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The VictoryXR Show: Jonathan Jackson Joins Steve Grubbs to Discuss Implementing Virtual Reality in a Marketing Course

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February 28, 2024 | Steve Grubbs


  • Jonathan Jackson implemented virtual reality labs in a marketing class at Florida State University’s College of Business.
  • The approach aimed to help students become comfortable with VR technology and explore its potential for marketing and business.
  • Activities involved creating virtual marketing setups in a city environment, encouraging students to think creatively about brand interactions.
  • Students initially faced challenges but grew to appreciate the value of VR in learning and preparing for technological changes in their careers.

Watch at https://youtu.be/S8Iss7ElJAs?si=yxiHVxizzXBsbHiY

Steve Grubbs: Welcome to the VictoryXR show. I am Steve Grubbs, your show host. And today we have Jonathan Jackson, who is on faculty at Florida State University in the College of Business. And the reason we’re talking with Jonathan today, some of the things that you’ll learn from this interview are, first of all, how he implemented virtual reality labs in a marketing class, some of the challenges that had to be overcome, the results, and really how it was received by students. So, Jonathan, thanks for joining us today. 

Jonathan Jackson: Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here. 

Steve Grubbs: So, I know that in your background that, even yet today, you are an actor. Tell me just a little bit about your background in acting and the types of things that you do. 

Jonathan Jackson: Of course, I’ve always loved theater. I’ve always loved live acting. And I did it as a child in elementary school and then found my way back to it through high school. And especially in my mid to late 20s, I was really active in local community theater. I’ve always loved the thrill of being on stage. It doesn’t matter how much planning you put into it, things can get very spontaneous. 

And that has actually really accrued benefits to my professional career, both in the business world, being able to sort of improvise or have good public speaking skills, be able to read the room, be able to understand how to fill a room with my voice so everybody can hear me. And it absolutely has made me a better teacher. 

So, acting was a ton of fun. I made lots and lots of friends through that community. But the skills that I learned on stage, I continue to use today in my career as a teacher, because undergraduates can be kind of sleepy for an 8:00 AM class on a Monday morning. And so my acting background really helps me keep them entertained and awake while they are learning. 

Steve Grubbs: So, here’s the funny part about that. When I first started VictoryXR, I was interviewing the first coder developer that we were going to hire. And so we meet in Chicago, I’m interviewing him and I always ask this question: What was your thing in high school? Because I’m interested. Were you in sports? Were you competitive? Were you on the computer science club? And that helps me to understand who they are and their level of discipline and commitment and all those sorts of things. 

And Danny says, “Well, my main thing in high school was I was a thespian in the drama club.” And I said, “Wait a minute, I thought you were a programmer, a coder.” He goes, “Oh, I am.” I said, “I have never met a coder who was also a thespian.” And what best decision I ever made for the company, because Danny has built these worlds. He knows set design. He knows how to deliver a tour with a flourish. So I don’t know if you’ve ever met Danny, but you guys could…

Jonathan Jackson: I have. Yeah, he’s terrific. 

Steve Grubbs: And now you know why. 

Jonathan Jackson: Yes. Yeah. I did not realize that. 

Steve Grubbs: So it was a marketing course, right? 

Jonathan Jackson: That is correct. So, I teach in two departments here. I actually teach business analytics as well as marketing. I’ve taught several marketing courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. But one course that I designed and that I’m best known for, and that is always filling up, is social media marketing. It is certainly a current skill set. It’s something our undergraduates are very interested in. It’s a helpful skill for them to have as they exit their undergraduate experience into the business world. And so the course that I chose for our VR pilot year was the social media marketing class. 

Steve Grubbs: Okay, perfect. And so you have this course, and now you’re sitting before the semester and you’re saying, okay, what am I going to do with virtual reality? How did you approach…We work with business schools all over the United States, and this is the point where they get stuck. They want to know, how do I take this really powerful tool and integrate into our business courses? And we help with some of that, but I would really love it if you could share how you approached that challenge. 

Jonathan Jackson: So, I looked at my approach and thinking about what I wanted my students to take away from their experience with VR in kind of two separate lanes. And one is, I know many of them are getting an undergraduate degree in business. They’re going to go work in the private sector mostly. And the world of business is constantly changing. There are constant waves of technology. You and I both know, when we started our careers 2025 plus years ago, that the kind of technology we use in the office looks completely different from what people are using in offices today. And so I knew virtual reality is coming. Different companies are going to start to use it in different ways in house. 

So, one thing I just wanted my students to take away was comfort at using the technology, the hardware and the software, putting on the headset, navigating their bodies, their avatars through virtual space and interacting with virtual objects in that space, so that if and when they encounter that technology in their working life, that they already have some comfort with it. And that is a career skill, that is a value add that will really help them get a leg up in the marketplace as young, early career professionals. So that was one thing I wanted them to take away. I just wanted to get them in there, get them using it, get them comfortable with it. 

