with iPads in the classroom. Myself and my friend Luke — who I mentioned just now — who also works at JESS with me. And he’s still at GESS, he’s one of the deputy heads there. We were speaking at events, and we were getting loads of people asking us questions and stuff. So we figured it would be a good idea to tackle a website where we could share our ideas and direct people to. So we set up a website called iPadEducators.com, which went on to win an award, and it led to both of us becoming Apple distinguished educators. And VirtualiTeach is– the approach is broadly the same, both of these websites are completely not for profit. I turn down advertising offers on a weekly basis. It’s never been about making money. It’s just about sharing best practice, which outside of the education industry, some people see it’s kind of weird. If you’ve got ideas why you’re not charging for them? But educators as a community, we’ve always been very, very much of the kind of pay-it-forward mentality, that you share what you’re doing, and we grow together. To be honest, it was 2017. And my youngest daughter had been sick. And so the summer plans were canceled that year as well. And I– essentially I was considering writing a book. Ironically, the book was going be called Digital Inception. I was going to write a book about all this stuff I was doing with virtual reality, but the more I considered the time that I would need to spend writing a book, and the delay in this kind of gratification of sharing the content with other people. In the end, I just thought, you know what? Let’s just put another website together, because I can start putting content out quickly. And I like to produce content.

Alan: Writing a book. By the time I read the book, first of all, it’s obsolete. Second of all, you can’t keep it up to date. So we’re struggling right now. We’re writing a book and– two books, “XR for Business” and “XR for Education”. And by the time they’re finished, they’ll be 100 percent obsolete.

Steve: Yeah. Yeah. You know why? In fact, last year in the end, I did put a book proposal together and submitted it through a colleague to a publishing house. And that’s basically what they come back to me and said. They said, “Look, we like your idea. But by the time when you actually write this and we publish it, we’re conscious of the fact that it will be out of date.” And to a degree that’s true of all books based on technology, because everything’s moving forwards.

Alan: Yeah.

Steve: So, yeah. So that’s basically why the website became about. Now, I will give a little caveat to anyone that’s listening, around about the time that we’re recording this, back end of October 2019. So with everything that was going on, with me setting up the company and various other bits and pieces, I took a couple of months break from the website, and unfortunately what’s happened is the website’s designed through Wix, and over the summer Wix have launched a new blog feature. And essentially my website is entirely built– the entire structure of it is built around the old blog feature. And then I use custom feeds to pull theory content onto a page, and Vive related content onto a page, and guest articles onto a page. And it was all done with a tagging system, which has been made redundant with the change to their site. And essentially, I’m now in a position where I’ve got a load of new content ready to publish. But at the moment, I’ve got to find the time to go back and essentially re-label everything that I’ve ever posted, which is like 150 articles. I’ve got to manually go into all of them and and re-tag them. So my site’s kind of sitting dormant at the moment, but hopefully we’ll be back on its feet before the end of the year. Because I do have a lot of new content ready to go on. But I have to say, sadly, the old content needs to be re-tasked first, and I need to do some some layout adjustments as well, to fit the new style that Wix have deployed.

Alan: I’m on your site now and you’ve got– this is like the compendium for anybody looking to do. And it’s VirtualiTeach, but “Virtual I teach”, it could also be.

Steve: Yeah, that tends to be what people say to me. You know what? When I was trying to come up with a name, I’m going backwards and forwards with different ideas. And I’d been reading a lot around the theory of the virtuality continuum. And I had obviously the Curiscope Virtuali-Tee, you know, the augmented reality t-shirts where you can look inside the human body. And I was like “Oh, VirtualiTeach! That’s a really good play on words!” And a couple of people I said it to was like, “No, don’t use that. It’s too confusing.” And I was stubborn and decided to stick with it.

Alan: I like it. So Steve, on the VirtualiTeach site at the very top, there’s an image of you sitting with a bunch of people, but you’re in avatars. What’s that all about? What platform is that?

