Immersive pioneers revolutionize remote education with interactive experiences in social VR
Educators in VR is an open community of educators using, discussing, sharing and learning about VR/AR in education. Daniel Dyboski-Bryant and
Lorelle VanFossen founded this monthly event as a means to connect educators, trainers, researchers, organizations, and startups of all fields to share their expertise and learn from those in other fields — in VR. Events include guest speakers and workshops, and following each event, attendees have the opportunity to network.
We spoke to Lorelle and Daniel about how social VR affects the learning experience, and their hopes for the future of both their community and virtual reality as a whole.
Q. Who are you?
Lorelle VanFossen (Relle): I’m an educator, trainer, and technology evangelist. I’ve been involved with VR directly for over five years, and before that played around with Second Life and other virtual worlds and apps. I specialize in teaching web publishing technologies, especially digital storytelling, blogging, podcasting, and all aspects of content curation and creation in social media, and VR is a natural step in that direction. Being a part of the founding of Educators in VR is a dream come true as it brings together educators from around the world experimenting, researching, and teaching different ages, industries, and technologies through virtual reality immersion.
Daniel (danielbryant93): I’m an educator, trainer, linguist, speaker and consultant, as well as a VR/AR evangelist. I have been involved with VR for just over a year, and what a year it’s been! Apart from freelance training, consulting, speaking about VR in education, I am also leading the “Exploring VR in Education and Languages” project at Coleg Menai in North Wales, UK, and lead the college’s VR Working Group; and with Lorelle, I have founded Educators in VR.
Finding Lorelle and starting this journey is one of the best adventures I have ever been on. The response has been amazing — we get new members from all over the world every day and are being approached by other organizations looking to collaborate. Right time, right place, it seems.
Q. Tell us more about your events. What can people expect?
Daniel: The idea behind the monthly events is to bring together a community of educators, trainers, researchers, organizations, and startups who meet, share, and learn — in VR — so that we are “walking the talk.”
Each month we choose a topic relevant to VR in education and invite a speaker or panel of speakers to share their insights, experiences, and resources with the community. So far we have covered VR Education research projects from Australian and German universities, presented some start-ups in the field from Finland and the US, hosted a speaker from Australia who is managing and scaling provision of immersive technologies at an organization with 500,000 learners, and heard an expert speak about harassment in VR. Next week, we have a panel of speakers discussing diversity and inclusion in VR and education.
Also, “mingle and network” time after main discussions is really valuable for our members as they can connect with people in the same situation. Several collaborations have come from members meeting at our events. That’s what the events are all about — bringing people together and building connections to drive best practices with VR in education.
Lorelle: We are talking about hosting workshops in between meetups to focus on training and specific topics with our global educators. Our goal is to connect the dots between administration, faculty, teachers, and students through our shared experiences and expertise. Grad students connect with educators experimenting with VR training in everything from surgery to automotive mechanics.
Attendees range from trainers to doctorates, and every educator level in between, who specialize in topics such as digital storytelling, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, automotive repair and maintenance, medical research and education, aviation… The ways virtual reality is being used in education is stunning and impressive.
Q. What inspires you about social VR and how are you using it to build community?
Daniel: To be honest, I never really got into video conferencing, mobiles, and PCs in the classroom. Social VR however, is a complete game-changer for me. Now I can feel like I am with these people, no matter where they are. It’s like having a portal into the inside of a Facebook group or a Twitter discussion.
I live in North Wales, which is beautiful but very quiet. I miss the culture and the action of a city here. With Social VR, I can plug into all the social life I want. For me, it’s the best meeting place in the web and the world. My experiences have been exclusively positive.
Hosting events in Educators in VR event on AltspaceVR means our community feels more real, more substantial. Without it, we would be just another web-based community behind screens somewhere (caveat: I know a lot of excellent web-based communities and am not knocking them). When we meet in VR, we are sharing the same space, the same culture, the same experience, and are building actual shared memories.
I remember at the end of our last event — during the mingle and meet session — it sounded like a busy bar or a crowded conference room. I love that. I honestly don’t know how we would build a community like this without the social VR element. It wouldn’t exist in the same way; it couldn’t.
Lorelle: Honestly, what doesn’t inspire? Social virtual reality is breaking down walls. Early online education was webpage-based, then voice and video, eventually streamed. Social VR experiences like AltspaceVR allow the student and teacher to break the physical barriers and connect on a more intimate level as if they were in-person in the classroom. I love how people from all walks of life and everywhere around the world with fairly inexpensive VR equipment, or even a laptop, can connect and share and learn from each other with little or no learning curve.
