The Future of Instructional Design on the Immersive Web

Kim Read, speaking about education, eLearning, and simulation training in Prisons

Kim Read, speaking about education, eLearning, and simulation training in Prisons

On June 3, 2019, Jessica Outlaw and Trevor F. Smith hosted an interdisciplinary gathering of educators, technologists, and designers at the Outlaw Center for Immersive Behavioral Science at Concordia University to discuss how instructional design can be transformed by the unique capabilities of immersive web technology, with an emphasis on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). 

The half-day workshop was structured to hear from experts in instructional design and then work in groups to write up potential visions of instructional design. In this blog post, we will recap the highlights from the expert talks and then in a subsequent blog post, share output from the workshop activity. 

We scheduled this event advance of a W3C working event scheduled for the following two days because we knew that there would be many W3C members in Portland already. WebXR (XR is an umbrella term that covers the spectrum of immersive VR/AR experiences) offers unique affordances in the realm of immersive technology, due to its responsiveness, being internationally accessibility, and ungated by app stores. We are optimistic about the future of immersive technology and pleased to share some of the insights from the workshop.

Educator perspectives: how to replace existing curriculum

The first two speakers of the day focused on existing students, common in universities, undergraduates, and nurses.  

Dr. Juliette Levy: Immersive U

juliette levy.jpg

Dr. Levy is a history professor at UC Riverside and has been developing curriculum to teach critical thinking skills to undergraduate students. Given the easy dissemination of disinformation and “alternative facts” using technology, Dr. Levy prioritizes teaching students how to reason though questions to logical conclusions.  

In collaboration with Tawny Schlieski Portland-based Shovels & Whiskey, Dr. Levy has developed a VR experience for students to use literal “building blocks” to construct arguments for land reform in South America.  Through multiple rounds of testing, she has discovered that the interactions mechanics are essential to the process of learning.  The act of moving the blocks around helps students internalize the argument. Second, the HMD provides a distraction free zone.  And student recollection of the experience remains high after three weeks.  

Dr. Levy reported that developing curriculum that focus on the student experience of learning upends traditional learning models which prizes content delivery.  Content delivery at most universities means lectures in large auditoriums, which is typically isn’t the best for student retention of information.  A tremendous advance of VR is that it can scale the student experience and everyone can get personalized content and have as much time as they want to work with the building blocks.  An hour-long lecture in an auditorium leaves very little flexibility in comparison.  

Sabina Cosma: WebXR in a regulated curriculum 


The second speaker of the day was Sabina Cosma, Director of Nursing Academic Services at Concordia University.  Nurses represent an interesting example to consider how WebXR will impact instructional design.  Nurses are being trained for a profession that requires certification and licensure and their curriculum is regulated by accrediting organizations.  

Nurses are required to go through hours of simulation training as part of their licensure.  Simulation training could be working with an actor or a mannequin currently.  If an XR experience is going to replace existing simulation training, it will have to be shown to have at least equal effectiveness. Existing nursing curriculum is crowded with content, and there is not the option to add in new modules without removing others. This means there is a high bar for technologists to clear in order to have a new experience added to the curriculum.  

One clear area where XR has the potential to outshine existing simulation training is in student evaluation and predictive analytics. Sabina discussed the potential for instructors to judge student outcomes more rigorously by collecting customized data in XR simulations. Secondly, the ability of nursing students to safeguard patient safety could be assessed based on the predictive analytics data that XR simulations could provide.  

Our main takeaways from the first two speakers was while the potential to improve student learning was high, XR designers must find creative ways to engage with the nursing community. Key players would consist of working on projects with the American Nurses Association (ANA), the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). These key players are very interested in evaluation of student outcomes. There is an unexplored potential with these organizations related to XR.  Student demand may facilitate widespread adoption and change current instruction and certification paradigms. The upside of an XR-inclusive pedagogy is that it can scale and be personalized to different learning styles.  

Vulnerable populations: prisoners and the state of EdTech

The next speaker spoke on education for a vulnerable population, and how immersive experiences have the potential to impact students holistically.

Kim Read: Education, eLearning, and Simulations in Prisons  

Kim Read is the Dean of Libraries at Concordia University.  Kim’s master’s thesis included a review of the current state of eLearning in U.S. prisons. We asked her to come share what are the considerations for curriculum design for prisoners. The benefits of education to prisoners is that it can lower recidivism rates, improve workforce preparation, and give prisoners a new and positive identity as a student.  

Access to technology is greatly restricted, especially because prisons want to track who prisoners are communicating with and what content they are viewing.  

Prisoners tend to only have isolated local servers, a point-to-point secure line, and restricted internet connections. In spite of those limitations, there are creative workarounds that deliver eLearning in some prisons. Simulation training specifically has the potential to reduce recidivism by teaching prisoners much needed skills including:

•       Life skills

•       Social skills

•       Parenting skills

•       Job skills

•       Critical thinking

•       Problem solving

•       Decision making

•       Empathy and altruistic behavior

Kim shared one projection mapping experience where a creator named Nalini Nadkarni installed a “Blue Room” in a prison where people viewed nature imagery and heard outdoor sounds like birds and rushing water.  It resulted in a reduction in disciplinary referrals and mental health issues.   

Our take away from this talk was that prisoners have the same potential as other students to experience the benefits of XR offerings: scale across different prisons, and self-pacing for different learning styles. Plus, the Blue Room example showed how emotional regulation could be influenced by immersive experience.  

Adopting new visions and language for the future

Media provides modern day mythology to students.  If those narratives for the future are limited to only utopias or dystopias, then humanity will miss out on alternate visions or language to describe different futures.  

Monika Bielskyte: Protopian Futures


Monika Bielskyte is a creative director and futurist.  She is a digital nomad, but we were lucky enough to have her in Portland for the event on June 3rd.  Monika spends a majority of her time living in the global south. Her research is focused on shifting dialogue about the future away from utopias and dystopias, which erase the plurality of human expression culture, toward protopias instead. 

The key elements of a protopian future that Monika presented on are: 

·     Diversity – beyond binaries

·     Community narratives – beyond borders

·     Celebration of bodies and biology

·     Environmental awareness

·     Evolution of values

·     Ritual and spirituality

·     Creativity and subculture

These principles of protopian design are relevant to instructional designers because they are a reminder to keep people’s humanity and its interconnectedness with planetary life and the ecosystem in the forefront.  

One of our visions for the future of instructional design is to promote personalized learning that speaks to each student’s life experience and current capacity and improves their ability to connect with each other and the material. We believe that a protopian approach to education and other sectors would be helpful to designers.  

Stay tuned for a second blog post to summarize the findings from the group activity that followed the expert speakers.  And if you would like to view the speakers for any of these talks described here, you can watch the recorded livestream of the day.

And if you are interested in learning more about Monika’s vision of protopian futures, you can watch a longer talk that she gave at Google.  

And if you are interested in learning more about Monika’s vision of protopian futures, you can watch a longer talk that she gave at Google.    

Many thanks to our speakers Juliette Levy, Kim Read, Sabina Cosma, and Monika Bielskyte for their leadership during the day. This was the inaugural event of the Outlaw Center for Immersive Behavioral Science at Concordia University. We would like to thank Concordia University for hosting the event. And if you have an XR event that you would like to bring to Concordia in Portland, please contact @theextendedmindon Twitter.

Follow Jessica Outlaw and Trevor F. Smith on Twitter to contact us or learn about our other projects.