And the second thing I really brought into this class from my previous career, working as a marketing executive. I worked at Verizon, major telecommunications firm, but also a major technology driver in the US. And over time, as we went through a digital transformation at that company, I began to encounter more and more different types of technology. Certainly, websites and selling on the web has existed for a while, but chat interactions with customers continued to advance and be driven more and more by artificial intelligence today. 

We began to use social media to communicate with a new generation of customers in new ways. We began to build new features and functionalities into our apps to give Verizon’s customers what they need, when they need it. And so I definitely, in that part of my career, developed a comfort with learning about new technologies and envisioning how they might be used as the interface between the company and the customer. And I’ve been teaching this course, social media marketing, for several years now. The industry of social media, the platforms, the big names, the features, the technology is constantly changing. That class never looks the same from one semester to the next. I’m constantly getting rid of old technologies and introducing new ones to my students. 

And so I know that virtual reality will—even it’s already beginning to impact some customers. Like, if you look at Gen Alpha, they’re playing Fortnite, they’re playing Roblox, they’re in Minecraft, they’re used to maneuvering within virtual worlds. And I know as they grow older, virtual reality technology will become one tool in that digital marketing toolbox for how companies will communicate and interact with customers. 

We’re at the very beginning of that wave, and I have no idea what it’s going to look like 5 or 10 or 15 years down the road, but I wanted my students to get comfortable thinking about what will it look like. How can I bring a brand, a company, into this VR space and think about how can the brand interact with a customer avatar in that space and have a high engagement, high value interaction with that customer that accrues to the benefit of both the customer and the company? 

And I found that my students, in some ways, we were still trying to recreate the real physical world inside VR. And that’s fine. We need to get comfortable doing that. But I also wanted them to start to think forward, what are the capabilities of this technology, that we can do new things with our customers in new ways. So, it was twofold. I wanted them just to get comfortable using the technology. Then I wanted them thinking about, how will this technology be used for brands to talk to customers? And that really drove my planning for the entire semester. 

Steve Grubbs: What are some specific activities that you engaged in in various weeks or with particular chapters? 

Jonathan Jackson: Yeah, so it was an iterative process. I kind of repeated a similar exercise, but increased the requirements over time. And I continued to have this group exercise, and we would do it during class time so that we could use that time for the students to do this together in groups. Because their lives are very busy, it’s hard for them to do group projects outside of class time. 

And I would bring them all into a virtual space. And I chose the city at day landscape, that 360-degree VR environment, because many of them are going to be living, working, marketing inside urban environments. And it’s a nice facsimile of the real world to get them thinking about how to brands talk to customers in a city, on a city street. 

And so we used that as our blank canvas, and I brought them into that space, and I would send one group down the block that way and another group down the block that way, another group over into this plaza over there, and they had to choose a brand. They did some planning outside VR, and then we would go into headset. And they had to choose a brand, and they had to create some sort of in place marketing setup for the brand to interact with customers—If you imagine their avatars walking down the city sidewalk. 

And they got really creative about browsing the library of virtual objects, the IFX objects, and pulling those objects into the VR space, manipulating, getting them, arranging them, putting post-it notes in space to sort of designate, here’s what this thing is, right? In some cases, they were bringing in screens and playing back videos. 

And so the outcome of that over time, you know, it looked pretty messy. The first week we did it, but by week eight or ten, it was really impressive. We had an art gallery. We had a coffee shop. We had a bookstore. We had a really cool entertainment space that was co-branded between a local brewery here in Florida and Florida State University athletics. And it was an entertainment space where people could come in and get a drink. And there was a stage with a microphone and a disco ball and footlights on the stage so they could come in and hear a virtual concert and enjoy a virtual beer, so to speak. 

But that’s an interesting way for the brand, both the university and the local brewery, to make an impact on the avatars in that space. And you might pay a high dollar ticket to go hear your favorite band at a local bar, but there’s no limit to the number of avatars that could sit in this space and listen to their favorite band. 

And so it was really impressive watching them put their marketing minds to work to develop these virtual spaces that represent the brands that avatars could come in and interact with. And they began to think forward, like, what does it mean for them to interact? Can they browse art in that space and then order the artwork to be shipped to their real home? Can they come into this space and listen to the band and make a connection with that band and then maybe buy real world concert tickets? And how would we develop digital touch points for them to do that commerce, that ordering function within virtual reality space. So just like shopping online, but you’re shopping and finishing the purchase while you’re in VR. 

