Giving Students the Steering Wheel in their XR Education, with ARVRinEDU’s Jaime Donally

For any learning to take place in the next few weeks, parents and educators are going to have to get creative in their teaching methods. Jaime Donally founded ARVRinEDU to help them find ways to introduce XR into their curriculum, and she tells Julie how right now is the perfect time to experiment.

Julie: Hello, my name is Julie Smithson and I am your XR for Learning podcast host. Every podcast session is meant to provide you with a value in micro-learning, about the way technologies will change the way that we learn and we teach. So today on my podcast, I have Jaime Donally, who is a passionate technology enthusiast, and she began her career as a math teacher, later moved into instructional technology. And her desire to build relationships has brought about opportunities to collaborate with students and educators around the world. She provides staff development and training on immersive technologies as an ed-tech consultant. And her latest adventures include the launch of Global Maker Day and the ARVRinEDU community events and presentations. She works as an author and speaker to provide practical use of augmented and virtual reality in the classroom. Thanks for joining me today, Jaime.

Jaime: Thank you so much. I’m excited.

I’m excited to have this conversation, too. And I think the discussion about education and learning, obviously with the situation that we have going on in the world today, everybody is pivoting their eyes to how do we learn online, and the virtual collaboration that we can begin to have. But why don’t we start with what you’re working on? Maybe do a little bit of a presentation on your mission and your goals in the education space. And let’s teach somebody about XR for learning.

Julie: There is so much happening. I feel like I’ve been sharing immersive technology for several years now, really before people quite understood or knew what it was. As time has transitioned and moved on, course it’s become more popular and people are more aware. And it certainly finally got a stand in education, which has been an exciting journey. But really, my goal in all of what I do is sharing from a practical lens, though I don’t get caught up into just the hype, but really looking at what is this practically look like, what are the tools we should have in our classrooms? Where is the money that should be spent? Where is the time and value for our students? Where are those opportunities? A lot of that discussion is coming from administrators, it could come from teachers. And oftentimes people are making decisions based upon what they see at a conference or an event. And then what’s being marketed — of course — are the things that are quite expensive. And so they’re taking a leap without actually thinking about what that means for our classroom. So that is kind of where– more of what I stand and what I share on today is what does this mean for our classroom, and what how should this really be used so that we can maximize the usage, maximize the opportunity for our students, and maximize our our money, our budgets to use it effectively.

Julie: So with the changing times advising teachers on how to implement these strategies — and the XR strategy, shall we say — into the classrooms. Maybe you can– we’ll give a little bit of instruction on how to implement into your classrooms, but maybe we’ll pivot that afterwards into what can teachers do today in these situations, where kids are at home. So I know that those are two very different conversations. So why don’t you present a little bit about the practical use? And if I was a teacher, where would I start to begin to implement these technologies into the classroom?

Jaime: Yeah, absolutely. So from the beginning, I always get the question of what one tool do I need to download? What does that one thing that everybody should be aware of? And I can never answer that question, because that one tool or that one thing looks different for everybody. Actually, my second book — that I’m getting ready to have go public here soon — is specifically about that, that every tool is going to look different. So when it comes to practical, I always recommend before just jumping in headfirst and spending $20,000 on a kit, to think about where your students are struggling. Where do you need support? Why are you using this technology? And if it’s just for the wow factor, then you’re going to just get it for the wow factor. And that is short lived. But if you’re really purchasing something because you have a need and your students have this area that they really struggle, then you’re really going to have the best approach on how you’re going to go look for those right resources. So on a practical sense, the best way to get started is really one, knowing your kids, knowing their needs, knowing their desires and wants and how they learn, then really targeting and honing in on where their gaps are at, and what traditional education has offered that is obviously not hit the mark for those kids to make sense of that content using even technology. But AR/VR really does offer something much different, a deeper learning experience, a way for them to personalize that experience for them. So we really could be starting off looking at where our students are struggling, where we really need support and help to present the material effectively. And I think more importantly, our admin need to be aware that, before they go out and buy things, and push it into the class, or not have discussions with everybody across the board. I think another common problem is you have an excited teacher, an excited administrator, and they want to bring it in. But not everybody else is on board or there’s been no collaboration, no discussion. So your technology department isn’t supporting what technology you just purchased. And your teacher isn’t ready to put that in, because your curriculum hasn’t allowed for that to be brought into the classroom based upon their strict guidelines of what needs to be presented every day. So until you really get everybody on board, then you’re going to run into a million blocks along the way, if you’re really just one person who’s pushing that out. So I really do believe the starting point is the collaboration. And then when you are ready to make those purchases, you’re making purchases based upon the student’s needs. And that’s really the most practical way to get started.

Julie: Can you give an example of maybe school or institution that you’ve worked with that they have found that practical use?

