Gearing Up for the 2020 Educators in VR Summit, with Daniel Dyboski-Bryant and Lorelle VanFossen

Welcome to the premier episode of the XR for Learning Podcast, with your host, Julie Smithson! On this show, we’ll be exploring in-depth the power XR has to improve the learning experience for mankind across all sectors. We start that mission speaking with the co-founders of Educators in VR, who host the world’s largest immersive conference for educators, to share and explore VR together.

Julie: Welcome to the XR for Learning podcast and this is your host, Julie Smithson. Thank you so much, everybody, for joining us. I’d like to introduce two of my first guests, Lorelle VanFossen and Daniel Dyboski-Bryant from Educators In VR. Lorelle is a co-founder of Educators In VR, an open membership and social profit organization dedicated to providing training and educational programs that will integrate virtual technologies into education for educators, learners, researchers, and passionate enthusiasts. And she’s a keynote speaker, a trainer, an educator, writer/author, and consultant specializing in digital storytelling and web publishing. Daniel is a lifelong educator specializing in virtual and augmented reality, immersive technologies, 360 media, teacher training, communication, and languages. And he speaks five languages. He’s the [co-]founder of Educators In VR, and I’ve been looking forward to having a conversation today about the international summit. Welcome, both of you.

Daniel: Thank you very much.

Lorelle: Thank you.

Daniel: Excited to be here.

Julie: I want to go deep into the international summit. But maybe if you guys can kind of talk about how was Educators In VR born? Like, where did it come from? And maybe you guys can talk about how you guys collaborated.

Lorelle: A moment of insanity. Well, how it actually got started is that I was talking to Dr. Erica Southgate in VR, we were in AltspaceVR. And I said, we keep bitching about all the different pros and cons of educators really struggling to embrace this technology and the challenges that face them, and the eagerness and passion that so many of them had. And I said, we need to have an educators in VR meetup. This is silly. We need to to make this a bigger conversation, because it’s a huge conversation. And the moment we started talking about it, we just exploded with ideas and we realized it was much bigger than the two of us. And so she brought in Daniel and another person, and we had our first Educators In VR meet-up. We thought there would be, I don’t know, what do you think, 20, 30 people? There were something like 180.

Daniel: Yeah.

Lorelle: [laughs] It just– no one knew how to use any of the tools, or anything to accommodate that many people. So it became a– It was great. It was fantastic, very few people in front of the scenes knew that everybody was panicking on the back end, because it was just overload. And we went, “Oh, there’s something there.” And it ended up that Daniel and I founded it, made it official. We host, once a week, workshops in AltspaceVR, but we also travel to other platforms and do all kinds of special events. And we’ve had over– I think it’s almost 5,000 people come through in a little over a year. And now we have this 2020 Educators In VR International Summit, which again started with “Oh, why don’t we do this? We’ll get like 40 people together, and see what happens. It’ll be a few days and we’ll do this conference.” And we put out the speaker form during the holidays. I mean, who pays attention to anything during the holidays? And we had over 150 applications.

Julie: Incredible. Incredible. It’s stunning.

Lorelle: And there’s this thing that happens when you’re doing any kind of an event. You go, all right, what kind of logistics do we have? How much room do we have? How much physical space do we have? Hire a high school or college, or where we’re gonna do this, a convention center? And Daniel and I were talking about, “Wait a minute, we’re doing this virtual. Isn’t virtual infinite?”

Daniel: Yeah.

Julie: Yeah.

Lorelle: And he said, “Yep, let’s go.” There it is. And that’s how the Educators In VR was born.

Daniel: Pretty much. It’s interesting, because around the time that Lorelle and Erica were having this idea of Educators In VR, I was having obviously a similar idea, which is how we met. And it feels a little bit like the timing was so spot on that a wave picked us up and just accelerated us. So we all know the industry, how fast it’s moving. But for Educators In VR, we felt like we sat in a rocket and it’s accelerating. We went from one event a month, now we’re doing several a week. We went from starting a Discord just to have a place for the community meet, we have 600-700 members. The appetite for what we seem to have, the sweet spot we seem to have found is just immense. And the response to the call for speakers to the summit just shows that. 160-170 speakers, you should have a look at the schedule that Lorelle has put together. It’s insanity.

