14. Building Community with a Virtual Campus

May 31, 2021 Amy Baron Season 1 Episode 14
14. Building Community with a Virtual Campus
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14. Building Community with a Virtual Campus
May 31, 2021 Season 1 Episode 14
Amy Baron

GUEST: CARRIE PURCELL, CEO, TECH-ADAPTIKA The pandemic has been a catalyst for change in higher education, forcing us to look at how little the brick-and-mortar experience has evolved over time. As the cost of attending college increases, new models are emerging, like free online courses, boot camps, and microcredentials. In order to survive, residential colleges will have to explore different approaches for how to reduce infrastructure costs and reach a broader audience. One new model is the virtual campus experience, which can facilitate the ability to interact spontaneously with peers,  promote a sense of community, and incorporate online learning.

Show Notes Transcript

GUEST: CARRIE PURCELL, CEO, TECH-ADAPTIKA The pandemic has been a catalyst for change in higher education, forcing us to look at how little the brick-and-mortar experience has evolved over time. As the cost of attending college increases, new models are emerging, like free online courses, boot camps, and microcredentials. In order to survive, residential colleges will have to explore different approaches for how to reduce infrastructure costs and reach a broader audience. One new model is the virtual campus experience, which can facilitate the ability to interact spontaneously with peers,  promote a sense of community, and incorporate online learning.

Amy Baron  0:06  

Hey everybody, I'm Amy Baron. And this is Upskilled: solutions in the learning universe, where I talk with professionals in education and workforce development, about practices and perspectives that catalyze positive change.


Amy Baron  0:23  

Okay, welcome to upskilled. We are here today with Carrie Purcell. Carrie is co founder and CEO of Tech-AdaptiKa, which is a Toronto based ed tech startup, building virtual reality campuses and immersive event spaces. So after 15 years in education as a teacher, publisher, Education Technology distributor, Carrie shifted her focus to entrepreneurship, and focuses now on emerging technologies. She has founded several startups. And she continues to advise on future of education and future of work initiatives for local and government projects. We are very excited to welcome Carrie to the podcast. 


Carrie Purcell

Thanks, Amy. Happy to be here. 


Amy Baron

Great, great to have you. So it's June 2021, the CDC here in the US is easing mask restrictions, we seem to be entering a new phase of the pandemic. And a story that's been getting a lot of news is this idea of the return to the office and how many people have found that they like working at home just fine. And that having some portion, at least of their work, landscape, incorporate working from home is a benefit and they enjoy it. And so there's this questioning of place based work and whether that is the way everything should be 100% of the time. And it seems that that answer to that is no. In addition, we've seen with traditional residential colleges and universities have looked a lot more like their virtual counterparts over the past year. And so they too are kind of parsing, what part of this should we keep? What part of this is worth preserving what parts are not? So there's really a lot to talk about, in terms of the dynamic between the virtual world and the real world. And virtual meeting spaces is one area that has really taken off. And that is what tech adaptive good does. So I wanted to talk today carry about the idea of a virtual meeting space. We've all been mostly on zoom or Google meets or any of a number of video chat platforms. Why is that not enough today?


Carrie Purcell  3:05  

So we've had it depending on where you are and what your context is at least a solid year of exploring what platforms can replace interactions that may have happened previously in person? What platforms can connect to people how, how they do that? How they do that? Well, how they don't do that? Well.


Carrie Purcell  3:27  

And within that, I think if you were asking me from Well, a personal or business perspective, why does a video conference not work? Well, Mansur is that different technologies work for work well in different contexts. And we've had time to analyze in which context, a video conference is not is not enough. So video platform is going to work really well for a one on one planned conversation, we have a scheduled time that we're going to meet, I want to see your face, I want to see your reactions, we want it to feel like we're talking to one another. And that might extend beyond one on one to one to a small group. So maybe I have three or four with me, this is working pretty well still. It can also work really well for a structured planned presentation where it's important for the audience to see my face. And but they're not. They're not interacting. They're going to sit quietly and listen, we're going to be on mute. I as a presenter, I am losing some of those visual cues because I'm not seeing my full audience in front of me but it's still going to work. Okay, so there's no reason to take any of that away.


Carrie Purcell  4:35  

But there's a whole lot around that that we aren't getting. So we aren't getting the spontaneous. We are getting the unscheduled, we aren't getting the walk to the meeting down the hall together. We're losing that sense of community. You know, there are a lot of things that we just it fits a place and I don't think we should take that away. I think it's comfortable for people and we know how it works, but I also don't think that we should squish it into it.


Carrie Purcell  5:00  

You know, this idea of, for example, logging in for eight hours a day and seeing my colleagues, but I'm going to sit and work quietly like that. It just doesn't, it isn't built for that. And there's no reason to try to make it work that way.


Carrie Purcell  5:11  

And and, and so I'll pause in a moment, but I think at Tech-AdaptiKa what's really cool is we do explore different and emerging technologies, but we also integrate the ones that work that are comfortable that people like, we don't have to pick one or the other. 