Steve: So that’s one of the images from the CBD and VR events that I host. It’s ENGAGE, by Immersive VR Education They’re the guys that made Apollo 11 and Titanic VR. The funny thing is people tend to think that I work for Immersive, which I totally don’t. I’ve never worked for Immersive. I’ve got a lot of love for these guys, they’re great guys, and I work closely with them. But ENGAGE, it just is the platform that I chose and continue to choose to use for my professional development events inside VR. So I kick them off. Just before I launched the website in mid-2017, when I first got my Vive, I’d been lucky enough to have a sort of guided tour of the ENGAGE platform from Dave Wiehl and the CEO of Immersive VR Education, and was blown away. It was the first multi-user VR platform that I’d ever been inside and obviously — especially back then — it was the only one that was dedicated to education, and it was just stunning. And I was conscious of the fact that schools weren’t necessarily in a position to be harnessing this technology with a whole class full of students at that point — and to a degree, most schools are still not right now — but a lot of schools had begun to invest in maybe one or two Vives or Rifts or you know, educators like me, who is a bit techie, had gone out and bought their own one. So I decided in June 2017 to test the waters and offer out this free professional development event inside virtual reality. For clarity, one thing I hear quite often — just like I hear the confusion with the VirtualiTeach name of the website — in Europe and in the UK in particular, it tends to be referred to as CPD, for Continuing Professional Development. And quite often I get American educators asking me, like, what CPD stand for? Because in the States you tend to just refer to it as Professional Development or PD. And you know what?

Alan: Not cardiopulmonary disease?

Steve: [chuckles] Exactly. Or some sort of medical procedure. But at the end of the first year, I considered rebranding it to “PD in VR”. And at that point, even American educators like Steven Satter were saying to me “No, don’t change it, man. Don’t change it. It’s got a legacy now.” And it– something about it, it just didn’t sound right to change it. So we ended up just leaving it the same. But yeah, so I did that first session in June 2017. I actually delivered it three times in 24 hours, to three different groups of educators, some of whom accessed via PC, and some of whom were in headsets. Obviously, there’s a limit, and even more so back then, there were limits to the number of avatars that we could have inside the same virtual space. And it was tons of fun, despite all the obvious technical glitches that you face when you’re at the tip of the spear. So I decided to start hosting it monthly, and decided as well to start bearing them up. So I started doing some where I would deliver presentations, normally virtual re-enactments of presentations that I was doing locally here in the UAE or across the Middle East region events. But I also started hosting panel discussions and fireside chats and had some truly phenomenal guests on, building up to the one year anniversary show we did six hours straight last July.

Alan: Wow.

Steve: Opening with Alvin Graylin from Vive. You know, Charlie Fink was on, and Bob Fine. And we had the whole virtual reality podcast crew were on there.

Alan: It’s so funny you say that. We’ve had Alvin, Charlie and Bob as guests.

Steve: Yeah.

Alan: They get around, these guys.

Steve: They do, yeah. So, yeah. I mean, beyond that, I’ve had guest from the BBC, I’ve had from HTC and ClassVR, and all kinds of speakers as well — obviously — as educators. And then after that first year, we were trying to come up with a new idea for another kind of variation on it. So I kind of had this idea to host a chat show. So I do this live from Dubai chat show format under the CPD in VR banner, which I’ve hosted about half a dozen of those. And actually, I’m in parallel to taking a little break with the website, I also took a little break from the CBD in VR events, but just did the kind of comeback show about two weeks ago, which was kind of laughingly jokingly dubbed the Season 3 premiere, because this is the start of the third year of me doing them now. And that was the live from Dubai format. I had Steve Grubbs from Victory XR on and–

Alan: Grubbs’ been on my show, too.

Steve: Yeah, he’s a great guy. Yeah. Dr. Angelina Dayton, The VR Lady, who does a lot of amazing work with the Cherokee Nation, and now the Navajo Nation as well. And Suzanne Lee from Pivotal Reality up in Scotland, too, who does some stunning work with elderly people with dementia. And that kind of encapsulates my approach when I’m doing the panels — or now the chat show format, as well — is try and get a broad spectrum. Somebody said to me once, “Why are you not just getting educators on?” And to me, there needs to be a lot more dialogue between developers and educators, and there needs to be a more open door approach to helping developers understand what it takes to make something that’s effective in the classroom, which is something I wrote about last year for VR Focus. You know, my advice to to developers, if you’re creating an educational app, how is this actually going to work in a classroom setting? You might make the most beautiful experience of all time, but if I can’t harness that effectively with a classroom full of kids, then it is not something I’m going to go back to. It’s not something I’m going to be able to integrate successfully in the classroom.