Lorelle: It’s spreadsheet glory.

Julie: That’s amazing. Now, maybe you guys can explain, how did you bring this community together? Because I’m a part of it and I’m not an educator. But there are many teachers from around the world that are joining this platform, as well as developers, too. So how did you get the word out?

Lorelle: Well, don’t you know, Julie, that insanity attracts insanity? No. [laughs] It’s passion.

Daniel: It’s passion. And I think it’s– a lot of it is timing. So Lorelle’s background, her skillset is perfect for this. And my naïveté and innocence is also perfect for this. [chuckles] And I think we met at an ideal time, when the standalone headsets were coming to educators and the platforms were ready to host this kind of stuff. So a number of factors came together. And we put on– I think we found a name that does what it says on the tin: Educators In VR, you know what it is, you know what to expect when you get there. And so Lorelle suggested we put together a Discord server. I didn’t know Discord at the time, but it’s a stroke of genius, because it allows us behind the scenes in between the VR events. It allows us to communicate–

Lorelle: To keep the conversation going.

Daniel: –post links, share resources, to explore together. And then when we have the live events, it’s not just a standalone line event. People find us there and they know, OK, if I’m joining this, I’ve got a Discord, the conversation. So it goes both ways. People come to the Discord, join the live events; people go to live events, join the Discord. And it’s cyclical. And I think both of the platforms and the tech we have now just reaches so far. On Facebook, there’s various groups as well. And people end up finding us.

Lorelle: Something’s really interesting about this as well. Right now, VR is at a level where students and teachers — for the most part, I’m not talking blanket across — are on the same level. And they’re able to access this equipment on their own or through their funding and whatnot. Instead of what usually happens is that when it comes to this kind of technology, the teachers are chasing the student.

Daniel: Yes.

Lorelle: In many respects. And you had just– simple technology with mobile devices and things like that was always behind. Website development, always behind the students and different things. Just always chasing, chasing, chasing. And right now, we’re at a moment where there’s many teachers are getting this equipment and they’re saying, “Oh wow, you know, this is great, or the kids are in there, they’re using it and go, this is cool.” And they’re saying, how can we include that in education? At the same time, students are getting– are receiving Quest or Go or whatever it is. And they’re saying, “This is great. Now it’s fun to play games and shoot ’em ups.” but this is something more than that. We can actually learn things as we’re doing this. It’s very rare that you get this kind of technology to match and that’s where we are. So we have passionate student makers. We have incredibly passionate educators that are embracing this. And I am stunned at the level of academic research that is going into, why is this working? Why is this happening? Because it’s really easy to say, “OK. So we have some tests coming out of China and places, that say that learning in VR promotes increased memory retention.” Now, why? Why does it do that? And then all the sublayers that go underneath, is it the wow factor? Is it more than– is it fight or flight, or what it is really doing it? But then there’s all these other layers about the avatars, and embodiment, and presence, and anxieties, and phobias and oh my gosh.

There’s another aspect as well that is, I think, one of the reasons that the community is coming together is that Lorelle and I started really grassroots. We weren’t a company with a solution that we were pushing. We were a bunch of educators coming together and just happy to meet another educator, and the community response to that. And we have such a breadth of different people. It’s not all teachers. We have teachers, trainers, educators, researchers, developers, organizations coming on board. It seems to be attracting like the light attracts the moth, it seems to be attracting everybody around. And that mix of different skillsets, different insights. It’s exciting.

Lorelle: Julie, if we can, I want to tell you about some of the speakers that are going to be speaking at the international summit,.

Julie: Please. Yes. That was my next question, is who are these amazing 160 people from around the world that volunteered?

