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The Amazing Results of Neurodiverse Learners in Virtual Reality – The VictoryXR Show With Your Host Steve Grubbs and Guest John Wolf

Steve Grubbs: Welcome to the latest episode of The VictoryXR Show. Today, we have John Wolf, who is the principal of Rundle Studio. And that is, and I’ll let John explain in greater detail, but the online studio for— is it Rundle School?

John Wolf: Yeah. So, thank you so much for having me on here, Steve. Great to meet you and chat with you about this. Rundle is a private school located in Calgary, Alberta. And within that Rundle School umbrella, Rundle College umbrella, we have three schools. 

So, we have the Rundle College, which is our main campus for pre-K to grade 12. Then we have something called The Academy, Rundle Academy, and that’s a school from grades four to grade 12. And it’s specifically for students with learning disabilities. That’s what it’s designed for. It’s been around for 30 years, and it’s just done an incredible job at helping students reach their potential.

Now, they’re a physical school, so they have limited space as physical schools do. And with that, came the opportunity for Rundle Studio, which is an online version of Rundle Academy. So, we’ve taken everything that Rundle Academy has done for the past 30 years, all their success, all that DNA, and we’ve transferred as much of that as we could online. And then, of course, being online, we’ve been able to innovate and create different ways, different opportunities for students in that space. 

Steve Grubbs: Wonderful. So, let’s get right to the meat of this. You are using Immersive 3D virtual Reality instruction in ways that seems to be helpful and working. Can you talk about some of those use cases and how it’s being successful? 

John Wolf: Yes, for sure. So, we’re on the Engage platform and we’re using Victory XR in particular as our education connection in that realm. And so what we’ve done is we’ve been able to use that in many areas through either our academics, our co-curriculars, or the character piece as well. So, a few of those examples are in academics. We use it to enhance and elevate the learning experience of our students.

One example would be—I just had a teacher teach plant reproduction. And so that’s part of our grade seven science curriculum here in Alberta. And in order to do that, they had the students jump into VR, they all put on their headsets and they’re able to connect in that space, and able to see the plants firsthand. They’re able to virtually hold them. They’re able to put the plant and the parts of the plant in connection with the name.

And with that experience, when you experience something, we know you’re going to remember it better. And we’re finding our students when they have these experience, I mean, they’re laughing, they’re talking, they’re engaged, they’re fully focused.

And so that has just been absolutely incredible to have students in that way and to experience that learning. And there’s countless other ones as well, using DNA molecules, holding the different types of atoms in their hands, or creating them themselves, and being able to manipulate these objects in virtual reality. So that is really powerful in the academic side. 

Our school in particular is 100% online. I have students from anywhere across the province of Alberta, and we have students connecting now across Canada as well. So I’ve got students all the way down in New Brunswick out to the Vancouver as well. 

In order to be more than just an online MOOC, we have created a real community. And virtual reality has helped us in a sense that we’re able to provide those things that you can’t easily do otherwise.

Like connecting, for example. The first thing that any student would do when they go to any school is you get through the door, you meet up with your buddies and you hang out. It’s that before school unstructured time.

Well, we’ve replicated that. We have VR open. We have a virtual recess. In that virtual recess, our teachers are there. We’re hanging out. We’ll be chatting about our day, and the kids are doing their things in VR. They’re running around, building things. We have that leverage control where we can hear what they say, but we don’t always want to, so we’ll put on the 3D sound. They’ll run off in one area and chat with each other, and then if they need us, they’ll come up to us as well.

So that’s that unstructured socialization piece that we’ve been able to use in which we’re really thankful for Victory XR to allow that. 

Steve Grubbs: So how many students are coming in at one time?

John Wolf: Into VR? So we’re a small school. Last year was our first year, grade seven and eight. We had 17 students in total. This year, we’ve upped it to—I think we’ve got, they’re 29 currently right now, and that’s seven, eight, nine.

We’re adding another grade each year, so next year we’re expanding into grade ten. Currently in the mornings, we leave it open, so some students will pop in, some, they’ll join later on. So that virtual recess time.

We’ll have five, six, seven students join at a time in the mornings, just chat and hang out, and then we open up at lunchtime. We’ll get a different group that’s up maybe a bit later, depending on time zones.

And then during our classes, we’ll get the entire class in there. So, 15 kids in grade nine, I think we have ten of them with the headsets, and the other ones will join on the iPad. So they can see the class. They follow along. They’re not in it for different reasons. For example, we’ll have one student who has particular issues, and we’ll talk a little bit, I think, about this as well. Our student population is a specific demographic, so some of our students have sensitivity issues, and so they might not want to jump in there just yet or try it for little bits at a time. But having that flexibility to go on your iPad is great as well. 