In addition to Educators in VR, and my work as an educator, trainer, and speaker in web publishing and social media technologies, I enjoy hosting AltspaceVR meetups including creative writing and genealogy meetups. That technology isn’t ready yet, so I tell them they have to write in the real world and share in VR. Once they get that concept, it seems to encourage their creativity. Just as in the traditional teaching environment, the more interactive, the more active learning, and the more engaged the experience, the greater the response and the better the retention.
AltspaceVR is excellent at connecting real people in real time. Staying connected outside of AltspaceVR is critical, and Discord gives us the room to stretch, connect, and share between meet-ups — we have new people joining daily. We share our experiences, research, knowledge, and news about education and VR, and learn from each other. It’s exciting times and I’m excited about our future.
Q. Thoughts on hosting educational events in virtual reality? How has your experience been?
Daniel: I have been overwhelmed by how well it works and how real it feels. Once you adjust to the occasional glitches and talking to avatars and concentrate on the conversation and the experience, it becomes normal and convincingly real.
Delivering an event is always exciting and fun. Preparation is crucial, but having good support is even more important. Lorelle is amazing and brings everything together at our events, along with the amazing AltspaceVR support and volunteers. I haven’t tried hosting events on any other platforms yet, although, ultimately, I would like our community to be platform agnostic (able to host events on any of the other social VR platforms), because that is part of what we are about — exploring what’s out there. But at the moment, Altspace is our home. I think we need that home base, and I can’t think of a better place right now.
Lorelle: Teaching in virtual reality is not much different than teaching in the real world — okay, I lie. It is very different if you are a traditional lecture-style teacher. Lectures don’t work in VR. The user attention span is estimated to be about 12-25 minutes, unless they are totally entertained and engaged. In VR, everything is magnified a little. There is more sensitivity to tone of voice, body language, and the emotional context they convey as you teach. You really have to work on your stage presence and energy levels, knowing when to push a little over the top and when to pull back.
A study in China a few years ago found that VR-based learning improves student’s test scores, improves knowledge retention, and unlocks student potential as it seems to break through various learning modals to help the student not only visualize but also actualize their experience.
Personally, teaching in VR supports the study’s conclusions. When I revert to traditional teaching methods, engagement drops, energy levels drop, and students lose focus and interest. It takes enthusiasm and a clear purpose and objective for each class to keep students focused and on task. Sometimes competing with the immersive environment is a challenge, but part of the joy of AltspaceVR is building educational spaces to do the teaching for me. I wish I could do the same directly in my classroom, but until AR is more accessible, VR pulls them out of the classroom and into my educational world.
It’s an exciting time for education and it’s only going to keep being more exciting with VR technology expanding for easier consumer access. Daniel has been the most passionate of partners in this endeavor. He is out there making connections in the real world and dragging people into the virtual. I love being a part of the energy wave that is Daniel when it comes to VR and education.
Q. Upcoming events you want to feature.
Daniel: We have a lot of ideas and are always open to suggestions from members, as well. At our most recent event, on May 2nd, we discussed diversity and inclusion in VR and education. We want to do an event that looks at VR pedagogies, and another that considers the actual evidence for the efficacy of VR in education, because it is easy to get carried away with the hype, sometimes. Lorelle and I are even considering something a bit bigger, but we’re working towards that (sorry for the tease!).
Q. How can people get involved?
Daniel: Educators in VR is non-profit and relies on passionate volunteers, and to help us deliver the best of what Educators in VR can become, we are very keen for members to get involved.
There are several ways:
- Join the Discord and attend the Altspace events — that’s the easiest way.
- Comment, share your ideas and experiences, discuss and ask good questions. Our community depends on members discussing and sharing.
- Recruit members by sharing our work and inviting others to join and take part.
- Add resources to our Discord channels. We have a growing bank of excellent and relevant resources and links.
- Become a moderator on the Discord and initiate and guide conversations and discussion.
- Write articles for our new website.
- Apply to host Educators in VR events — there is so much ground to cover we are considering running workshops, and possibly two events a month — if we can find members willing and able to step up.
Q. Anything else you’d like to chat about?
Lorelle: I researched various competitors to AltspaceVR before selecting it for my teaching platform. Over the past six months, it has grown tremendously in features as well as stability, and the events team here is incredible. All the support staff are amazing, holding your hand patiently through each step in the process and actively involved in being supportive and encouraging.
The diversity of the audience in AltspaceVR is wonderful, connecting people across the planet as if they were in the same room together. The barriers and borders drop as we share thoughts, ideas, hopes, and goals with each other, encouraging creativity and learning. All for free. Virtual reality, especially AltspaceVR, is changing how we communicate, how we connect, and, with the help of Educators in VR, how we learn. Thank you, AltspaceVR for this amazing gift.
Daniel: I would like to second what Lorelle has said. AltspaceVR is an amazing, open, diverse, supportive platform with loads of users. Thank you AltspaceVR for making this available for us and for all the amazing support.