It’s incredible. These are all– again, the 2020 Educators In VR International Summit is February 17th through the 22nd. Majority of events are in AltspaceVR. But we also have events in ENGAGE, in– Oh, I’m gonna forget! [laughs] I’ve been looking at these too much. Help me, Daniel!

Daniel: rumii, Mozilla Hubs, possibly Rec Room. Somnium Space, which if you haven’t heard of, is quite exciting. Who else we got? ENGAGE VR, we should say, a good friend of ours. So pretty much most of the multi-user or social VR platforms that are known are jumping on board with us. And it’s exciting.

Lorelle: Oh, it’s amazing. Before we get to to, I want to highlight a few speakers just randomly out of our lists that are fascinating. And then I’ll have Daniel talk about some of the VIPs we have coming. But I first want to tell you that while I thought what we were doing is groundbreaking — which I tend to fall into those groundbreaking moments, I love it — but I found out this past week that event of this size– This is a six day event, across multiple platforms. Everything is virtual. If somebody wants to have the livestream in their space, wherever they are in the real world, that’s fine. I don’t care. This is completely virtual. No airplane tickets, no having to buy carbon credits. There is no hotels. There’s no none of this stuff is going on. There’s no physical buildings were in. We’re just chewing up servers. So it’s very, very green friendly conference. But what is amazing is we didn’t realize that nothing like this has ever been done in immersive VR before. I didn’t know that.

Daniel: Not at this scale. Not cross-platform.

Lorelle: Yes.

Daniel: Certainly.

Lorelle: It’s just amazing. And I told the Altspace people — because that’s where most of our events are — I said “We’re going to break Altspace.” And they said, “Bring it on!” [laughs] Yes, I love that.

Daniel: It’s a stress test.

Lorelle: That’s a challenge.

Daniel: Exactly.

Lorelle: Yeah. It makes it amazing. So it is completely free. It’s totally open. There’s no registration, no nothing. Either beancounters are freaking out, but we’re gonna make this happen. So I just randomly want to pick a few things here and then have Daniel do the VIPs. We have Chaz Prairie Chicken, who’s from– helped to develop an app called USAY. It’s an AR app — augmented reality app — that brings back the Blackfoot language in a novel form, to allow people who speak it or do not speak it to learn it as if they’re reading a novel. So it’s bringing back this almost lost language in AR. We have many, many topics that deal with disabilities, with elder care, with dementia, tons with cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychology. Maya Bartolf has created XR Super Girls, an amazing meetup organization that is working with STEM development in VR and AR and XR that is just totally changing the world. I just absolutely love that. Oh, Dance! The Dance– who are the Dance people? I’m trying to find that. There’s this couple that teaches dance in VR, and they are doing two sessions. Partner dancing, they’re doing partner dancing. So we have Rebekah Diaz and her partner is Jorge [Ortiz] — I’m trying to find his name too — doing dance in VR and partner dancing in VR. I mean, that’s amazing. And they use–

Julie: That’s incredible.

Lorelle: Yeah, they’re using immersive bodysuits to do this. And so it’s just– it’s really amazing. We have someone you may know, Alan Smithson is gonna be talking about–

Daniel: [chuckles]

Lorelle: –XR democratizing education on a global level. I’m so excited about that. We have digital storytelling, we have biochemistry using 3D modelling. We have people doing research in so much connectivity issues in accessibility and diversity. Shachar — I think it’s Shachar — “Vice” Weiss — he’s just known as Vice — is going to do a presentation called “Hard Hat Not Required: XR in nuclear power and other industries.” We have language studies, we have diversity, we have accessibility, we have aging, we have the psychology, the research, medical science, computer programming. V-coaching, which is the virtual coaching and personal development. Have I missed anything? There’s corporate case uses and studies, medical things. I think I’ve now– repeat development, and it’s all over the map and it’s amazing to bring that diversity together in one place, unlike you would in most conferences.

