The Silver Lining of a COVID-19 Learning Environment

There is no question this has been a school year filled with challenges we never thought we would have to deal with in our careers in education. CTE is so much different from academic classes where a textbook may be the only piece of equipment students need to successfully complete the course. CTE is lab and skill development focused. How do you recreate a welding or culinary arts lab situation virtually for students to demonstrate skill proficiency? Even if students are in school during this pandemic there are unprecedented breaks in teaching and learning. Students are absent because they have tested positive or are quarantined. Buildings are closed for periods of time because of the need to clean or there are staff shortages. This makes it very difficult to consistently deliver curriculum and with all the restrictions about proximity skill development is difficult to achieve. 

Virtual reality is technology that just last year seemed years away from being commonplace in classrooms, now it is possibly one of best ways for us to deliver instruction in a real-world way across every pathway. Last year at the Career Tech Vision conference I had the opportunity to experience virtual reality and was completely amazed and walked away thinking within the next 10 years, after I retire, our students will have the opportunity to try out this new emerging technology. COVID-19 has fast tracked that technology into our classrooms now. 

Virtual reality has been popular amongst gamers for several years but now is moving into the teaching/training world. Alaska ACTE hosted their virtual state conference in early October this year and a highlight of the conference was a presentation by Richard Webb and Matt Moore of Designori, an Alaska developed company that specializes in creating virtual reality for training our Alaska students. The company seeks out young people, early to mid-twenties, who have strong coding and computer skills to create training situations specifically for Alaska programs. They are close to completing a program for maritime training at Alaska Vocational Technical Education Center in Seward, Alaska using real Alaska vessels and docking facilities. Nothing is contrived. Students get to see, learn, and do the actual skills needed to become proficient at skills needed to be successful in the maritime industry. 

The company wants to work with school districts to create training opportunities that are used in the industries in the community that students will be going into. The cost of creating the technology is very reasonable. They are building their own workforce and with every project are becoming more efficient. Their goal is to focus on the needs of education and has the cost of the technology very affordable. 

This will quickly change the way we deliver programs and increase our ability to expand programs without building new facilities purchasing expensive equipment. Had the COVID-19 pandemic never happened we would still be several years away from even thinking about bringing virtual reality into our schools as a common technology. As the dust settles on the pandemic it will be interesting to see what other emerging technologies have been adopted and are now mainstreamed into curriculums and classrooms.