Jaime: Yeah. So I have worked with a school out of New York. [Lake Shore Central School District’s] Michael Drezek is the instructional technologist that really was the one seeing the vision of bringing in immersive technology. So they brought me out on two different occasions, working with different groups of teachers and kind of progressing them along. They see a lot. And to some extent, I think all of us can relate to this as teachers. “OK, what’s next? I got to learn this next. And is this really going to be something that we even keep around?” So I absolutely understand the hesitancy that you often find — especially in immersive tech — that people think, “Do I really need this?” But on their level, they really had a vision of how to use it. So they spoke to the teachers. They were talking about what the kids needed to create, what they needed to do. And their goal was really student creation. And so the student creation portion, they took a project that they did with codebases that just blows my mind. They had a teacher and a couple folks from the instructional technology team in the district come together and put together the periodic table in a virtual setting. And then every single element on the periodic table had it hyperlink to a new slide, new page for that student then to create that element. They had to visualize it. They had to explain it. They had an experience on every single element. So their school — I think — has done a fantastic job of essentially taking what they learned, and they took parts of that of where they really needed to run with this. And then they just– they went crazy with it. Something I could have never done in a single training. You know, something that they really have just in that passion of student creation, and where our students can be, and what they should be creating and making. They did a fantastic job and they certainly hit on the standards where their students needed to be, not just in consuming information, but obviously creating content, demonstrating knowledge in a super unique way. And it was collaborative, and they were able to share it globally, where other people can come in and see. They’ve even presented it to their parents, and parents were able then to go in and see what they’ve created. So that’s an example — I think — of somebody doing it right. They brought in the training, they understood exactly what their vision is and what they wanted to do with it. And then they brought it back into the classroom, and the students were a part of it. It wasn’t put on a teacher’s shoulders. It was a collaboration across the board, across the district. And I think that they’re continuing to do amazing things because of it.

Julie: I think this is where education really changes, and it’s about getting the students involved. And I’ve had a couple of conversations now that with this situation, with the pandemic and students at home, parents now have to be involved in their kid’s education, and restructure their days so that it’s full of activities or things to do, and obviously the leadership in to finding out what they’re passionate about, so that they can learn. And for the longest time, our education institutions have not allowed that student creativity to take place. One of the things that I took upon myself yesterday was — and today, actually — I allowed my kids to just create; let them be creative and discover what they like to do. And that’ll obviously stem into XR applications and technology applications of solving problems in the world, that we hope that they will all do. But I think in the classrooms, having the kids become part of the solution, and discovering how they can also solve a problem and they can build out resources that leads to their creativity. Maybe you can speak a little bit more to how teachers approach this. Obviously there’s a different way of becoming more of a mentor to kids, as opposed to being their– stand in front of the classroom and be their teacher.

Jaime: Yeah, the perfect example for me is Rachelle Dene Poth and her classroom, based out of Pennsylvania. She is such a great example of saying, “I don’t know it all, but my students will. My students can run with this, and I can give them an assignment and I can show the basics of how to get started.” And she said it really is unlimited when you give it to them. When we limit them by what we want them to accomplish and give them every detail of what they need to do, we get the basic, but when we give it to them to own it and to show us what they’re capable of doing, we get projects and content that we would have never envisioned is possible. And I think that’s the powerful part. We don’t need to know everything. Teachers sometimes are afraid of this technology, because they feel like they don’t know all the answers. But we don’t need to know the answers. We just need to give it to our kids, give them the opportunity, let them demonstrate what they’re capable of doing. And just from there, it really just empowers them to take it to that next level. And that’s what we need. You’re exactly right. It’s a change, it’s a shift in the way that we view education as a whole, and certainly given them the opportunity to take it, know it, and move it forward.

Julie: There’s so many conversations now about how the next generation has this massive opportunity to learn whatever they want. And after the last couple of days, the access to online classes, to learn how to dance, how to be a cartoon drawer, how to learn about– yesterday I took a class on quantum computing. You can learn about self-driving cars. And through this troubling time for us, the opportunities have just unleashed themselves online, for both teachers and students. And maybe you can shed a little bit of light on if you were a teacher, what to do right now, in this time where maybe the schools are closed and opens up that time to help teachers understand about all of these technologies. Where we do direct a teacher to best use their time over the next weeks, to engage themselves with this technology and learn the most that they can about them?

