The co-founder of Realcast and Executive Director of ZSchool is passionate about education, human-centered technologies, Virtual and Augmented Realities and how the physical world is becoming smarter through digital tech.
What motivates you to get up in the morning?
I could not imagine a more exciting time to be working at the nexus of learning & technology. I am passionate about education, human-centered technologies, Virtual and Augmented Realities and how the physical world is becoming smarter through digital tech. This is a perfect time to imagine learning opportunities that are democratized, engaging and even transformative.
You’re passionate about the use of immersive technologies to enhance learning. Why do you think it’s important?
I love the Barack Obama quote that “empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” Taking this further, I 100% agree with the position of my Z School Co-Founder, Thom Markham: “In Our Connected World, What If Empathy Is Learning?” Historically, however, empathy has been hard to build between individuals or people with different experiences, geographies & cultures. In my view, the great promise of immersive technologies is the potential opportunities to experience new places, to meet new people and to virtually “walk” in other’s shoes through Virtual and Augmented Reality. VR/AR has the potential to offer an incredibly life-like sense of presence and immersion. Immersive technologies, for example, can help us feel closer to global issues and evoke levels of empathy in the brain as if one were present. In effect, we’re talking about a brand new form of experiencing. This is going to open up entirely new portals for teaching & learning.
Are you able to share a successful example of the use of AR/VR/MR in education?
My favourite examples today are around interactive mixed reality experiences for education and training. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that professions with high stakes in the real world would employ immersive technology for teaching and training. Using immersive technology, for example, students can now “practice” complicated procedures such as firefighting, electrical work or surgery, that entail stakes too high to allow anyone but a highly experienced professional to perform in the real world.
The medical industry, for example, is one of the major driving forces behind the growth of AR. At the same time, we are on the cusp of volumetric hologram conferencing capabilities that will bring a whole new level of immersion into distance education and training, while dramatically disrupting digital meetings, business travel and learning environments. Imagine, for example, that specialists can now virtually train doctors on the other side of the planet. In terms of online communities, digital classmates or teammates will soon be able to work with you as if you were sitting at the same table together. How cool is that?
Are there any concerns with regards to the use of AR/VR/MR in education?
Most definitely. While there is awesome potential for mixed reality to transform learning, immersive technologies also raise profound challenges and ethical questions. There is considerable debate, for example, around whether VR is socially isolating and evidence suggests that extended periods in enclosed VR experiences impairs mental health.
On this point, we are just beginning to understand the complex cognitive, behavioural and social dynamics of human `virtuality.’ We have only early studies, for example, about the impact immersive experiences have on our bodies and minds. In many ways the future of learning is in the hands of the designers of immersive tech projects. They need to be responsibly developed.
Personally, I feel real urgency that we are simultaneously developing immersive experiences which add value to understanding & empathy while also doing careful studies as to their efficacy and effects in the context of healthy neurological, social and emotional development. Speaking more generally, technological momentum can have a powerful undertow that we often don’t even recognize. To counter this force, we need to have responsibility and transparency over how technologies are designed and used. If we don’t accept that responsibility and have transparent conversations in the public arena, we are in jeopardy of becoming means to others’ ends.
In your opinion, what do you think is key to driving innovation in the edtech industry?
There are many great drivers behind the meteoric growth of EdTech at this time. One obvious context is that education is one of, maybe the most, important industries. As humans, we’re simply hard-wired to value learning as a most basic need and priorities. The fact that most people, in the developed world anyway, can access the sum of human knowledge online and carry computers around with them constantly means the audience for new avenues of learning is wide open.
At the same time, new and powerful tools are enabling us to create, educate and interact in unprecedented ways. Barriers to entry for new creators of all sorts of content are increasingly fading away. As AR and VR become more and more mainstream, for example, this will open up opportunities for millions of new creators in the same way that smartphones democratized photography and platforms like YouTube have democratized video content.
The use of mixed reality is fast gaining traction. Where do you see it heading in the near future?
I am convinced that Mixed Reality is destined to become the new User Interface (UI) for Human Computer Interaction (HCI). The question is simply how long will it take to get to the point where the norm is to interact with the digital screen-less 3D interfaces instead of the 2D screens of computers, phones and tablets. Will it be 5 years? 10? 15? In any event, in the near term I see mixed reality having a substantial impact in bringing digital content to life in the real world through location-specific storytelling, entertainment & experiences. This is the exciting domain of RealCast.io. In effect, mixed reality is offering a brand new creative art form.
You will be speaking at ConnecTechAsia Summit 2018. What do you think will be the most important takeaway for your audience?
The Future of Learning is incredibly exciting!
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt as an educator?
In too many schools, content is king. That may have had some justification in a knowledge economy, but in today’s creative economy, retaining information or facts is becoming less & less important every day.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to learn how to learn. This is equally true for both teachers and students. Throughout my career, I have found that the best teachers are inevitably the ones who are learning while they teach. They are intellectually nimble.
This new paradigm also aligns well with the fact that kids (like adults) respond well when they are given some (but not too much) choice. This offers important ownership in their learning, and speaks to their personal strengths and interests. Hopefully, it’s an obvious statement to make at this point that not everyone learns the same way, and success comes in many different forms.
Taking this idea even further, I have found it is hard to find deep learning interesting, unless a personal resonance with the subject is found. This visceral drive is often where the elusive creativity, grit and “Aha!” moments come from. The best teachers find a way to cultivate this. We always give more to an interest that pulls at the heart than a task served to your head.
Any exciting plans in the pipeline for Realcast and ZSchool?
As a global educational non-profit based on-line, ZSchool has an audacious vision to imagine & create the future of learning with the lenses, tools, sensibilities and realities of a new generation as the building blocks.
To do this, we are first looking to assemble the leading minds in education to create powerful experiential learning opportunities which are project-based & real-world oriented. At the same time, we are building a dynamic and engaging platform for young people to both access and create enriching content for social good.
Lastly, we are very much focused on the theme of “technology for good,” which is helping this new Generation (Z) of learners understand the ethical considerations, power and potential inherent in exponential technologies.
On this note, RealCast is really pushing at the front-lines of what is possible in interactive mixed reality experiences with the idea of enhancing understanding through this medium. We are currently developing some exciting projects for leading cultural destinations and museums while at the same time looking for partners to develop truly cutting-edge and transformative educational experiences.
As a life-long educator turned EdTech entrepreneur, I am convinced the future of education is at confluence of the personalized, constructivist educational model of ZSchool and the types of engaging mixed reality experiences being designed by RealCast. I feel very lucky to have a foot in both worlds!
For more insights on immersive technologies and edtech, join Craig Vezina at ConnecTechAsia Summit 2018’s EmergingTech Track on 28 June 2018. He will be sharing about the following topic: “Championing Immersive Education: Integrating Innovation into the Future of Learning”. Delegates may register for the Summit here.
Additionally, he will also share his thoughts on “When Virtual World and Real World Collide” at Big Bang 2018.