Steve Grubbs: What I find interesting is that your students are really getting good exposure to the technology, and from my perspective, I have two devices that I use regularly. One is my Quest 3 headset. 

Jonathan Jackson: Okay. 

Steve Grubbs: And so that allows me to be fully immersed in VR or to use some pass through mixed reality. But then I also have my Ray Ban meta glasses. 

Jonathan Jackson: Cool. 

Steve Grubbs: So there’s no images on there. It’s just, you know, I’ve got an AI assistant, listen to my music, make phone calls, or I can Meta, you know, what’s the weather forecast today? And the AI pull it up and tell me. But what we’re seeing, especially with the Apple Vision Pro being released, is that this really lightweight pair of glasses and then this heavier weight headset, we’re moving towards this intersection where within three to five years, they intersect. 

And then I wear my Ray Ban meta glasses everywhere. In fact, I just went into LensCrafters to have the transitional lenses put in so I can wear them…

Jonathan Jackson: Wow!

Steve Grubbs: And outdoors, because I find it so useful to have that AI at my beck and call. 

Jonathan Jackson: Sure, that’s cool. 

Steve Grubbs: So I think what you are pursuing will definitely occur. What has been the reception of students thus far? 

Jonathan Jackson: A few of them were hesitant at first. They had not experienced it. They’re kind of doing a little bit of an eye roll, which is something young undergraduates do sometimes when encountered with something challenging. The first couple of weeks were difficult. Understanding how to use the hardware, understanding how to use the software. “I got to log in. What’s my password?” Gen Z does not remember their passwords. 

But after the first two or three weeks, once they got accustomed to maneuvering and it became, it’s like learning to play your favorite video game. Once you’re used to it, you’re not even thinking about which buttons you press or how you maneuver the controller. It’s just muscle memory. 

And so once they got that locked in by, like, week three, give or take, they loved it. They had a great time. So many of them were asking questions about the capability of the technology. One thing I will tell you is they wanted to push VictoryXR farther. Their minds were moving faster than your team can develop the technology. And I’m sure you kind of have the same feeling and vision for your company. They had all these deals they wanted to create, but they really enjoyed it. And I kept telling them, “Look, you’re doing cool things here. We’re going to massage this into a resume bullet, and you need to put this on your resume and your LinkedIn because this is going to make you stand out. Very few graduating seniors are going to have a resume bullet that looks like what you’re getting from this class.”

Steve Grubbs: Well, the next time you teach this class, you’re going to be able to teach it in VXR Labs, which is a fairly significant step forward. So, I’ll be curious your thoughts when you get to do that. So how did you deploy the headsets? Some universities keep them on campus in a lab, and many of those that we work with in particular, will have the students check it out for the semester. How did you approach that? 

Jonathan Jackson: We have a really terrific, talented it support team here in our college of business that supports technology for faculty, staff, classrooms, students. And so we simply had an issue day. Where they brought in rolling carts with all of the oculus headsets. And we sent the students by one by one, and they essentially signed like a hand receipt, very limited sort of contract. And the students took their headsets and they took them home with them. And I kind of laid out a few guidelines about how to treat your headsets, where to keep it. I was very careful about saying, on this day, we’re going to bring in a headset. Then I would have a triggered announcement automated the night before. Don’t forget to plug in your headset and make sure it’s fully charged, and then put it in your car when you come to class the next day. Because we’re going to do a headset day on this particular day. 

And so we trusted them, and we didn’t have any problems with that. None of the headsets got broken or anything like that. And at the end of the semester, last week of class, we just had them bring them all back to the classroom and turn them back over to the IT team for cleaning, reset, recharging, and they were redeployed to a different classroom—I think a graduate course for this spring semester. 

Steve Grubbs: What’s interesting to me is you said it was an 8:00 AM class. I specifically, when I was in college, avoided the 8:00 AM classes. I was that guy. But if I could have just rolled over in bed, put my headset on, and was in class with everybody else, I probably would have taken the class. 

Jonathan Jackson: And we progressed to that point later in the semester. So, the first several weeks of VR time, we’re all together in the classroom. And I did that so I could be there on hand to support any students in person who are having difficulty with the technology, and they could help their classmates who might be having difficulty. I had a couple of sort of early adopters who really took to it quickly, and I sort of recruited them as helpers, classroom helpers. 

But once everybody was accustomed to it, we kind of made a group classroom decision, like, all right, going forward on VR days, we’re not coming into the room. You’re welcome to come in to use this room for VR class on those days, but I, the professor, won’t be there. I’ll be in my office with my headset on. You want to sit in your bedroom? I don’t care because I’m not going to see you. We’re not on Zoom together. We’re going to be in VR headset together, and that’s what we did. 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah. To me, that is really—especially as you know well, this is a residential class, an on campus class, remote learning is expanding rapidly. So how does higher education address the issue of hands-on learning when you’re just trying to do it through Zoom? And so this, to me, is a really practical way to approach it. 