Alan: Absolutely. It’s almost like you have two camps, you have educators, and then you have technologists or technology providers. And you need both to deliver content in a way that makes sense in schools. What are you seeing, as far as adoption of this on a broader scale. Is this something like– if you looked at– are we’re gonna have VR in every school? Is that in five years? Is that ten years? Is that ever?

Steve: Obviously, my viewpoint is somewhat skewed, because I’m based in Dubai. I would underwrite that with just because I’m in Dubai doesn’t mean everyone’s absolutely minted. You know, schools here don’t necessarily have endless piles of cash just because we’re based here in Dubai, like the GESS group I worked for, was not a for-profit organization, as a lot of the older schools are. So there are obviously somewhat limited resources. Schools in general are very cash poor organizations and they’re also reticent to jump on to what can be perceived as bandwagons. That being said, I mean, at least here in the UAE, what I’m seeing is more and more schools dipping their toes in the water. A friend of mine works in a kind of technology director role across a large school group in Abu Dhabi here in the UAE. And they’ve just rolled out the ClassVR solution across all of their campuses. Two of the schools that I’m currently working with through my consultancy that have already deployed ClassVR as a solution as well. Obviously, some of the schools have looked already into the higher end solutions like Vives, and they may be invested in two or three. And another school that I’m working in, they’ve already marked out a space specifically to be a VR lab, painted big murals of VR headsets and stuff on the wall, but they were conscious of the fact that they needed to make sure that their Office365 deployment and their day to day technology integration was firmly deployed and all accounted for, before they then look at how they’re going to deploy, and what type of VR they’re going to deploy. And a lot of it comes down to the various frictions, as Alvin Graylin refers to them, frictions of VR in education, whether it be the costs or the fear of adopting something that is outdated within a year, or the health and safety concerns, and various things like that are potentially holding schools back right now. I think cost is a huge one, especially when you know that the PCVR solutions rely on–

Alan: See, let’s lay out the factors here, and how — in order to be kind of useful to people listening — what are some of the major factors hindering the adoption, and what are some of the steps that schools and school groups can do to overcome that?

Steve: Ok. I’m going to cheat here, and I’m going to open my website in front of me [chuckles] Because one of the presentations that I did at the biggest education event in the region. So the biggest education event in the Middle East is an event called GESS Dubai, which — as you can guess — is a global brand now, they’ve got events in South America, in Indonesia. And I’ve got a great relationship with these guys, I’ve presented there for probably about seven, eight years now. And this year actually hosted a whole VR stage for three days straight. We did a lot to Tilt Brush demos and hands-on workshops and stuff.

Alan: Cool!

Steve: But my keynote presentation, my prestige presentation — I always try and give them something brand new, some sort of theory content — was this session around the five key barriers to VR adoption in schools, and how to start breaking them down. And I’ve since published this on my site back in March. So if you go on VirtualiTeach, you can access this.

Alan: It’s virtualiteach.com. Scroll down about halfway the page. “The five key barriers to VR adoption in schools, and how to start breaking them down.” Go, Steve.

Steve: You like my wrecking ball graphic?

Alan: I love it. It’s amazing.

Steve: So. Right. So number one, lack of understanding, OK? The simple fact that people just don’t really understand what virtual reality is and what it can do. And I think paired with that, there was a… I can’t remember who published it, but it was a really interesting article earlier in the year. I’m sure you read it, Alan, about whether or not in the long run the Google Cardboard did more harm to the VR industry than good. Because it was brilliant entry-level device, but it then contained what people’s perceptions of what virtual reality was capable of. And I’ve had so many people that, you know, you put a VIVE on them for the first time and the words that come out of the mouth, I’ve heard the same sentence multiple times, “I didn’t even know this was possible.” And that’s partly because people’s understanding of VR is, “I can look around to 360 image. I can potentially look around a 360 video.” And that misconception that’s been built through the use of mobile VR, it kind of needs to be unpicked. You cannot explain virtual reality. It’s experiential technology. You’ve got to put people in the headsets, and particularly in schools, you’ve got to put people in headsets who are the game-changers, they’re the people that have the sway to actually implement change. One of the first people that I stuck the headset on was was Mark Steed, who I met before he was the director of the school. I mean, we were blessed in that Mark was the director. And he’s a very, very, very tech-savvy guy. And he’s open to new technologies. But I stuck Mark on the plank — as I want to do for most people that come to me who want to try VR for the first time — stuck him on the plank. This is a guy with three master’s degrees and he couldn’t walk out on it. Two years later, he wrote a blog article for the Tez in the U.K. about that experience. How much that affected him and how that moment made him realize the power of the medium in general, because he had that visceral, emotive reaction to it, which is not something he’d ever experienced from a different form of technology before.