Daniel: Because it really reflects what’s going on on the ground around the world. And this is an opportunity for everybody to come together and share. I mean, there’s amazing work happening in the world, but to actually bring it together virtually, it’s like walking your talk. It’s the perfect application. This is the perfect use case, as far as I’m concerned. People are talking about the killer app for VR immersive technology. It’s collaborative social VR. And this is a perfect use case for it.

Julie: Educators In VR. It sounds like there’s learning for everybody. There is really no barriers to entry at this point. If we’re offering all of these different conversations and presentations that include every single industry and every aspect–

Daniel: And also, every single level of experience. So there’s people who’ve started recently, but they’re doing something different, something interesting. Let them speak. It’s not– Why always the bigwigs? I mean, we’ve got some bigwigs as well. I’ll tell you about them in a minute. But we want to represent regular people, with maybe you go in a classroom and a couple of learners, and just hear what they’re doing. Because it’s so new, everybody has something to add.

Lorelle: And it’s also covering a diversity of from — like Daniel just said — the very basics, to people that are deep diving into high level graduate studies and research, very technological research and use cases and white papers and so on. Really diving deep to help us understand, and they’re sharing that. So when you have “here’s some basic things, how to do this” and “here’s the psychology and the philosophy that goes in behind, and deep dive” right next to each other. It’s going to be amazing and I’m so excited! [laughs]

Julie: It sounds so exciting. And I think it’s key to just kind of highlight those educators that are so important today to the future generation.

Daniel: Exactly.

Julie: And bringing this technology back into classrooms, even into conversations at home. And even one of the things that I talk about now is helping parents understand this technology. And there’s no reason why anybody can’t join any of these presentations that you’re gonna be hosting in the next couple of weeks, because there is such a wide scope of various topics and applications to real lives that are changing. And we all need to learn these things.

Daniel: It goes all the way through lifelong learning, so we’re all learners. It’s like a breadth of age as well. It can be from K-12, right up to people who are– I heard a beautiful term, “VR bucket list”, people who are not going to go to chance to travel and go on all these expensive things. But in VR they get the next best thing. It’s beautiful.

Lorelle: And what I really would love, I love the idea that you brought up the parents. I would love to have so many of these parents to experience these things and learning about these things, because they need to know that the potential is out there, to educate their children above and beyond, not only the school, but to bring these things to the school. I was talking to someone just last week who said that while they’re an educator — they love VR and the potential of it — they’re also a parent. And they went into their their kid’s school and went to the teacher and said, “You need to put this on and try this.” The teacher said, “Well, I’m not putting this on.” She said, “Trust me.” and after much prodding and “I don’t have time.” and “This is weird.” And “Why are you making me do this?” put it on and went “Whaaaa!!” And I think they did the Anne– tour the Anne Frank house. And I think–

Daniel: Yeah.

Lorelle: Yeah, he was Anne Frank. It might have been the one with– one of the nature ones.

Daniel: Who wouldn’t be moved by that?

Lorelle: Yeah. And the teacher was completely blown away, and so who knows. Said “OK. You’ve sold me.” Think of how hard parents work to try to get educational topics or whatever into a classroom or try to improve the class. [blows raspberry] VR, is it? [laughs] Easy sell, easy sell!

Julie: Yeah. There you go. There you go. So how can people find out about who’s speaking and when they can sign up and how they can be a part of it? And do you have any registration caps for how many people can attend certain sessions, and that sort of thing? Maybe you can just give a round-out how people can find out more.

