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How IB Simulation in the Metaverse Changes Teaching with Elizabeth Hutton of the Dwight School

Steve Grubbs: Hello, everybody, and welcome to another episode of the victory XR show. Today we have Elizabeth Hutton from the Dwight School, and I’m going to ask Elizabeth to tell us a little bit more about herself in the school. But the key to today is that we’re going to be talking about IB studies. A lot of people in the United States aren’t that familiar with IB, but globally, it’s a type of curriculum that is very popular and very well respected. 

And so Dwight is a New York school that reaches out to students globally and uses this particular type of curriculum. And so we’re going to talk about how it fits into with XR, AR, VR, that type of thing. Elizabeth, I should say, is the director of IB studies at Dwight, so the perfect person to talk with us about how they are integrating virtual reality simulations into their curriculum. So, Elizabeth, tell us a little bit about yourself…

Elizabeth Hutton: Thanks so much, Steve.

Steve Grubbs: …And a little bit about Dwight. 

Elizabeth Hutton: Wonderful. My name is Elizabeth Hutton, and in my current role as the director of IB here at Dwight, New York, I’m also supporting our online pilot program. So, we are incredibly proud to be one of the two schools that is currently piloting offering the full holistic IB diploma program online. Dwight has an incredibly rich history of the IB. In fact, we were the 58th in the world to be accredited back in the early 1970s. And since then, we have all three programs.

So, the IB program, while maybe more well known for the diploma program, it actually starts down with the youngest learners at age three. So our middle years’ program and then our primary years program is our youngest learners. And then in 11th grade, so that’s 17/16-year-old range, that’s when they enter the diploma program.

Since the incentive of New York, we’ve had launched IB schools all around the world. So we have a school in Shanghai, in Seoul, in London, soon to be Hanoi, and then we also have another school here near New York, across the river in Jersey City. So, we have a rich network of schools. And Dwight as a school, innovation has always been on the forefront. We want to know who are we serving? What are our needs? And how can we bring students the best education possible to prepare them for their future?

The IB’s mission, along with Dwight’s mission, is to create these lifelong learners that are culturally, ethically, and socially responsible citizens. 

Steve Grubbs: Wonderful. And so talk to us a little bit about for all those who don’t know what IB is, what is it? How does it differ from what people might normally be used to?

Elizabeth Hutton: Yes, so what really differentiates the International Baccalaureate is that it’s a program. And so in the center of the program, the framework or the philosophy is shared by all teachers and students. So, when a student is in the IB diploma program, there are certain core elements that define what it means to be an IB student. So at the center is the learner, but then surrounding the learner is what we call the IB Learner Profile.

So, yes, there is the most rigorous gold standard of curriculum: advanced calculus, physics, etc. But also, in tandem to really exploring the academics is how are we teaching students to be caring, to be balanced, open-minded, inquiring? Really looking at what we call these learner profile attributes and looking at how can we, through the curriculum, not separate, not just in an advisory, but actually through the science curriculum, the history curriculum, look at multiple perspectives. Really examine how do individuals know? How can two individuals know and both be right, yet have different ways of knowing? 

And so it’s a course that is, again, looking not just at the content, but really equipping students with the skills to learn. Because I think that most can agree that in 10/15 years from now, the types of jobs and subsequently the types of college majors, etc, the demands, the skills might change, but we really want to equip students with, again, that desire to learn and the skills of how to self-manage, how to conduct research, how thinking skills, right? How are you making your thinking visible?

And so one of the beautiful things about an IB education is that teachers and students and families all are part of that philosophy. So, recognizing that learning doesn’t just occur in these four walls, and so the student is always at that center of the education. 

Steve Grubbs: That sounds wonderful. And so you and I first had a conversation about a year ago about potentially how virtual reality could serve this curriculum and this program. What is the problem that we are solving? 

Elizabeth Hutton: So, in bringing the IB fully online. Of course, one of the reservations that could be had is, how are science labs going to be accomplished? So, in addition to leading the program, I’m also a science educator, having a biochemistry background teaching biology and chemistry in brick and mortar schools for the last 15 years, knowing what students are going to need when they enter into university, what will that look like? How can we ensure that students are having the manipulative skills needed? How are they having the collaboration skills in a lab?

Because so much is beyond just, can you identify glassware, right? That can be taught on paper. But when students have to make forced choices in the moment when you have to have those moments of on-the-spot thinking, of analysis, of collaborating with others, there is no substitution.

There are many virtual simulations that can exist, but only in virtual reality are you able to actually add the human element. There are things that are unpredictable that can happen. There are choices that the user and VR can make that then will impact the next step. And so, it’s a layer of interactivity.