Jaime: I’ve had several conversations. I guess it’s a little bit of frustration, too. My husband is also a teacher. And just to kind of hear what educators are going through to scramble, to make this work, I feel like I’ve been sharing virtual connections in virtual reality for a long time. And I feel like it’s been dismissed for a long time. It’s been, “That’s great and all. But we don’t have time for that. We’ve got to get ready for this exam.” And now it’s finally come to a point, where admin aren’t ready for this. They weren’t ready for what this could possibly bring. We’d never seen anything like this, to be fair. And so with that being said, I think that there are many opportunities to connect and collaborate online. When we talk about coming into virtual spaces and having community there, some of my very best friends were made through social media, and those social media connections have become stronger and stronger, whereas people I would work next to every day in office, I didn’t maintain that kind of relationship and friendship. So I think that there are some powerful opportunities, and the way that we need to think about how we connect should no longer– I think every conference needs to take this into perspective as well, because all of them are getting canceled. But this should not just be a face-to-face or virtual. It should be both. We need to offer both. And when one doesn’t work and the other one does, we go to that direction, but we need to be prepared. And so some of the tools that I’ve shared, even just this month I’m doing a 31 day of ARVRinEDU campaign, and every day I have a blog going out. I shared Mozilla Hubs, where people can come in and collaborate. It’s a perfect opportunity for people to bring in their students and create 3D content, and redesign spaces together, have presentation slides up, drawing, taking selfies. It’s a lot of fun, but it also is a virtual classroom that we can have our students in. Zoom is something I use almost every day. And I have done virtual events with Global Maker Day for several years. And I did other virtual events before Global Maker Day, where I’d host them completely virtual, using multiple different platforms. I think that there are a million different opportunities. And really, what it boils down to is, were people really ready to jump into that? No. So even Zoom, for instance, this is a platform that people have had access to and maybe have used at some point, but it also looking at the accessibility of how that works out for all of our students, not all of them having access to the Internet. How do they join in? But Zoom does a great [thing], where they allow you to join in by phone. So even if you don’t have the connection through Internet, you can have a phone call in and still hear content, still hear people, still connect and collaborate. So there’s opportunities that go beyond that. I do think that there’s a lot of concerns for sure, but it doesn’t mean we shut everything down because not every single person. Let’s just open up a floodgate of resources, bring out Flipgrid, bring out YouTube Live, bring out Facebook Live, bring it all out, and bring out many opportunities and see where things happen for our students and start seeing where they’re gravitating towards, and meet them where they’re at and where they want to be at. And try to meet as many different opportunities, if it has to be something where they come and pick up a packet, well, that’s one option. But don’t make it for all kids, because not all kids are online. Let’s offer a multitude of opportunities and just allow them to flourish in the way that they’re capable and able and excited to do.

Julie: I think that’s great. Maybe you can highlight some of the work and offerings of your community, the ARVRinEDU community, which I know you’ve been working on. And there’s a website, and maybe we can wrap up with a little bit of summary on how people can find you and the resources that you offer, for both teachers and students.

Jaime: Yeah. The community is incredible. Everything we’re covering right now is beta testing, in my opinion. I don’t feel like anybody has any product set in stone and perfectly defined and worked out. All of them, like any technology is always going to change and be modified. We’re going to see new things coming out. And that’s an exciting journey, as it constantly changes. That might sound scary to some people, but they don’t need to know it all. They don’t need to know everything. None of us know it all. All of us are constantly learning. But to embrace even just one or two things that really impact your students, I think are powerful. And some of our tools really range from kindergartener can hop on and create, all the way through our college students coding and creating content. I think that it really offers a broad range of different tools. ARVRinEDU was really started initially because of discussions from– I started a Twitter chat that started over three years ago now, and I put it off for a good year because I knew the commitment. But we meet every week on Wednesday night on Twitter. And right now, because of the 31 days of ARVRinEDU with the blog post coming out every day, there’s constant content coming out through that. So we’re not doing the Twitter chat this month, but remainder of the month, it’s really just getting connected to people, having people to ask questions, and to share and highlight what you’re doing. And everybody in the community has been so great, because we’re all in this kind of exciting beta testing journey together. And then we’re gonna find tools that don’t hit the mark, and sometimes have some things great. Some tools that are doing amazing work, things that we’ve never even thought about before. And so the spectrum of tools is enormous. But at the end of the day, it’s just really coming together to support one another. And yeah, Global Maker Day is a whole different content. But yeah, for sure, on arvrinedu.com, if you subscribe, you get those resources shared with you pretty regularly and giving you opportunities of ways to connect.

Julie: Well, Jaime, I think that’s a great way to wrap up our session. And I would love to invite you into another conversation in a few weeks from now, because obviously our situation is changing. Maybe you and I can have another conversation to provide further resources for all these educators out there looking to transform their own knowledge. Looking into your resources, you seem to have pretty much every grade covered. So thank you so much for being on my podcast today. I really appreciate it.

Jaime: Absolutely. Thank you for the honor of being here.

Julie: Thanks again, Jaime. I’m your host, Julie Smithson. This is 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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