Revolutionizing EdTech with VR featuring Ryan Buchanan

Lindsay Schardon (ZENVA)

October 3, 2019 in Success Stories

Revolutionizing EdTech with VR featuring Ryan Buchanan

In today’s Learner Success Story, we are joined by Ryan Buchanan, a teacher providing guidance to over 200 students in learning coding and VR.

Hello Ryan, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us. We are excited to learn both about your accomplishments and your role as a teacher. Just so we can get to know you a little more, can you tell us a little about your background in VR?

For ten years, I was teaching and speaking about integrating leading-edge technology into classrooms around the world, including the blossoming and eager markets of China and Saudi Arabia. My goal and vision – even single-minded obsession – for the next decade is to encourage and assist educators in adding VR to their EdTech toolboxes. To that end, my software company is creating and introducing immersive learning experiences that will be engaging and exciting, as well as effective and efficient for both learners and educators.

To best understand how, why, and when VR will reach mainstream educational acceptance, I conduct VR Blast Off workshops to give Utah youth hands-on VR demos, as well as Virtual Reality Launch Pad workshops for educators and learners.

Since returning from teaching abroad in 2016, I have put VR headsets on thousands of kids (and given away hundreds VR headsets!) in Utah and discovered that our educators and learners are even more excited to begin building their own VR worlds. On the crest of that transformative epiphany, last summer I founded VR Dev Kids for teaching Jr. VR design and development courses. To date, several hundred kids, ages 6 -18, have learned how to create immersive, 3D digital dioramas using the Unity Game Engine, build their virtual worlds onto an Android phone, and walk around in their personalized cyberspace using a VR headset. This summer, VR Dev Kids engaged hundreds of more potential VR developers at Weber State University, Utah Valley University, Hill Air Force Base, Junior Achievement City, Weber County Libraries, and several charter schools along the Wasatch Front.

Ryan Buchanan's students testing VR headset

You’ve done an amazing job spreading VR education everywhere, and thank you for telling us how it all got started. Can you tell us what excites you most about VR?

I am passionately dedicated to my personal mission of making Virtual Reality an education reality. What is most exciting to me is that VR experiences actually increase learners’ curiosity & ability to retain what is learned. With the growing quality of VR content and virtual field trips, any school subjects that were previously too expensive (biological & medical), remote (geological or geographical), dangerous (chemistry or oceanography), or just inconceivable (down the microscopic rabbit hole into the cytoplasm of the cell or molecular environment of atomic particles) from the scope of traditional education are becoming engaging and meaningful learning adventures.

We’re thrilled to know that our courses have helped you to develop the VR skills that you needed, and how you set aside time each day to work through the Virtual Reality Mini-Degree, our Web VR course, and the EdTech Mini-Degree. Was there anything in particular that drew you to our courses and that made them stand apart from other courses on the topic?

Initially, the cost was an attractive incentive but after completing a couple of courses, I was floored by how inexpensive your courses are. They should cost waaaay more. Pablo is by far the best online VR instructor out there in cyberspace. I did a course with Udacity for $1200 that doesn’t even come close to how efficient, effective, and fun Pablo’s courses and communication skills are! Pablo is a teaching superhero!

Ryan Buchanan showing students mobile device

Thank you for the kind words, and we’re sure Pablo especially appreciates the shout-out!

Besides learning yourself, you also teach over 200 kids how to code and work with VR. Exactly how do you go about teaching your students these skills, especially when it comes to VR (which is still relatively new)?

I’ve designed a gamified curriculum where I teach kids at local venues. We start out by demonstrating all the major and leading-edge platforms with around twenty headsets (Cardboard, Gear VR, Daydream, Oculus Go, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest & HTC Vive – we’ll be getting a Valve Index in the next month). Then we walk kids through creating a virtual diorama with Unity and deploying it to Android phones using the Cardboard SDK and have the kids user test and share their very own VR applications. We also use Kahoot! quizzes to sustain and crystallize the kiddos’ learning experience and reward winners with brand new headsets to take home with them.

The work you do with your students is truly amazing, and we’re so glad to see young minds given the chance to learn these sorts of technical skills. Given your experience with VR, teaching, and technology – what role do you see technology playing in the future of education in general?

People like us – who really know, can see, and are creating the future – are aware that it is going to be Ready Player One. There is no reason, other than that it is tradition, government, and the establishment, why when you can learn anything by doing it in immersive virtual world environments that you should still be using books, PowerPoints, and outdated, archaic systems. Learners demanding VR learning domains will force the establishment to change from the boring, dreary, and unengaging practices that are now centuries old. This must stop!

Ryan Buchanan teaching VR

We’ve really enjoyed this chat with you, Ryan, and we hope you keep up the great job of passing on your skills to students. Before we end, let’s close with one last question: what do you think the greatest technological challenge is for educators in the future, and what is your advice to them for overcoming it?

When interviewed by Time Magazine in 1980 and asked the question, “Will teachers be replaced by machines?” Arthur C. Clarke succinctly replied, “Any teacher that can be replaced, should be.” I completely agree. At the very least, any teachers who know how to use and implement leading-edge EdTech should replace teachers that don’t.

The greatest challenge to teachers is to continue to evolve with the technology. But they must, in order to continue to engage Gen Z & future VR-stronauts. That will require retraining teachers on the newest EdTech. VR Dev Kids provides for that, and I see a future that will have more and more organizations like ours helping teachers learn through VR experiences.

My advice to teachers is this: just because you are a teacher, doesn’t mean you are done learning. You must remain teachable. Evolve. Be grateful for what you have learned and eager for what’s coming. And, be optimistic about new technology – it’s here to help, Ladies and Gentlemen!

This brings our Learner Success Story to a close, so we want to thank Ryan for chatting with us! We know we’re looking forward to seeing the continued revolution Ryan brings to education with VR!

You can learn more about Ryan’s virtual reality mission by checking out VR Dev Kids on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter.

If you’d like a little more background information on Ryan, you can read his full profile on KUTV’s feature or check out Ryan’s LinkedIn page.

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