There’s a layer of decision making that has to happen throughout the labs using VR and also for teachers to be able to give students the full experience, to be able to customize, you know, what are those skills that are needed? What are those areas that need to be developed?

So, as we think about a lab scope and sequence, as science educators, how can we build in skills where students really are autonomous in the lab, where they can go into university and be successful, so just because they have not been in the physical lab, really needing to rethink, you know, are those students our next scientists? And the answer is yes, but they’re being prepared in a slightly different way.

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, are you using your IB labs? Or do you plan to use them more in a synchronous or an Asynchronous way? 

Elizabeth Hutton: So, in terms of the labs, I think it’s incredibly valuable that it’s in a synchronous component. It allows for, again, that on-the-spot teaching. In fact, in some of the labs, colleagues have been able to join in helping students to be able to, again, with measurement understanding, why am I recording to the 10th place, not the 100th place? And honestly, those same conversations that are happening in a brick and mortar lab are also happening in the VR lab. Why do I need a rubber stopper? What happens if my flask does not fill these seals? And so having those moments correct are incredibly vital.

Where the Asynchronous role has come is that especially the IB, it is a curriculum that is very much based on critical thinking and problem solving. Every course is a language course. So how do you express yourself as a scientist or a historian? But there also is a culminating exam, a very high stakes culminating exam. And this exam will require students to take a series of papers in May after the two years of the program.

And what VR has allowed students to do. And yes, these students are geographically separated. But our students, my grade twelve students have been able to come together in the Oxford Library, in the quad, in these different areas and practice their skills, and so able to see their engagement and the planning that they are able to do on their own and decide how are they going to manage, how are they going to best prepare, has been really wonderful.

And a lot of that is, of course, occurring Asynchronous, because different students will be in different parts of the world. They’ll meet up at different times. Some students want to do on the weekends. And so it is very much encouraged and supported. This is what you can accomplish in a session. But, yeah, that’s how the balance of that Asynchronous and synchronous is occurring. 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, I love that, because even though the students are remote and maybe in different countries, they can still be in a classroom together if they choose to, with walls and equipment, just like they would if they were in person. It’s just such a perfect use case. Can you give us a specific example of an IB simulation that is contributing to the education of your students?

Elizabeth Hutton: Yeah, I think about the chromatography lab. It’s actually one of my favorite labs. So, for the non-scientists that are listening, is essentially you have this piece of cellulose paper, and plants have pigments. So just like as humans, we have fingerprints; plants based on their pigments, when you separate them, they’ll be a chlorophyll: Chlorophyll A, Chlorophyll B, some carotenoids. And so there’s unique fingerprints that different plants have.

Again, often in virtual simulations or even my school lab, we’re rushing around on time. We have 45 minutes. I’m going to go to the store, buy some fresh basil or spinach, and give it to the students. One of the elements that I was able to suggest and the company was able to implement was that let’s have a bunch of plants. Let’s have students think about, okay, this is a cactus type plant. This is a broad leave. This is a more variegated surface. This leave is much more narrow.

And so students get to go in and take a clipping, but before that, they get to see visibly all the differences between the plants and to be able to begin to predict, you know, what type of pigments are going to be needed? They start to think about climate. So why would there be a thicker leave? Thinking about, like, water retention? Thinking about where these plans thrive. And, of course, that can indicate how much pigment would be present, even time of year. And so that lab really has been able to, you know, that’s something that you wouldn’t be able to do in real life. I wouldn’t be able to buy all those plans. The cost effectiveness of that would be absurd.

But in VR, we can have options where students are then forced to think about, okay, how do I do this? And even in making the separation of the pigments, students will have the water, the ethanol, again, different compounds where they have to be mindful of, okay, why am I choosing this? And so there’s continual moments of thought that have to occur in these labs.

And then, of course, time, right? When doing this lab, generally you’re going to be waiting sometimes 15/20 minutes. When you see the results instantly, it’s allowing students to have multiple trials in a short amount of time and so they can really see the difference and be able to see the patterns, see any discrepancies between the pigments and the different types of plants. So that’s one of my favorite labs.

Steve Grubbs: That’s brilliant. And so talk to me a little bit about—you worked with our Victory XR team. Maybe they know something about chromatography. My guess is they probably don’t know much. And although they’re all really bright, talk to me about the process that you went through as the SME, The Subject Matter Expert and how that worked, dealing with the developers.

Elizabeth Hutton: Yeah, so it was definitely a collaborative endeavor. Our science team at Dwight Global, we were able to work together. And having history and years of data and thinking about misconceptions or where students are forced to make choice. So, we really would start with equipment. So that was always one of the first conversations with the coding team, with the education team, thinking about, you know, there is so much equipment that students don’t normally have access.

