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The VictoryXR Show: Making Virtual Reality Work for Classroom Teachers with Dr. Shannon Putman

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March 20, 2024 | Steve Grubbs


  • Dr. Shannon Putman is a respected figure in XR and education, known for her pioneering work in deploying VR solutions in school districts.
  • Her journey into VR education began in Kentucky, where she utilized technology to support special education students, eventually leading her to explore VR.
  • Dr. Putman emphasizes the importance of integrating VR into pedagogy, advocating for a shift towards active participation rather than passive observation in education.
  • She highlights the critical role of finding champions within schools to drive VR adoption, stressing the need for support systems like mobile device management (MDM) to manage the technology effectively.

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

Steve Grubbs: Welcome to the VictoryXR show. We are excited to have you here today and we are even more excited about our guest Dr. Shannon Putman and Dr. Putman or Shannon as we will call her is not only a pioneer in the field of XR and education but really is one of those people that, when I talk to leaders in the industry, they refer to her as someone who’s really been the early entrepreneur innovator in the space of actually deploying VR headsets and software and education solutions into school districts. And so, I think there’s a lot that we can learn from her today. We will take off on our 30 minutes here with you and I should also say that Dr. Putman is now a consultant with I believe it’s Putman XR so you can correct me on that.

Steve Grubbs: But welcome to the VictoryXR show, Shannon.

Dr. Shannon Putman: Thank you so much. It’s an absolute honor and I am thrilled to be here.

Steve Grubbs: And you are from Kentucky and you? That’s…

Dr. Shannon Putman: Nope, I’m from Syracuse, New York.

Steve Grubbs: what I do. You really did the major part of your innovation in the state of Kentucky.

Dr. Shannon Putman: Yes, yep that I always joke, I don’t claim Kentucky, but I do claim Kentucky.

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, clearly it’s been a good marriage between the state and yourself. So talk to us a little bit about how did you get into a virtual reality education. How did that occur?

Dr. Shannon Putman: Yes, so I ended up in Kentucky. My undergrad was not in education. And so when I moved to Kentucky I was like what am I gonna do now? I guess I’ll just be a teacher and Jefferson County Public Schools JCPS here in Louisville. They saw I was gonna be a substitute teacher and they saw that I had American Sign Language experience and they’re like, hey, would you like to interview to be an assistant and a new special ed class? And I was like sure it’s benefits everything. And within three days of starting the job, I’m like, this is where I’m supposed to be. And so I went back to the University of Louisville and got my Master’s in special ed.

And with that class, it just led me to technology because I taught what was called the multimodal communication classroom. So as students who had problems orally communicating and so we used all different things, technology, everything. And so I was always using Tech to give my students accessibility in representation in different instances where they were typically the last people to be included and that just led me right into VR.

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, and clearly my background coming from state policy making a special education those classes while I was chair of the House Education committee were being filled up more and more each year and it was more and more expensive for the state and it just seemed like we were at a place where people didn’t have a lot of great solutions. And frankly, I had the opinion that a lot of times kids got tracked into special education. And I know that’s changed, and then they would just sort of stall out so finding those sorts of solutions. Very important and so about what year is this that you are in education and now you’re looking for new solutions

Dr. Shannon Putman: I started VR all about 10 years ago a little bit more when Oculus had just come out with their developmental kit, too. So they hadn’t had that consumer version out yet. So it was just wired to the computer and didn’t have any audio but it was still already amazing. And the story that I tell is: what hooked me in it was that every year I would ask my parents, What’s a goal they had for the school year? Because I had the kids for six years, because we were self-contained class and it didn’t have to be educational. And I had a mom through tears tell me they just wanted to go out to eat because their daughter did not have autism and their son did and it was too overwhelming for him. And so, I had just gotten my DK2 kit and I was like, I got this thing. Let me give it a shot. And so I went out to the Charlie’s, the local restaurant. They had a free pie Wednesday and it was, man it was happening, and I filmed in 360. And they were grea,t the managers, fantastic, the servers, other people, everything. And then I worked with him and he had to make it 60 seconds more every day.

 And after about six months, he made it an hour and 13 minutes in the restaurant. So from that moment on I was like, yep, and I’ve banked my entire career and education on it since

Steve Grubbs: Wow, that is a great story. you think about what are the use cases? And as you and I both know 360 video is not the top of the food chain when it comes to virtual reality, but it has so many practical use cases. It’s more affordable to create. 