Jonathan Jackson: Yeah, I think this is better than just doing it on Zoom. Just doing it on Zoom, means I’ve got 15 window tabs open, and I’m sharing things through the Zoom. I’m doing group exercises in breakout rooms on Zoom, and so I’m jumping from group to group to group on Zoom. I can’t force them to turn their cameras on, so I don’t always get a lot of eye contact or visual body language feedback the way I do in a real classroom. But with VR, it’s very easy for me to jump from group to group. It’s very easy for me to go on and off mute and talk to their avatars in that space. It’s really easy for me to tell who’s participating and not participating at any given moment because there’s so many sort of little data signals you get through the app itself, and I think it would be so much more engaging. 

Now, there’s something about body to brain interaction, right? And so if you’re sitting on Zoom as a student and you’re not doing anything with your body, you can probably tune out and get pretty quickly, which doesn’t keep your brain awake, and therefore you’re not learning. But if we’re doing stuff in VR, well, you’re moving your head around as you’re looking around the VR space, you’ve got controllers, and you’re using your fingers to move your avatar around. So, there’s definitely some body activity, which I think helps keep the brain more awake, which helps with learning. So I think VR is Zoom only distance Ed. 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, to that point, there’s a great study by PWC that shows students learn four times faster, more empathetic, all of that. And I think that’s part of it, is just the immersive engagement. But there was a study at a Taiwanese university where they actually hooked up, I think it was an EEG that measured brain activity. And so they measured sitting in a classroom, then they measured an online tool like Zoom, and then they measured VR. 

And so when students were just sitting in the classroom, the amount of EEG, the brain lighting up with mental activity was pretty minimal. Then they get onto Zoom, and it was more or whatever online tool, and then in VR, it just like exploded with colors. 

Jonathan Jackson: Sure. 

Steve Grubbs: And that’s sort of the data that completely makes your point. So, before I go to my last question, first of all, if other professors or business schools or people wanted to communicate with you on your experience, A, would that be okay? 

Jonathan Jackson: Absolutely. Of course. I’m happy to. 

Steve Grubbs: Okay. And then B, would they reach out to you by email, LinkedIn? What is your preferred…?

Jonathan Jackson: Email or LinkedIn is just fine. You can find me on the Florida State University College of Business website, or you can find me on LinkedIn. It’s Jonathan Jackson. My email is jjackson@business.fsu.edu. 

Steve Grubbs: We will pop that up on the screen. Okay, final question. So you’ve created this course. You’re using this great tool. Thank you to Meta for the grant to provide the metaversity and the headsets. At the end of the semester, how do you view it and how do your students view it? 

Jonathan Jackson: I really try to invest in my students this openness to technological change, because it’s going to hit their careers whether they like it or not. So be ready for it, be open to it. It’s only going to help you in your careers. And I think I kept repeating that over and over again, and I think by the end of the semester, they were really starting to get it and say, yeah, this does have value. I don’t know where my career is going at this stage in my life, but I know that I’m going to encounter new pieces of the technology, probably including VR. So this does help me. 

And I also told them, you know, technologies are invented and mature and then die off kind of on a curve, and we’re very early in the curve. So enjoy what VR, what the capabilities are right now. But know, this is not the end of the story. This is not even chapter two. This is chapter one of the VR story. It’s only going to improve going forward. 

Steve Grubbs: And Apple has changed the term to spatial computing. 

Jonathan Jackson: Yes.

Steve Grubbs: It’ll be a while before we can get enough of those $3,500 headsets, but I’m sure they’ll come in price next year and the year after. But, yeah, you know what? I have really appreciated your level of ingenuity and really being willing to try something new. Professors are like anybody else. They’re on a belt curve. You have the early adopters, you have the 67% in the middle, and then you are the… And we appreciate you being in that first or second standard deviation. 

So I would hats off to you, and hats off to Florida State for all the great work that’s being done, and we will look forward to following you. And when you teach another course, please reach out again, because we’d love to talk about it. 

Jonathan Jackson: I certainly will. Thank you for having me. Steve Grubbs: All right. Jonathan, thank you. And listeners and watchers, viewers, you can catch us on YouTube, or we will also have it transcribed and it’ll also be on our podcast stream. So, thanks all, and we will see you at the next show.

Steve Grubbs is the CEO of VictoryXR, the global leader in immersive, spatial education. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s colleges of business and law and served in the Iowa Legislature as Chair of the House Education Committee in the early ‘90’s.