So if we’re talking about the effect of light intensity on photosynthesis, in most labs, you’d use a light, but we can actually simulate the sun at different distances or at different points in the equator. And so dreaming a lot about the equipment. The advice that was given to me by your team is like just what is, you know, like, no limits, not having to time, money, etc, what would you want students to be exposed to? 

And so thinking about the use of incubators, and again, other equipment that may not be able to exist in high school laboratories. And again, with purpose, not just bringing in the fanciest bells and whistles just because, but having agitators and having machines that, again, students might not even see in their undergrad. That has been really helpful. 

I think then actually working with a team where they are building and you get to see and have that feedback in real time. So as there’s a build getting to see, okay, here’s a progress video, here’s what I’m thinking. We would go back and forth just on a Google Doc where it wasn’t an overwhelming task deciding on these labs. And having a non-science expert build them. They’re going to ask questions of, well, this doesn’t make sense, right? 

So we have to make sure it’s, again, they’re self-driving and that teachers aren’t trying to at the same time get used to the tech that they also then have the ability of… There’s some intuition built in how the instructions come in. Thinking about the sequencing events.

And I think one of the most powerful things is the outcome, right? So the data. That’s really where the science, the IB curriculum focuses on: when you get data, how do you process it? How do you choose to present it? And the fact that in the simulation, the same data number is not coming up every time. So then, Steve, if you and I were both working on an enzyme lab, you make it a slightly different result, and we can then discuss concepts of variability.

And so that is the way beyond my understanding of how to build that in from the tech side. But I have yet to come across… And over the pandemic, many companies did open up free access to labs, and having taught higher level biology in labs, of course, I was trying them all out. But every time there’s a simulation, you get the same output, the same response. 

The fact that, with the VR tech, that you’re able to embed variability, that has been a game changer, because in more advanced science, it’s not just the process, but it’s also okay, how can we critically look at the data? How can we choose to process it and again, present it so that it tells a story and links back to the original question?

Steve Grubbs: I love it. When you speak, you sound extremely smart. So for a business guy like me, I appreciate that. So, talk to us a little bit about the advantage of accessibility through this medium.

Elizabeth Hutton: Yes. Many students at Dwight Global, you know, Dwight Global, one of our missions is that personalized education. So, again, allowing students to pursue what we call their spark of genius. And so if a student is a swimmer that is training five hours a day or is a fencer or a ballerina or a trombone player.

We have many, many students that have incredible sparks of geniuses. And these are students that without the flexibility of an online school, they would not be able to do both, pursue their passion, really at that pre-professional and professional level, and then also receive an incredibly high-quality education. So that is really one of our markets.

There’s also the access market with IB because it is an international curriculum that we’re able to reach students almost on every continent. We have a small to medium size of our first and second cohort, but we have students all over Europe, the Dominican Republic, Hungary, Ethiopia, Kenya. We really have spanned many, many countries.

And there are a portion of students that just wouldn’t have access to this type of education or even access to course choice. And then there’s of course, a smaller percentage of students that for other reasons, whether it’s a temporary medical or physical issue that aren’t necessarily attending brick and mortar schools at that moment.

So, we don’t view an online school, as an alternative of like, this didn’t work. There’s a big group of students that actually they prefer this way of learning. They enjoy having more intense focus periods, more control over their schedule, more breaks throughout the day. And so you take these students from all walks of life and you’re able to actually bring them together.

Another one of Dwight’s driving mission and principles is this idea of community, right? Sometimes there’s a paradigm shift that has to occur when you think about online school or AI. Dwight Global has been leading online school since 2015, so ahead of the pandemic curve. And so there is a personalization and a community that can happen. And AI has actually been one of those community building elements. 

So, yes, we’re getting together to put intestinal systems together and to look at the brain and to see what we notice about the heart. But there’s an extra layer of, you know, students are able to engage in where you’re looking at each other in the eye, where you’re able to in those downtimes, be able to connect in ways that you wouldn’t before. 

So, there are students that, you know, whether it’s a vision impairment or something else, where they wouldn’t be able to participate in a lab because VR is able to be so up close, those students have access to you. So it really is expanding access and really, again, equity, because accessing an IB education can then open doors to university admissions all over the world.

Steve Grubbs: That’s wonderful. So, two last questions. First, what reaction are you getting from your students when they learn in VR?