Steve Grubbs: That’s wonderful. Let me ask you about a few of my favorite environments and tell me if you’ve begun exploring. As you know, we have about 60 to 70 different classrooms, and we’ve got some that are queued up to be uploaded.

But some of my favorites are the King’s Labyrinth for really gamified learning, the Queen’s Garden for those who want to play chess. I love the starship and beaming up to the starship, and then I just think it’s amazing that you can learn about biology and the history of Charles Darwin by actually going to the HMS Beagle and the Galapagos Islands.

So, I don’t know if you’ve utilized any of those spaces or if you have some favorites, but talk to us a little bit about what’s really capturing the imagination of students. 

John Wolf: Yeah, I’ve been in all of those spaces, Steve. They’re absolutely phenomenal. In the mornings, I have a student, I play a chess game with him every Thursday morning before school. So we meet up every Thursday. And he loves chess, and he didn’t think I could play. I think he thought he could get me. But when we started to play, it was great. So, the Queen’s Garden is fantastic for that socialization. 

We’ve been to the other one—so the King’s Labyrinth. I teach an option class as well, and the option class is called VR Team Building. So we’re using team building skills and developing leadership skills, flexibility, communication. And I’ve actually used AI to generate a lot of the different types of activities we’ll do. We can do anything to engage these.

But using Chat GPT, I asked it, well, what are some possibilities? And it came up with a few. And one of them was a labyrinth. So, I thought, okay, we’ll get them to create a labyrinth in VR. Well, it was already there.

So, when we popped in, we had a rubric created for you’ve got to be in a team, you’ve got to go together, you’ve got to work, make decisions, collaborate. We popped in there—and if you haven’t been in there, it is outstanding.

And so the two teams, off they went, and they tried to make it through to the end. And when they’re done, they did a whole reflection on what types of skills they had to use. So that one was particularly outstanding.

Steve Grubbs: What was their reaction? I love the King’s labyrinth. It’s fun, it’s magical. And when you make it to the King’s Lair, that’s a pretty special moment. So what was their reaction? 

John Wolf: It was quite phenomenal because one of the groups was ahead and there were two teams. One of the groups made it to the end, and you can hear them at the end. And they’re celebrating, they’re cheering, they’re running around. I wasn’t there yet, so I was following the second group and I did get lost a little bit.

So the other group took off. So both groups actually finished before I made it to the end. They came back to look for me. They thought they should bring the teacher back there. 

So, when I made it to the end, there they were; one of the students was sharing some music and they were having a dance party in the throne. It was phenomenal. 

Now, great part of this as well, Steve, is our students are all neurodiverse. So every single one of our students has a learning disability in particular, most of them. Outside of the province of Alberta, they don’t need one to attend our school. But what’s interesting is many of our students have extreme social anxiety, and it could be one of the reasons why they’re attending our school in the first place.

Their in-person experience has been such that they are overloaded where they’re focused on so many things other than the learning. And then being at home, they’re able to reduce that and connect. Now, using VR, I have a couple of these students who I would never have thought that they would be engaging the way they are, except in VR, they’re laughing, giggling, sharing, talking, collaborating, communicating. All of these things that might be very uncomfortable for them, I’m seeing them do that in VR. 

Steve Grubbs: That’s great. I love, love, love to hear that. You know, we founded this company in 2016 and, you know, the goal was to transform the way that students learn so that they have a love of learning. And for the most part, we’re delivering on that, and that’s very gratifying.

My father was a school teacher, taught in a traditional four wall room, Social Studies. I actually had him as a teacher in the public school I attended, and he tried to be a very creative educator. Jointly, he and I built a little buzz box game thing.

And so you get a little mini candy bar back when you could give candy bars out in school if you got the question right. And so he was a creative educator, and so that was something I wanted to add to in my life. And so your stories are very gratifying. 

Talk to me a little bit more about your neurodiverse learners. Maybe for a lot of people, neurodiverse is a bit of insider jargon. And so you and I both know what that means, but I can tell you, two years ago, I did not. So can you talk a little bit more about what that means and how you’re able to deliver for those students in virtual reality? 

John Wolf: Yes, for sure. So, again, every single one of our students has—barring one again, she’s out in New Brunswick. She doesn’t have a learning disability, but every other student has a learning disability, and so that can range from a variety of ways. So, the typical learning disabilities that we tend to see are either in reading, writing, or numeracy math.