Lorelle: All right. So I’m going to give the round-up, and then we do want to mention the VIPs. Daniel gets that. All right. So go to educatorsinvr.com. We’ll have the full– we’re trying to get that schedule all up there. It’s quite complex. And that will soon have links to all the different events. All the events are free. There’s no registration that’s involved. And we need sponsorship to help cover that. So that’s a different discussion. But if you want to help as a volunteer, you want to help sponsor those to cover all of our costs to do this, we’d love it. We have all that information, it’s on educatorsinvr.com. And you can also join our Discord channel, discord.me/educatorsinvr. We also Facebook and everything, that hopefully are put in the show notes. But we– Discord is our main activity space, where we have tons of activity. We have almost a thousand members. We’re just rockin in there. And then Facebook is secondary to that. But we– just go there and you can also go to AltspaceVR, find out the events there, and they’ll be listed also in ENGAGE and the other platforms. But the main one is educatorsinvr.com. And then just find the events in your timezone, make a note of when they are, or you can go in there and hit RSVP and save those, and Altspace will send you an email an hour before the event. The other platforms you have to remember in your head or set something on your calendar. And then just show up in VR, on Oculus Go, on Oculus Quest, and Vive, and Rift, and all the other names. Or you can come in 2D, or you can go to our YouTube channel and watch the stream. We’ll not have all of it on the stream, but we’ll have a lot of events hopefully on there.

With regards to how many people can join, in Altspace, they have something called “front row”. So you can get quite a lot of users into one event, in what’s called “mirrored rooms”. On some of the other platforms there’s a cap of 30, 40 people, so it’s wise to get in early and show eagerness. But a lot of our events will be streamed as well. So if you don’t get in the room, you can pick up the feed in one of our Altspace rooms, which will be streaming most of the other events. And then finally, I just want to mention the Rock Out, the summit event on Saturday the 22nd will be in Somnium Space, trying to break a record of the most avatars or people in the same space in VR. Somnium Space allows up to 100, up to possibly 200, depending on how many people come there. It does require PCVR, but we’re going to try and break a record with them. They’re launching their new client and they also said, “come try and break us.” And that’s what we’re going to try to do.

Lorelle: The opening ceremony– the opening ceremonies are an AltspaceVR on the 17th.

Daniel: Right.

Lorelle: Called the Rock In.

Julie: Amazing. That sounds it sounds like such a virtual party.

Daniel: It’s going to be wild. I think it’s time for a quick–

Lorelle: Yeah. Who are the top people within the pro– I mean, everybody is special in this event. That’s why we work very, very hard to make everybody special. But who’s our special specials, besides Julie? [laughs]

Julie: Yes, I will be speaking. I will have one of the speaking slots. I’m looking forward to speaking about cloud learning.

Daniel: As are we. Couple other people who might– names that you might recognize is Tom Furness from the Virtual Society.

Lorelle: Virtual World Society.

Daniel: Yeah, he is — thank you — he’s an absolute legend. He looks like Father Christmas. And he’s known as the grandfather– the godfather of VR. He’s been doing VR since the 60s.

Julie: That’s correct.

Daniel: We also have Gabriel René, author of “The Spatial Web”, whose book was recently released to great acclaim. And he’s doing amazing work. He’s bringing people together to try and keep the next iteration of the web — the spatial web — as free, as democratized, and as accessible as possible. So really excited about him. Many people might know Charlie Fink, an AR legend is coming coming to join a panel, I think of a keynote as well. We have Alvin Wang Graylin of HTC Vive, to give a keynote and join a panel as well. Steve Bambury, many people know CPD in VR. He was one of the first to do these kind of teacher training development sessions. Steve Bambury’s a really good friend of ours, excited to have him on. We also have Benjamin de Wit of VR Days. VR Days is a conference in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam. It’s been going for a number of years and he’s quite visionary. So really looking forward to hearing about him. He’s going to speak about how virtual events and events are some of the best ways to drive the XR industry forward. Kent Bye, of Voices Of VR podcast. He’s — I think — done a 1,800 interviews, which is absolutely amazing. So he’s going to be coming and speaking about trends that he’s observing on design in educational VR. Who else we got? We got Artur Sychov himself, from Somnium Space. Mat Chacon, from rumii. Elgin[-Skye McLaren] from Hubs. We’ve got all the leaders of the social VR platforms. Chris Madsen and Tamara Hughes from– Chris Madsen is from ENGAGE and Tamara Hughes is from Rec Room. And more people, but really, really excited about every single speaker. And of course, to have a couple of notable names is really lovely as well.