So that I talked with a professor of Education at Northern Illinois University and he took a 360 camera put it in the middle of a gym class with children. And then put the future gym teachers in headsets. And now they had to deal with the fact that they don’t have eyes in the back of their head, you could never do that with a 2d 180 view of gym class, but now they’ve got to learn they’ve got to keep looking around and so there’s so many great use cases. I love to hear that. 

So you had this success in I’m guessing this is roughly 2014 or so something like that because the consumer version came out in 2016. So you have this success you must have…

Dr. Shannon Putman: Yeah.

Steve Grubbs: …talked about it. People must have heard about it.

Dr. Shannon Putman: Not as many as you would think but I was lucky at the time. Our elementary was a partnership school with the University of Louisville. And so with that came a grant and so we got a certain amount of money and I had a principal who he listened to me, which was great because I know how to make him look good and I was like look, I can do this. He’s like, I don’t get it, but I trust you and so I started with one wired Oculus to a computer and went from there and I even had a pulley system. So the cable was up and everything and then I went and we got 50 Oculus goes and I managed 50 headsets by myself with no management software system. So I tell the teachers now how spoiled they are in the best of ways because I would load up my dog is and my husband on Sunday and go put every headset on and update him and do everything. And then we went to buy Focus plus. And with those I opened the first VR lab in an elementary school in Kentucky. And then just kept going when the stand alone came out that really changed the game for education and I really loved the go as well.

When we went to the three dots and then the sixth off because it took us from Google Expeditions, which was fantastic because it got it started and it had great things. And it also set up some kind of false narratives I think, but it got us started but we’ve now gone from being a passive Observer to an active participant. And that’s when the real magic I saw kind of took off with VR widespread.

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, yeah, and so Oculus Go I think was 2018 something like that. You are progressing through this whole cycle,…

Dr. Shannon Putman: I think it was around there.

Steve Grubbs: You have the Oculus Rift. And the HTC Vive Pro I think came out in 16. And so I mean none of this that you just spoke about me. You spoke about it very quickly, very, nonchalantly, but none of that’s cheap or you easy when you’re the first. A lot easier today as you mentioned, but how did you persuade administrators to come on board? And then get funding?

Dr. Shannon Putman: So I don’t say this lightly and if he ever hears it, probably disagree with me, but my principal was the most narcissistic person I’ve ever met and I literally just told him this is going to make you look so good. And I told him different ways of how it make him look good so that got my initial funding. Because I knew if I could get it, because I knew the power it had, so if I could get it in then it would come for others. 

And so I did it and then when everyone  else saw the success that we were having at my school they were like, hey, we have other schools. Can you do this at other schools as well? And so then it started to come and when you can find those believers and for whatever reason they believe in it, whether it’s my only guiding principles always what’s best for students. That’s it. but if they believe in it because it’s gonna make them look good. That’s great. That’s fine too. No problems. I can work with that because it’s gonna benefit students. So finding that and then proving it and then just continuing to show the benefits.

And the biggest thing about VR in what I continue to preach is that it has to be a part of our instruction. We actually have to change our pedagogy and think differently as teachers because if we don’t then it’s just gonna be another piece of tech on the shelf and it’s gonna end up no matter. And I love that happens in the game because it means the text here to stay. But, no matter what headset comes out if we don’t learn how to use it, it’s just gonna be sitting there. And so teaching teachers, that’s what I was really good at. I could make things fun and I could make education fun. And I never did things the same way as other teachers. I didn’t use a lot of worksheets that kind of stuff and VR just fits right into that.

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, yeah, that’s so interesting. And so what was it the school that funded it or did the school assist you in getting grants?

Dr. Shannon Putman: My principal let me use our entire collaboration budget from the University of Louisville that we got and I started with it was 25,000 and he let me run with it. And so I was very fortunate in that respect and I knew that but especially being in special education. I also was very good at making things work with just one. So I would tell people I would get one headset over 30 Chromebooks now. So I was really good at working within a budget and I could make one headset work. It didn’t have to be and where I said Google Expeditions kind of set up a false narrative. I think that was one of them that teachers felt like they had to have all the kids on at the same time and I can see what they’re looking at and I’m like, okay, but why is that important? And so that it doesn’t have to be that way?

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly right. Let’s talk about some other use cases that you’re seeing out there because now you are no longer in the classroom day to day you’re now helping other schools. And what is the focus? I mean I can guess what the focus is, but if you would just go ahead and tell us the focus of your Consulting proprietorship.