Alan: It’s interesting that you talk about that particular one, because we actually built a training scenario where you’re in a warehouse and you have to go across a beam and turn off a power supply. And when we built it originally, the beam was three feet across and you were maybe 20 feet off the ground. And it wasn’t scary at all. We decreased the beam to one foot and increased the height to 30 feet, aAnd wow. It is terrifying. And everybody who goes across it is just tiptoeing across. And it’s this mind melt because you’re walking across something — you know you’re safe because you’re in a room — your brain can’t comprehend the fact that you’re 30 feet in the air; you can’t decipher between reality and not. And at that point when, in our particular instance, you actually fall — you don’t fall, you just kind of fall and then it goes black and you start over again — and it says, “don’t forget to put your safety gear on.” And it’s in that moment where you’re like, “man, I will never, ever forget to put my safety gear on again.” Terrifying people, it turns out, is very good education!

Steve: From the psychology point of view, the one thing that I’ve seen again and again and again as well, which — I remember reading Jeremy Violence’s book Experience On Demand — and in that first chapter where he’s talking about putting Zuckerberg on the plank experience at Stanford, and he refers to something that I’d seen in person myself; the fact that you can have a group of people standing there watching someone doing the plank experience and laughing at them and going like, “oh, what’s wrong with you? You know it’s not real,” blah, blah, blah. And then they put the headset on themself, and even though they’ve seen it from a third-person perspective, once they are in it from a first-person perspective, the subconscious takes over and have their reaction to it is completely their own. It doesn’t matter that they’ve already seen somebody else do it. One of them, in fact, one of the early sessions that we did with the first five I got — which if you go in, you can find it on my site. If you scroll right, right, right back to that to the earliest articles, it’s one of the first ones on there. But also the video is linked on that five blog that I mentioned earlier on — so I took the plank experience into the sixth form psychology department at GESS and along with my friend Dr. Joseph Bell, who is one of the psychology professors there. We pull out of 16-, 17-, 18-year-old students through the plank experience. And we captured footage of them going through the experience as well as their reflections afterwards, and Joe provided some commentary in terms of what was happening from a psychology perspective. It was absolutely fascinating. The other thing, in terms of that that I find fascinating, is that — and I wish I was talking to Dr. Sara Jones the other day because she’s actually writing a book about VR, and somebody I’ve known for a number of years — I was saying to her, “I wish I had carried through with this idea that Joe and I had to do this study, because I probably find that more adults can’t do the plank thing.” Kids will walk out on that plank generally with not a fear in the world, whereas adults, there’s a good proportion of adults that just cannot do it. You know, my dad is a builder. He does loft conversions, so he takes people’s loft — or attics, whatever you want to call them — and he turns them into additional rooms. He spent his life on roofs. He’s been spending his life climbing up ladders and walking across roofs, and he couldn’t do that plank experience at all. Couldn’t do it.

Alan: Wow.

Steve: Which I found fascinating.

Alan: That’s weird.

Steve: Yeah.

Alan: Makes no sense.

Steve: You’d think so. Steering back towards what we were saying about the kind of barriers; the second one that I covered was the cost and the ROI — the return on investment. And we kind of touched on this already. The idea that, you know, schools are reticent to invest in technology that they potentially see as just another thing. And you’ve got lots of different vendors and companies trying to hawk their wares, so to speak. You know, STEM is massive. Now, you know that everybody’s like, “do we need to buy robots?” Do we need to buy 3D printers? Do we need to buy VR content?” And I think the difference is — I kind of touched on before — is that we’re not talking about just another gadget when we’re talking about augmented and virtual reality. We’re talking about the evolution of computing. We’re talking about the change in the way the technology is interacted with, full stop. And if you look at that article, you’ll see an image that I painstakingly sourced from Google for the original presentation, which is a group of students from the… I think, from the 80s. At this single PC, which, you know, this was the experience that I had initially when I was in primary school. That there was one computer in the school, and it was on a cart and it was wheeled into “oooohs” and “aaaaaaahs”, because the magical computer’s here and–

Alan: I’m not going to ask how old you are, but I still remember the first time I went to the library and there was three Mac computers. It was like, “Whoa!”