So, they either have dyscalcula, their numbers get jumbled up, dyslexia, they’re not reading, they don’t see the letters the same way, or they have decoding issues. Or writing fluency, they might have issues with their writing as well.

So those are the main academic areas. So that’s the learning disability. The neurodiverse part comes in just. Thinking differently. So somebody who has ADHD—I, myself, have ADHD. I was diagnosed as an adult. My oldest son has ADHD. So, we’ve gone through that whole gambit, and my wife and I have made it our mission to really educate people on understanding what that means. And it’s just a different way of thinking.

Our brains are wired differently. They’re not broken. They can learn. It’s just different. It’s not what we call neurotypical, the standard brain. So there are many positives to these types of brains. Thinking differently, they think outside the box. So you’ll see a lot of creativity with these students. You’ll expect an activity to go a certain way, and all of a sudden, it branches out into something you never expected.

So, if you’re open minded about that and you’re able to be flexible with these students and give them time, give them the opportunity to explore, they’re able to come up with some pretty unique things.

And we see that in VR. They are able to create things that I wouldn’t have thought they would have done. So, for example, that labyrinth, I’m thinking, oh, they’ll build walls and they’re starting to create their own way. Or just hearing them discuss how they’re going to build something using the IFX button or the 3D pen, they’ll start drawing something in a very unique way. So that’s one aspect of it, the creativity.

Another aspect is being able to record the lesson. So, recording the lesson is huge because, again, part of some neurodiverse students, some students that learn differently is they process information much slower, so being able to record a lesson and have it online.

So, we have an LMS that we’ve created for all of our students. The videos get posted after the class, and they can go back in there and re-watch the same lesson as many times as they need. They can pause it. They can take notes if they need to. So that is extremely, extremely powerful.

Steve Grubbs: Wonderful. And one of the things I’m excited for you to see, and you probably haven’t yet, because we just rolled it out, is VXR Labs World of Simulators.

So, on the Engage platform, we have some limitations on what we can do with actual simulation simulators and conversational avatars. But on our new platform, we’ve been able to add to that to supplement that with simulators.

And so we’re going to get you in there to take a look. And we’ve got, for example, a welding class, a drone class, robotics class, and all of these have live simulators that students can manipulate and they can learn to fly a drone and learn about all the different…

And in fact, the whole course takes them to the FAA certification in the United States, which my guess is would be extremely similar in Canada. So we’ll schedule some time to get you in there, but I think you’re going to find it to be a benefit to the students.

So, last question, since we’re almost out of time here today, talk to me about your best hope for the future for using immersive learning technologies, and in particular for your students. 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, Steve, I think some of your other guests have listened to the other podcasts as well, and some of them have touched on it as well. It’s rethinking education—no longer bound by space and by time, the same way that a physical school is set up now. So, the future is very bright, especially with AI and the speed with which it’s going to grow.

Some of my hopes to see are building AI into VR, where, like you talked about the labs, if we can expedite that process a little bit, and you start seeing our curriculum come to life in ways that we never imagined before.

So no longer doing the lab. Typically, we’re so focused on replicating what’s been done in the past. Here’s a lab, we need beakers, we need these items put together. Well, what if safety wasn’t an issue and we could explore what happens when maybe some substances came together. And all kids, junior high kids especially, they want, let’s put these two things together.

Yeah, let’s see what happens in a safe way. Let’s see what happens if we did this on the moon without gravity. Well, sure, we can simulate the gravity on there and see what would happen to these experiments, and then just rethinking the way events are held.

So my mind has been exploding with the way we can connect our students, in particular with other students around the world and hosting assemblies. I recently experienced the concert that Engage held, Fat Boy Slim concert.

And, wow, absolutely phenomenal concert in a whole different way. And it’s not replicating what’s been done. It’s not a concert the way you would experience, but it’s a whole new thing. I don’t even know what you call it.

It’s just an experience. And if we can experience assemblies that, starting in this one location, moving to another, having music come in, being able to interact, and every student gets equality in interacting, I mean, that’s pretty exciting.

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, I love that. And I love what you’re doing. I know my team appreciates working with. And I would love it if you would keep us up to date and maybe in a year from now, we do this again and find what amazing things are happening.

John Wolf: Fantastic. I would love to be back. And thank you and your team for everything you do to help change education.

Steve Grubbs: Awesome. Thank you, John. Our guest today, John wolf, principal at Rundle Studio. And we’ll be keeping track of that and seeing the things they’re doing.

So, thank you for joining us. We appreciate it and we will see you next time.