Dr. Shannon Putman: That’s what it is, is teaching teachers. And I love teachers, but man we’re a group that: Is there an app for that and I’m like there doesn’t have to be an app for that. We have what we need. While we’re always going to continue to develop more and there’s always a need for specific apps. I’m not saying that at all but there needs to be a balance. And the example I always give is when I had the second grade teacher. She was like Hey, we’re working with money. You got anything with VR? Let’s teach money VR app. But there is a fishing game called Bait and every time you catch a fish, guess what? You earn money and you earn stars and it’s a certain weight. And so I was like, I Just Whipped off an Excel sheet and the kids came in and they got to play for 30 minutes. They got to fish. These are kids that some of them live two miles from the Ohio river and they’ve never seen it so they certainly had never been fishing.

And so every time they had to write down how heavy the fish was how many stars and then we took a break and we went over it and we talked in the conversations that we had/ And I’m an amazing teacher but I would have never predicted how rich and where it went. And so we talked about things like estimation, like this fish that you caught was five pounds and you got five coins. How heavy do you think it would need to be to get you 50 coins? And then we talked about how did you get the bigger fish? And girls said I went in the deeper water and why’d you go in the deeper water? The bigger fish are there because it’s colder. Why is it colder? Because the sun doesn’t reach it and I never would have predicted that. And then from that the art teacher made a project out of it because then the kids got to design their own fish. And then the teacher used it for their writing piece at the end of the year because in the game you could catch on you could catch a can and a soda can you didn’t get anything for it. They’re like, I think you should because you’re cleaning up the environment. So they’re writing piece was a persuasive letter to the game company to persuade them to add that feature that as you clean up the environment you earn more coins.

Steve Grubbs: That’s And so if schools bring you in to provide, teacher instructions are they able to use their professional development budget to pay to bring you in?

Dr. Shannon Putman: Yeah, they can use pretty much anything because as a service I can kind of cover everything which is nice. That’s kind of scary but fun being your own boss. I can align with who I want to align with and who I believe in and so that’s one of the ways is that professional development budget. I just met with a school system and they have some social emotional learning type money from their special ed department like a CTE Career Tech Ed. I can use fundings things like that. There’s a lot more out there and the best thing about VR is it fits and I say we’re only limited by imagination. So when people say can we do that in VR? I’m like, yep. It’s just how

Steve Grubbs: That’s and let’s talk about hardware a little bit. I know you work with more than one hardware device maker. What are some of your observations about how schoos should think about which VR device they should bring in?

Dr. Shannon Putman: So I always tell them that it bare minimum it needs to be, six degrees of freedom because anything less? I just don’t think so. I always say at least I would be six degrees of freedom. And then the more we’re seeing with passthrough is really neat. I think there’s some great use cases that I’m doing currently and with the Kentucky School for the Deaf where students can still see the interpreter but also still use the headset things like that and it all depends on their need and what their goal is, I think hand tracking eye tracking all that stuff is neat, but until developers catch up with it. I don’t think it’s as important. It’s kind of like when 4K TVs came out like everybody 4K, but nobody was filming in 4k, so you couldn’t watch anything. It’s kind of like that I tell people not to necessarily be wowed by the equipment. It’s what you’re using it for.

Steve Grubbs: Before you go on would you just explain to everybody what you mean when you say sixth DoF?

Dr. Shannon Putman: Yeah, so with the six degrees of freedom, that means that I can manipulate my virtual objects on all three planes. I can pitch roll. And so anything I can do in the physical world I can do in the virtual world and that’s very important because if you’re doing things like I don’t know changing oil in a car and you’re practicing it you need to be able to move your tools exactly how you would and so if you can’t have that functionality, it breaks that presence and your brain no longer thinks it’s real and then that takes down the effectiveness of what we’re trying to do.

Yeah, I think we’ve taken a pretty hard hit recently, especially with covid and everything and people not understanding what we go through on a daily basis and anybody that’s an education. I don’t feel as there because they can’t do anything else. They’re because they want to be and we take it home with us and it’s not a nine to five type of job. So we’re trying to do everything we can and we get more and more and more piled on and so I try to tell them that there’s going to be a learning curve and a little bit of front loading work that you have to do. But once you understand the tech and know how to use it in your instruction, it’s going to make your life easier and it’s going to allow you to kind of multiply yourself so you can have

What kind of more of you and be able to do more things and make it more fun? I think that’s missing in education now is like I didn’t want to go to school and do sit and get when I was a student. I certainly didn’t want to do it as a teacher. So making those off, authentic engagement opportunities with our students. And so if they can get past the initial how do I use it or does there have to be an app for that get past that and think how they can use it as a tool in their toolkit. It’s not gonna be used every day it every lesson. I mean I used it every day because it was one of the best motivators I had had ever, if you want VR then do your work then it’s the most simple concept, but we overthink it a lot of times.

