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Designing Next-Generation Virtual Environments for Learning

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Explore and create : Creation lab

David Jakes  
The emergence of new tools and knowledge presents a unique opportunity to rethink the design of virtual learning environments. This session presents the technology, techniques and designs that are required to create virtual environments that are more human, more capable and that can connect learners worldwide.

Audience: Principals/head teachers, Teachers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Android, iOS, Windows
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Participant accounts, software and other materials: There are no requirements for software to be loaded or the need to acquire any accounts. Internet access in the presentation room is required.
Topic: Innovative learning environments
Grade level: PK-12
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Explore and apply instructional design principles to create innovative digital learning environments that engage and support learning.
For Students:
Global Collaborator
  • Students use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints.
  • Students use digital tools to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, engaging with them in ways that broaden mutual understanding and learning.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

As the result of the interruption to the traditional school experience caused by the pandemic of 2020, schools immediately switched to an online, remote experience for their learners. This experience had different degrees of success due to a number of factors. Regardless, several critical questions have emerged for educators that represent significant challenges: how can virtual environments most effectively support online, remote, or a blended condition for teaching and learning? How can education develop a more capable and distributed model of education, where virtual spaces become an essential component of the daily experience of teachers and students? And, what would a next-generation virtual space look like that could help address these questions?

Due to the remote learning experience, educators have learned of some of the limitations of technology, including the inability to create the very human conditions of the face-to-face experience of the physical classroom. They have also learned about the inequalities of the home learning experience, and the difficulty associated with remote engagement and participation. Additionally, it became apparent that traditional methodologies of instruction and assessment did not translate to the online experience and had to be rethought.

Also, and at the same time and since, there have been a number of technology innovations that have been developed that provide new and interesting capacities for online learning. These tools provide educators and students with the opportunity to teach and learn in a more robust and compelling way in a virtual space.

These tools include mmhmm.app and ManyCam, two tools that support different types of interactions through the Zoom platform and beyond its on-board capabilities. Other tools such as Miro, Mural and Viima provide unique collaboration and whiteboard experiences. Tools such as framevr.io and Spatial provide new environments where the promise of virtual reality platforms can be realized for education. These tools represent a snapshot of what is now available and there is no doubt that more will emerge by ISTE 2021.

The objectives of this presentation are three-fold:

1) Demonstrate to educators emergent and capable tools that are available to them to create more viable virtual learning spaces.

2) Discuss approaches for creating human-centric spaces that support equitable and empathetic interactions between students in a school and beyond, possibly world-wide.

To specifically accomplish objective 2, the audience will be engaged in peer-to-peer discussions and an in-presentation survey designed to crowdsource their experiences and ideas.

3) Provide them with plausible models for how these tools could be combined to create dynamic new virtual spaces.


The presentation will organized in the following manner:

Introduction to the presentation - 5 minutes
Introductions, presentation goals, and location of presentation resources.

The Need for Reimagining Virtual Learning Environments - 10 minutes
An overview of the need for designing more human and connective virtual learning spaces based on the current designs of virtual learning environments and the experiences of remote learning.

What does a human-centric virtual learning experience look like? - 25 minutes
This part of the presentation is interactive with survey work and peer-to-peer conversation with the audience about their experiences with online/remote learning and how it can become a more human experience.

The Most Innovative and Use Tools for Building Virtual Learning Environments- 25 minutes
A description/demonstration of the newest and most innovative technology tools for schools that can be used to create next-gen virtual learning environments.

Describing A Plausible Model - Putting It Together: 20 minutes
In this part of the presentation, I will use the tools to discuss and show a realistic model for the design of a new virtual learning environment that is more human-centric, and supports both formal and informal learner/school engagements within a school and beyond. Information about the interaction between the virtual and physical space and the importance of developing a physical-virtual space partnership will also be shared.

Takeaways, actionable next steps, participant questions- 5 minutes
Summarize the presentation by providing 5 key considerations and answer several questions.

Supporting research

The following resources support this presentation:

The Effects of Virtual Space on Learning: A Literature Review.
https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3496/3133. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.

Making Virtual More Human. 19 Mar. 2020, https://medium.com/stanford-d-school/making-virtual-more-human-ca3bec48c49a. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.

Designing Digital Workspaces for Creativity and Collaboration in Online Project-Based Courses. 9 May. 2020, https://www.media.mit.edu/posts/designing-digital-workspaces-for-creativity-and-collaboration-in-online-project-based-courses/. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.

Student-Centered Remote Teaching: Lessons Learned from Online Education. 15 Apr. 2020, https://er.educause.edu/blogs/2020/4/student-centered-remote-teaching-lessons-learned-from-online-education. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.

Online Learning: Designing for Engagement and Collaboration." https://www.ideou.com/blogs/inspiration/online-learning-designing-for-engagement-and-collaboration. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.

Designing a Virtual Third Place for Schools — Part 1. 21 Jun. 2020, https://davidjakesdesigns.com/ideas/2020/6/20/designing-a-virtual-third-place-for-schools. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.

Designing a Virtual Third Place for Schools — Part 2. 23 Jun. 2020, https://davidjakesdesigns.com/ideas/2020/6/20/designing-a-virtual-third-place-for-schools. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.

VR Architecture: Why the Next Design Frontier Will Be in Virtual Spaces. 2 Feb. 2016, https://www.archdaily.com/781391/vr-architecture-why-the-next-design-frontier-will-be-in-virtual-spaces. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.

How Can We Build Community During Virtual Learning? 9 Sep. 2020, https://education-reimagined.org/how-can-we-build-community-during-virtual-learning/. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.

Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place: cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Da Capo Press, 2005.

Qvist, Pekka & Kangasniemi, Tuomas & Palomäki, Sonja & Seppänen, Jenni & Joensuu, Pekka & Natri, Olli & Närhi, Marko & Palomäki, Eero & Tiitu, Hannu & Nordström, Katrina. (2015). Design of Virtual Learning Environments: Learning Analytics and Identification of Affordances and Barriers. International Journal of Engineering Pedagogy (iJEP). 5. 64. 10.3991/ijep.v5i4.4962.

The Effects of Virtual Reality Learning Environments on Improving the Retention, Comprehension, and Motivation of Medical School Students. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334681305_The_Effects_of_Virtual_Reality_Learning_Environments_on_Improving_the_Retention_Comprehension_and_Motivation_of_Medical_School_Students. Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

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David Jakes, David Jakes Designs LLC

A recognized leader in the educational technology field, David Jakes focuses on using the design process to support the organizational growth, development, and change required to create relevant and meaningful conditions for student learning in schools. David’s thought leadership includes addressing the increased need to develop connected and personalized learning environments that support a contemporary education, and how technology can be used to create boundless opportunities for learning. David is a frequent presenter at national and international educational conferences where he speaks about the power and promise of a new expedition for learning and the roles that all educators have in shaping that journey.

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