Lorelle: And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so many people on here that deserve to have named credit going on as well. So go to educatorsinvr.com and check out the schedule and come rockin’ with us. It’s going to be amazing. As we truly are– I have a reputation of having broken the Internet and Twitter and a few other things in my long career. And now I’m going to try to break the virtual world, obviously. [laughs]

Julie: Amazing. Well, all the power to you. It sounds like you have a great lineup, and certainly excited to be a part of it myself, but also to share with my community and network. And that’s our hope right now is, this podcast, that we do share it out with the world, so that we can have as many educators — and parents and enterprise, whoever is looking to learn — is welcome to this conference that be running from February 17th to the 22nd, and that’ll be running 24 hours a day. From what I understand, with the amount of speakers.

Daniel: Yep, pretty much.

Lorelle: Yeah, yeah. We have 1-4 events every hour. And I want to take a second to say, Julie, congratulations on your first podcast. We are so blessed to be–.

Julie: Thank you!

Lorelle: –your first guests. So you know what this means, every year now, you have to bring us back on our anniversary, and your anniversary. [laughs]

Julie: Well, with the amount — of course! — and the amount of changes in this industry and what’s going on, I’m really sure that it’ll be much less than a year before we do this again. Because there’s so many things to talk about, there’s so many things to educate people about, and the approach to teaching VR and AR in the classroom, that’s– the mantra here is trying to explain how we’re changing the way that we learn and we teach in the classroom using this technology. So I look forward to further conversations, for sure.

Daniel: A little tease of that point. So we’re completely 100 percent focused on the summit. But I just want to tease you. We have two or three other projects that are at least as exciting as this in the works.

Julie: Amazing. Looking forward to it. We’ll have to have another podcast to talk about those other special projects. Any other last words about the Educators In VR International Summit?

Lorelle: Well, I would like to just say this. When I’m working with speakers and doing training and stuff and teaching people how to teach in VR, I tell them that the only way to grab someone’s attention, to really hold onto someone’s attention, is to either show them something they’ve never seen before, or show it to them in a way they’ve never seen it before. And since it’s really hard to show people something they’ve never seen before — because we’ve pretty much seen it all — what VR does is allows us to show people things in a way they’ve never seen them before. And that’s what is changing education with XR technology, is we’re able to look at things in a very, very different way and see how things work by being inside of them, where it’s dangerous or being up in spaces where we just really aren’t safe to be, or that are new and distinctive ways of looking at things. And what we’re all a part of is truly, truly groundbreaking earthquake kind of stuff.

Daniel: I got a couple of things just briefly, if I may. I want to say a huge, huge thank you to all the volunteers, all the helpers, to Lorelle specifically, to the — who else we got? — the speakers, everybody who’s– the whole community that is coming around this and making it what it’s gonna be. Huge, huge, huge hank you. Lorelle mentioned we are still looking for sponsors. We’ve got some thank you for the sponsors we’ve got. Please, please come help us sponsor this event, because you won’t only be making this come true, but we’ll be looking to bring some of the other following projects. So we’re looking for partnerships, sponsorships, any kind of support, still looking for volunteers.

Lorelle: Definitely.

Daniel: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Lorelle: This is a huge village that is making this happen. Amazing people who are giving of their time and helping to make this all happen. So thank you to everyone.

Julie: That’s a great way to wrap up this episode. And thank you both for your initiatives to bring this to the world. We all need this bit of learning. And the Educators In VR International Summit sounds like a great place to start for 2020. So thank you to you and both of your leadership in making this happen. And I think that’s a wrap. Thank you so much. Both Lorelle and Daniel from Educators In VR, and for listening on the XR for Learning podcast.

Looking for more insights on XR and the future of learning? Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify. You can also follow us on Twitter @XRLearningPod and connect with Julie on LinkedIn.

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