[laughs]

“So awesome!”

Steve: Ataris and stuff. But I specifically chose this image because I think this is the fear of a lot of schools, is that, “well, we’re gonna buy– we can only afford one, we’ll buy one. And then we’ll end up with the whole class sitting round, watching one person interact with it.” My counter to that is, no, you won’t. Because as educators, we now understand better. Pedagogy has evolved and we understand that that isn’t what you should be doing with technology. You shouldn’t have a group of kids all sitting around watching one person interact with the technology. There are so many more ways. We have evolved in terms of our use of technology in the classroom and our understanding of digital learning has evolved so much, especially since the advent of tablets and the first deployments of iPads in the classroom. We’ve learnt new ways to integrate limited amounts of technology and explored bunches of different ways where, I’ve maybe had half a dozen mobile VR headsets deployed for an activity in parallel to a VIVE or mixed reality headset. I’ve had work where students are not just taking turns, but they are specifically paired for a reason; so that one person’s the hands in the physical space, and the other person, they’re immersed in the virtual experience. That was kind of my counter to that. Paired with that is the other one that we mentioned before, which was this rate-of-change fear, and the graphic that you see on the site there, which I always give a shout out to my — sadly — dearly departed friend Chris Long, who died earlier this year. Chris originally showed me this graphic of Martec’s law. It was during the one-year anniversary event for the CBD and VR. He delivered a presentation and this was part of it. And it was one of those graphics, where I saw it and I was like, “this makes perfect sense. How have I never seen this before?” And I’ve started using it in a lot of presentations–

Alan: I’m actually stealing this for my presentations. Thank you, Chris!

Steve: Essentially the premise is that, because technology changes at this rapid pace, this exponential rate, but organizational change tends to be slower. What happens is that the gap between the two increases over time. And ultimately, if a company sits and procrastinates for too long, the gap between the state of technology and the organization and their use of technology becomes so large that an organization can actually need a full reset. And you’ve seen this. You see it in organizations all the time. It might mean that they have to lay off a whole bunch of staff. It might mean that they need to source a huge chunk of investment to catch up. And this was something that I really learned– I mean, I learned so much working for Mark Stevens, in terms of digital strategy and vision. He came into GESS, which was incredibly ahead of the time in terms of technology you use in the classroom. But he came in and was like, “well, look, you’ve got no refresh cycles built in for your tablet or your whiteboards or this. There’s no standardization.” That was what he ended up bringing to GESS, was a much better strategy, and a much better plotted roadmap in terms of technology integration at the school, and where the school was at and where the school was going. So then the fourth one — the fourth barrier to the VR adoption, the fourth common thing — because just for context, again, this article, this presentation was based on the conversations that I’d had both at GESS and with other educators worldwide, and with people that I’ve been using VR and their feedback, in terms of the barriers that they were hitting. So this wasn’t me just plucking these out of thin air. This was based on common concerns that were being thrown at educators. People will come to me and say, “I’m being asked about this. What do I say?” And health and safety concerns is obviously something that was coming up quite a lot. “Is VR say for kids? How long should they use it for? Will it hurt their eyes? What age should kids start to interact with VR?” I wrote a piece off the back of the Commonsense Media Report contesting some of the data that they used, and not because they were talking about content concerns, saying that parents had concerns about sexual content or violent content in VR. OK, I can understand that concern.

Alan: Yeah.

Steve: Yeah. You’ve got an infinitely higher probability of finding that type content on YouTube, which, these same parents have got their kids sitting on their phones with unrestricted access to YouTube because they have got parental restrictions set up. So I thought that was somewhat ironic. “You know, too much time with VR is bad for you.” Well, too much time with anything is bad for you. You know? It’s like me saying eat too many cakes is bad for you. If I read a book for six hours straight, I’m gonna get eyestrain. Too much of anything new, an educated person will tell you that too much of anything is bad for you. Social isolation is another one that was coming up. And, you know, until we get into that place where the social multi-user VR experiences are more common, I think that, you know, there is some credence to that. It’s just a very insular thing when you’ve got a headset on and you know, if you’ve got a room full of people.