Elizabeth Hutton: Yes, they absolutely love it. They often come to me with tips of, “Miss, it’d be better if we all had the video,” or there’s different levels of access. I have the privilege to work with a smallish group of students. So, they have pretty much convinced me to give them all levels, except summoning. They can’t summon each other, but they have all levels of access of they can mute, unmute. They can pull out different tools. They can pull up videos. And again, that trust was grown over time, right? Because they have to be able to show that they’re going to be responsible and bring in appropriate and relevant objects. 

And there’s definitely a digital citizenship element. And we actually wrote our digital contract based off of our IB Learner Profile. So, what does it mean? How can you be caring in VR? How can you be principled? How can you be balanced? And so really using that as an educational moment to talk about technology and the role it plays.

But no, they absolutely love it. We have been able to, again, work with the parents. Parents are aware that children have these devices. Of course, safeguarding becomes we work with our tech department, our legal to make sure, of course, that—they’re minors, right? So, what access they have, etc. But we have fully partnered with parents, and we’ve had 100% support from our parent community with this tool.

Steve Grubbs: That’s awesome. So, first of all, that’s the first I’ve heard of a school giving their students that level of control over the environment. So that’s really interesting to me. Someday I want to understand that better. So that’s great. But final question. Looking forward, what is your best hope for where we can take this? I think we have a good relationship. I think we plan to continue building this out. Where should it go from here?

Elizabeth Hutton: One of the spirits of IB, and again, Dwight too, is like partnerships, collaboration, right? If we have 20 IB teachers that are using this, how can we have those teachers collaborating, forming communities, informing these really professional development communities that they can talk about best practice.

Teachers at heart are incredibly—they share. Things are free. We put them online, if someone takes them, most teachers feel like flattered and honored. So we really want to think about the lesson planning aspect of this. How can this tool be use for differentiation? Not every student accesses the content at the same point. One of the biggest challenges in education is differentiation, right? 

Typically, you have one teacher in the room and you have multiple kids that will fall into different groups. And so for many teachers, that becomes this constant—It’s an art that you learn over time. But thinking about how VR can assist in that and again, there’s differentiation up, right to the students that are above the content level you’re teaching, there’s students that are on what we’ve deemed in our state or our school is on target and then there’s always students that are in needing of extra support. So, I just think the possibilities are endless with how we can have—teachers are not feeling that they are the only teacher in their classroom.

I mean, the fact in VR that you can take a video and clone yourself explaining. Again, after so many years of teaching, you know what the misconceptions are, you know what the issues are. And to have a video pre ready about, okay, this is where the energy is stored in the bond because you know you’re going to be asked, because you’ve been asked the last 19 times you taught that lesson, you will have a video or even a video of yourself explaining it. And it’s been really amazing of how you can not feel so isolated in your own classroom.

And I think also the content creation. I mean, there are students… So in the first few lessons, some of the VR team would come and just help our students with control. And Danny, so many of my students, at the end, when Danny is like, “You have questions?” They wanted to know what was his career pathway? They started to interview him. He said, “I’ve never been asked this.” They wanted to know, what did you study? Like, how did you get into this line of work?

And he responded wonderfully, definitely caught off guard. But it was such a teaching moment of that this is actually an entire industry that exists, and it can exist not just in education, but in health care. And one of the activities I do with my students is called the Three Whys called: Why Does It Matter to you? Why does it matter to those around you? And why does it matter to those that you don’t know? So the other few billion you don’t know.

And it’s a thinking routine that allows students to sort of have that aerial view on it. And we had this debrief about just VR, and really that conversation that they started having with the educator at the end of what other fields and what other industries could this tool have an impact on, and what do they see the role of VR in that?

The students are the ones that—I’m 20 plus years removed from them, but their ideas are brilliant, their ideas are valuable. And part of the idea is that student agency, right? How are students—not just having agency over content creation and what’s being taught but also over assessment?

And so I see VR as this perfect kind of glue between having students have that voice and agency and teachers feeling empowered. And there’s this synergy that can happen when those things come together. And VR, I think, will be the platform for that.

Steve Grubbs: I think you’re right. So, Elizabeth, is there anything that I should have asked or is there an important point that we’ve missed that you may still want to cover?

Elizabeth Hutton: No, I just I really do believe that this is where education is going. I’m incredibly honored to be at a school that has been on this journey already, you know, kind of ahead of the curve, and know that this is just, again, going to be wear, flexibility, high quality, and it’s going to really allow students to be able to engage in more than just the traditional ways. So, I’m excited for the students to be able to have this opportunity.

Steve Grubbs: Well, thank you. I’m Steve Grubbs. I am the CEO of VictoryXR. We have loved working with Dwight Global. Our guest today has been Elizabeth Hutton, the Director of IB studies at Dwight. And thank you for pioneering this with us, and we’re excited to see where it goes.

Elizabeth Hutton: Thank you.