Steve Grubbs: The most obvious challenges that teachers are like any other profession they exist on a bell curve. and so you’ve got the early adopters on the far right side, the first standard deviation you’ve got still early adopters on the second standard deviation. Most teachers are in that 67% in the middle. how do you find the right, because we’ve been in situations where it was a sign to a teacher and that almost always leads to failure. What’s your process on finding someone that’s going to take it and run with it or what recommendations do you have for school leadership?

Dr. Shannon Putman: That was definitely hard for me because I was that one that I always focused on the non-believers because I knew I was right and it was like but banging your head against the wall and it was like finally, I listened to people and it was like alright stop focusing on them and focus on the believers. And then if the others come around, great. If they don’t there’s nothing I can do about it. So finding just a couple champions, just anybody that’s willing to give it a shot. I tell people I’m like as a teacher you don’t need to be tech savvy I’m gonna teach you all of it. You don’t have to have any of these extra skills. You just have to be willing to give me a little bit of your time and just try all that’s all I’m asking and usually I can get a couple people and then once you get a couple then they start to come around and that’s why I say VR. We want them to have fun. And so it’s kind of like the sugary cereal concept you don’t advertise it to the adults you advertise it to the kids and then they’re in the store throw on the tantrum and they get the cereal so the more we can have a couple of people they’re willing to give it a shot and then the kids want it and everything that’s where I found kind of the magic area.

Steve Grubbs: Yeah. Yeah, I think that that’s exactly right. I mean and there’s never been an instance where students have put on a headset that I have found that they didn’t love it, we’ve run into occasionally the rare instance of a student who just doesn’t feel good inside a headset. But for the most part once they put on that headset, they love it the challenge then becomes managing the whole process and that’s where mdm’s mobile device management comes in, talk a little bit about the value of mobile device management in the classroom and in schools.

Dr. Shannon Putman: It’s absolutely critical because let’s face it. There’s not going to be a lot of people nor would I want to ask a teacher to come in on their Sunday and manage headsets and things like that. So the ability with something like ManageXR to be able to sit at your computer and do everything you need to and have your headsets ready to go when you walk in is absolutely critical. it’s not going to happen without it. I don’t think so being able to also because they don’t want to give up control and so allowing them to say, telling them hey, the kids aren’t going to be able to get on anything and less an adult the mistake or they do some NSA level hacking, because we have these protections in place and I like that as well. And there I was like, I want to be able to see what they’re doing and I’m like, okay, but you’re choosing and you’re only allowing them to choose things, so why is it that you have to so talking through those kind of things with them really helps to kind of alleviate some of those fears.

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, and the two big MDM companies right now are ArborXR and ManageXR and I think they both do a great job. And now Meta has come out with Quest for business which does many of the same things. And so, they are very keen on having their Quest for business used not just in business but also in schools. And I expect Meta to come out with a Quest for Education version of that to have their own MDM next year as well. So let’s wrap this interview up by let me ask you one more question: if you were sitting in front of it in administrator, let’s say that you could sit in front of every administrator in America and you could tell them one thing to move them in the direction of adopting XR technology and education. what would be that one thing you would explain to them?

Dr. Shannon Putman: That’s a good one. I would probably ask them: What do you want to be able to do with your kids that you currently cannot? And then when they would answer me, I would tell them how VR can make that possible. And the reason being is because if I found that if I try to say, you can do this, you can do this, you can do that. I could talk about VR forever in education because I love it, but it can be overwhelming. So as opposed to me telling them I ask them what they can’t do and then I give them a solution and that solution is VR.

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, on that point one of the things that we emphasize is we have about  150 360 VR field trips around the world that students can take, all the way from Great Wall of China to Iceland to landing on the beaches at Normandy taking off from England. It’s just a cool way for kids to travel, beyond all the rest of it with chemistry and biology and anatomy, etc. So let me just say, thank you, Shannon, for joining us. We are excited to be working with you. And we look forward to really taking this globally not just in Kentucky, not just in Iowa, not just in the United States, but everywhere and so I’m gonna give you the last word.

Dr. Shannon Putman: No, thank you. The honor was all mine. I appreciate it. And any chance I get to the spread the good word as they say and it always goes back to what’s best for students and I just leave it with I never changed the way my kids learn I change how I teach and if we can do that, I think we’ll start to. See a lot of great things happening.Steve Grubbs: Yeah, I think you’re exactly right. So for all of our listeners our guests, thank you for joining us again on this episode of The VXR Show check back next week. We will have another episode. Our goal is to publish 50 episodes this year, and we are well on our way. So remember if you liked it, please subscribe and thank you.

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.