Alan: To be honest, my kids have unlimited access to VR and they — I mean, we’ve got a quest, we’ve got Vives, we’ve got Hololens, Magic Leap, we have all the toys — and they don’t want to go in it. And when they go in it, they want to go in with other people. They want to be in social VR, which makes sense if you’re playing Beat Saber or something, but it’s really great when you’re with other people and then engage the platform, or these types of things. So I think socialize– So– that’s really hard to say! Social isolation.

Steve: Yeah. Yeah. I mean–

Alan: Say that five times fast.

Steve: These are things that I pulled out from there, from the Common Sense Media Report.

Alan: Now, the next one is the health concerns of bumping into something, that is actually probably one of the ones that I think actually could be a problem; if your dog walks in the room when you’re in VR and you trip on the dog or hit a table. I’ve seen people get punched in the face.

Steve: Yeah. I mean, devil’s advocate: I approach this from an educator’s perspective. And if you want my take on the Common Sense Media Report, that article is an in-depth breakdown of the whole report and my response to it is there on the site. And if you look at the theory section, you find out, yeah, 13 percent have bumped into something. My response is, of course they have. If you’re not watching kids and they’ve got a VR headset on, of course they’re going to bump into stuff. I’ve had kids using mobile VR headsets where there was no, you know, the three degrees of freedom headsets where they can’t move anyway, and they still stand up and start walking. You have to monitor kids using this kind of technology. If you don’t monitor them, again, yeah, of course they’re going to bump into things. But I’ve used VR headsets with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kids. And I’ve never had a kid bump into anything because I control the situation. You don’t just stick them in a Vive and then walk off and make a cup of tea.

Alan: It’s interesting. We had an event a couple of days ago, we just got — this is two months ago — we had just got the Oculus Quest and we had an event and people were playing the sword fighting and… it was our fault, we didn’t put a barrier around them, but somebody walked by as they were swinging. Got punched right in the face. And I was like, oh, jeez, that happened. But that was our fault for not putting a personal physical barrier around the person, even though they have a digital one. So when the person inside didn’t know… it just was our fault and it was only… because we use the Vives, we normally set up an extension so that people can’t get in to the person. But because the Quest was so new and we didn’t know, we just put them in a room and assumed that nobody would walk near them. Somebody swinging their arms around like an idiot. You would think people wouldn’t walk near them. But that happened.

Steve: Yeah. I mean, one very low-cost solution I’ve seen people start to implement is they bring in — and you can actually point ones that are marketed as specifically for virtual reality now — but they essentially put mats of some kind on the floor. You get students to take the shoes off. You’ve got very simple haptics; I can feel that I’ve stepped off of the mat, so therefore, I need to stop. And obviously making sure that you’ve got, whether you call it your guardian or a chaperone, you’ve got that that set up properly. I really like the Quest, obviously, the way that the passthrough camera kicks on once you step outside the guardian, because it draws that full stop. I’m outside of my space. But again, little things like if you’re marking your chaperone, don’t take it right to the very, very limits of the space that you’ve got. So there it goes right next to a pane of glass or right next to a solid brick wall. Give yourself a kind of a border so that if somebody does get lost in the moment and you happen to not be watching them, that they’ve got that kind of leeway, that little bit extra more… I mean, we could do a whole podcast just around this kind of VR and health and safety and stuff with kids. But a lot of it comes down to common sense, ironically, considering this was a response to the Common Sense Media. It comes down to limiting the lengths of experiences and limiting, obviously, moderating the types of experiences that you’re using with students. One of the things that Mark and I started to put before we both left GESS, and once the dust settled in both moves, we do hope to pick up was we were trying to put together a kind of white paper and look at sort of creating an actual formal approach to this. What age would you potentially start using a Google Cardboard with a student? And how long would that experience maximum last? What about a Windows mixed reality headset? Vive? If I’m working with a 13 year old, what would be the recommended maximum length of an experience? Especially with something like Tilt Brush, I’ve seen it happen. You stick a kid in and they get lost in that world. Well, do you pull it out and say, how long do you think you been in? And then say “about five minutes” and you say, “oh, you’ve actually been in there 20.”

Alan: Time dilation is a proven fact in VR, actually. I was reading a study on this early on and the time dilation can be as much as 25 percent that people think they’re in VR a lot shorter than they actually are. And one of the things that you can actually do to completely mess with people is you can put a virtual clock inside VR that moves slower than real time and you can actually increase that to about 50 percent. So people think they’re in for an hour and they’re in for two.

