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Interview with Dr. Mina C. Johnson-Glenberg, Hypatia’s new Chief Pedagogical Officer
Interviewed by Paul Duplantis, May 10, 2017
From Paul Duplantis – Hypatia Education is one of the most important of the five pillars. Our platform allows educators across the globe to inspire deep learning in all students. The hand controls foster embodied learning of a cutting edge and immersive STEAM curriculum.
Below, TimeFireVR’s Chief Pedagogical Officer, Mina Johnson-Glenberg discusses Hypatia and her new role in bringing Hypatia Education to life.
Mina – I have been trained as a cognitive psychologist. In my world we are heavily into computer science and learning algorithms and this community has just been patiently waiting for the next gen of VR to come of age. It’s been about 25 years. The time is now.
We all know about immersion and that feeling of presence, I won’t belabor those except to say that they increase motivation to stay in a learning session for longer.
One of the biggest innovations that Hypatia is bringing to VR and education is supporting multiuser, collaborative learning. Not only can multiple players be in the space learning with each other, but they are also teaching each another, and now they all have hand controls.
This is BIG. With hand controls, learners can manipulate objects and build content in the world in a more natural manner. The learner can also use gestures, like spinning an arm in a circle to spin a virtual gear a certain direction with a certain speed.
We know that people who learn with gesture and body movements actually retain the information for longer than those who learn the same content by watching the performance of others, or simply reading about it.
Generating movement adds a motor signal that strengthens the memory trace. There is a large and growing academic literature on gesture-based and embodied learning coming now from the learning sciences and cognitive psychology. (Below are listed some relevant articles.)
Also, handhelds give the player more “agency”, more control. Hypatia is poised to become the leader in virtual gesture-based education.
There will be several different ways to enter education mode in Hypatia.
The first is seamless. You are playing in a world but want to learn more, curious people will always take the extra click to dive deeper. It’s like, “Oh, look I am building fireworks here, fun, fun, but now at the top of the screen I can see why this metal powder bursts as the color red.” We have designed the fireworks space as a learning module that progresses at a rate that suits the player, and we scaffold everything. More on that later.
The second is that a teacher would assign a module. That would be the formal education entry point. You would be assigned the fireworks task and the teacher may check you went through it all the way to expert level.
Finally, we are also focused on the world of informal learning. That means learning at your home, or in science museums and libraries. Those last two spaces will all have immersive headsets in the next 36 months.
There will be two methods of assessment. The first is built into the experience. This means that when players come to a space for the first time we assume they are novices. At their own pace, they begin to demonstrate competency on the tasks. We then move them up in levels of difficulty accordingly. When players demonstrate an expert-like understanding, that is like receiving an A. For example, when they can create the optimal gear train to raise the heaviest drawbridge with no errors, that’s mastery.
Also, we will be providing more formal and traditional posttests for teachers who request those. We are co-designing the tests and educational content with classroom teachers.
First, we engage learners in something they care about, then we place the learning inside the fun task. We give them constant feedback. For one of our chemistry lessons, players are going to start by building only one stage rockets with only one color of fireworks. When players reach the expert level they get to create the awesome three-stage rocket. At that point, they will have shown they have mastered the chemistry lessons along the way. Players will leave that fireworks area with a deep understanding of how electrons release photons. And, let me say, photons are depicted in a VERY 3D and learner-centric manner that you just can’t get from a typical 2D computer monitor. This gets back to why VR is different.
Nope. That would be simplistic.
Our first rollout is focused on STEAM. For the science and math modules, I really obsess about mass. There is no easy way to make an object feel heavier when mass is increased in a virtual physics example. Sure, we can make an object visually larger and that tricks your mind a bit, but we may need to add tangibles or more haptic, hands-on components to some of our lessons in the future to make them as embodied as possible.
Yes, well-rendered content is so visceral. Your heart rate increases when you walk across that swaying bridge. You believe. That viscerality can really engage kids for learning and get them asking questions.
I also love how VR can make the unseen seen.
VR is great for both the macroscopic and the microscopic. On the very large scale, think astronomy, now you can be an asteroid. On the microscopic scale, you can get subatomic and become an electron moving along shells of energy. Another reason I am hot on the hand controls is for the embodiment, think about a lesson on simple machines. A hammer is really a lever, as you pound a nail in Hypatia we can overlay the formula for mechanical advantage over the action so you understand how your body is extending to use simple machines like levers and experience how the forces change dynamically.
OK, in the fireworks area all the novices start by playing with single burst fireworks. The design of the space then compels them into the lab area where they explore, at their own pace, how metal salts burn and make certain colors.
When they demonstrate they understand which metal salts make which colors, they can build 2-stage rockets. Meanwhile, they see that across the lake the players who are “experts” are able to set off awesome 3-stage GIANT rockets. All kids want to run that show! In that way, they are motivated to dive deeper into the content and really understand why strontium creates a red burst. In a just-in-time manner, we insert an interactive lesson on electrons jumping energy levels and releasing photons. Learners understand that a released photon actually goes into the eye and you perceive it as “red”. I guess a photon is about the only thing you would ever want flying into your eye.
So, to scaffold players means that we support their learning, when learners demonstrate they are ready, we give them appropriate visual and experiential guidance. When the players are in education mode, it is always “guided” exploration, not the free-form kind of exploration that educational research does not support. Hypatia will be an elegant mix of fun, collaborative exploration and guided exploration for optimal learning.
Relevant Articles on Embodied Learning
Johnson-Glenberg, M. C. Birchfield, D., Megowan-Romanowicz, C. & Savio-Ramos, C. (2016). Effects of embodied learning and digital platform on the retention of physics content: Centripetal force. Frontiers in Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01819
Johnson-Glenberg, M. C., Birchfield, D., Megowan-Romanowicz, C., & Snow, E. L. (2015). If the gear fits, spin it! Embodied education and in-game assessments. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-based Simulations. 7, 4.
Johnson-Glenberg, M. C., Birchfield, D. A., Tolentino, L., & Koziupa, T. (2013). Collaborative Embodied Learning in Mixed Reality Motion-Capture Environments: Two Science Studies. Journal of Educational Psychology. 106, 1, 86-104. doi: 10.1037/a0034008
Lindgren, R., Tscholl, M., Wang, S. & Johnson, E. (2016). Enhancing learning and engagement through embodied interaction within a mixed reality simulation. Computers and Education. 95, p. 174-187.
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