Steve: I’ve never heard of that done before. I like that. That’s nice. So then the last one is, it’s kind of the biggie, from my point of view, is that the benefits alone and ultimately, as somebody who’s worked for a long time now with various forms of education technology, there’s gotta be benefits to learning. There’s gotta be some point to deploy in this technology. When I when I first started doing this stuff, I was doing with with the high end VR in early 2017, the kind of party line for myself and other pioneers like Jamie Donnelly and Steven Sarto, it was like “there hasn’t been enough studies yet. The jury’s out,” kind of. But we’re two years on and the jury is starting to come in now and we’re starting to see more and more evidence come in from all corners of the world. There’s all kinds of data that you see there on the site. From Beijing University and Warwick University and Cornell and Stanford, there’s all these studies taking place showing that no, VR is more engaging than than other traditional forms of media, that it leads to significant retention of learning. The one that came out, Alvin Graylin tagged me in a tweet last week. There was a new study from another university in China looking at–

Alan: Yes, I saw that, too. I asked him for the study. I didn’t get it yet.

Steve: Now, I haven’t seen the actual study, but with statistics looking at language learning in VR, and then from a theoretical point of view, I then start thinking about some of the big theoretical educational models, and the one for me over the last decade that has become very prevalent is the SAMR model from Ruben Puentedura. This is going to become like, if you’re playing ed-tech bingo at conferences, the first thing that you would put down on your bingo card would be the SAMR model on a slide because you can’t get through any sort of ed-tech presentation these days without somebody going into the SAMR model, one talking about the different levels of SAMR. When I was putting this presentation together, this is the first time I’d actually looked at SAMR for a while and the first time I ever looked at it with specifically my VR head on. And for those that maybe don’t work in the education industry, this is a two-phase, four-step model created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura specifically about technology integration in the classroom. The lower phase, the enhancement phase, has the two steps, the lowest step is substitution, where technology acts as a direct substitute; type something on Word rather than you hand-write it. Then it goes augmentation, so your technology’s still a substitute, but, you know there’ll be an additional functional improvement. So you’re using a digital thesaurus, or you’re adding in a clipart image or something simple. And then the second higher phase is the transformation phase, which has the modification and ultimately redefinition. And the idea being that you’re moving towards using technology to create new tasks and access content in ways that was previously impossible. You take the lowest level, use that analogy of having to write something; the lowest level would be just, I type on word instead of handwriting it. And highest-level might be that I collaboratively write something on a Google doc and then we post it to a blog or a wiki, and then we take live feedback from people from around the world. That’s me redefining that task, using technology. And when I looked at this through the VR goggles — pun intended — when I looked at it with my VR kind of mindset, what I found interesting was that it’s like a leap frog, because I can’t see any instance where VR is being used for things like substitution, because by its very nature, because of the experience or nature of VR applications, you’re automatically giving students the ability to do things that they had previously never been able to do before. Whether that’s painting with light or defying gravity with the way that you build a sculpture and tilt brush, or flying around the world in Google Earth, or stepping back in time in the Titanic experience. It’s a transcendent technology in a way that other technologies have not offered before. And I thought that was quite telling. I’m actually at the moment working towards finishing something I started in early 2018. So nearly two years ago, I started looking at VR and another very famous education theory, which is Bloom’s taxonomy and Chris Long, who sadly no longer with us. I, myself and my friend Alex Johnson in India and Stephen. So we were kind of informally looking at this on a shared document and we were going backwards and forwards with it and it kind of got put on the backburner a few times. And then Chris Long and I dive back into it maybe six months later and we really thought that we had something there, something interesting — something somewhat controversial — but interesting nonetheless. And then it went back on the backburner. But now I kind of feel like I need to finish that. I need to get that published, not least because it was kind of the last project that I was working on with Chris. And I’d like to see that through to completion. So 2020, I think at this point, will be when I’m looking to publish that, because as I mentioned earlier, I’ve got to rebuild my entire website before I can publish anything.

Alan: Well, Steve, I mean, there’s so much we can talk about. It’s been really amazing to listen to these. You are one of the world leaders in this. So thank you so much for joining us today.

Steve: Thank you, Alan. It’s always a pleasure.

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