Amy Baron  

Yeah, so since you're bringing up Tech-AdaptiKa, uh, why don't we take this opportunity to hear a little bit about what Tech-AdaptiKa is doing differently? And how it's really kind of shifting that paradigm of just sitting one on one in a zoom call or a zoom meeting?


Carrie Purcell  5:43  

Mm hmm. Absolutely. So, Tech-AdaptiKa is recreating virtually the same type of spaces and interactions that you would have if you could meet together in person. So I know you mentioned at the beginning that we create virtual campuses, we create virtual classrooms, we create virtual conference centers. So think of,


Carrie Purcell  6:08  

you know, a space that looks exactly like what you would walk into if you're if you were showing up in person. And I'm going to show up in the form of an avatar, and that avatar is going to look like me, I'm going to customize my hair, and my height, and my clothes and all of these things.


Carrie Purcell  6:23  

And I'm going to walk through the space, I'm going to talk to somebody, I'm going to join a class, I'm going to sit down if if I'm doing independent work, and I can still do it on this campus. 


Amy Baron

And just to situate listeners in terms of what the actual dynamic is, and the environment, you as the user are sitting at a computer or at a screen. And what you see on the screen is a simulated reality. So you see a campus on the screen, which you in a similar fashion to a video game, you can kind of walk through the simulated environment, you can go from place to place, you can have a voice conversation, text conversation.


Amy Baron  7:12  

So you know, I've seen the environment, and it's really cool. So I just wanted to add that in case some user or some listeners might be having trouble picturing what this is. 


Carrie Purcell  

Yeah, no, that's, that's great to try to add the visualization to what we're what we're what we're doing and speaking. And so so very much, that's what the design is. And when we put that in the context of education, that ends up being kind of the idea of going to the library or going to your learning management system. So we integrate in a learning management system. And I can sit down and work on my assignments. And I can submit them or watch a video or read something that my professor has posted. But the difference with a tech adaptive environment is I'm still in the bottom corner, I still see the campus. So if my friends show up on campus, I'm going to see them, they can text me while I'm studying, they can send me or they or my professor can send me a notification that my class is about to start. So now I'm going to probably close down my work, go back to the campus, I'm just going to click on it. And it's going to take over my screen and I'm going to walk to my classroom, sit down and, and so on. And one thing I'll add is like the beauty of what happens in a classroom or on a campus kind of happens after that structured class. So while the tech adapts the environment may make it easier to do group work to have lots of little types of things, interactions and conversations happening at the same time. And it does and it's beautiful in that way. It's what happens at the end of class. So I can talk to the person who just experienced that with me. I can walk out together, I can hang on as long as I want. We don't get that with video conferencing. Right, we hang up. And then I'm I'm alone again in the environment that I was I was in by myself. So really heightening that sense of isolation, which so many of us have felt in this this pandemic experience. 


Amy Baron

What's happening in higher education with the the increase in institutions that are offering fully online programs now, what are they up to?


Carrie Purcell  9:18  

I think what's happening in higher education right now it's so interesting. You mentioned online courses, and there was an increase in online course offerings, pre COVID. But of course, for so many institutions going 100% online was a bit of a surprise. And and people were reactive about that. When we look at higher ed pre COVID. You have two camps. So you have people who say that higher ed has not changed in decades. And you have people claiming that higher ed is innovative or becoming innovative and I think in that camp, it is precisely the rise in online course offerings in doing something a little bit more dynamic than pure


Carrie Purcell  10:00  

asynchronous course that maybe used to be a MOOC, and now we're offering some synchronous options, the adoption of technology, the focus on experiential learning, so offering Capstone type projects and different types of work integrated learning opportunities.


Carrie Purcell  10:17  

But the other camp, you know, says higher ed is static, they there's too much bureaucracy to be innovative and move forward. tuitions continue to rise, and students aren't being prepared for the workforce. These are the types of criticisms that we hear.


Carrie Purcell  10:34  

And I think it's really interesting to think about that, because it really comes back to the business model, the business model is I think, what hasn't changed in higher education. And by that, I mean, what I described, so we're offering in higher education, a product or a service that we have pre determined internally, we're offering it at set price. And that price actually increases every year, which we know


Carrie Purcell  10:57  

it's becoming cost prohibitive for some of the clientele in some cases, it's becoming elitist.


Carrie Purcell  11:04  



Carrie Purcell  11:06  

what is happening is, we it is, at some point going to start to affect the business, right, we are seeing other types of businesses pop up, we're seeing private academies, we're seeing boot camps, we're seeing free online courses, and microcredentials, and all of these things that are fitting the need of the of the the market, and potentially getting them to their goal faster, right. And that goal is, is getting the skills that I need to be able to get a job. So, so higher education is really interesting, right? How we if we keep that in mind, what is it going to look like going forward, and online learning, it offers a few benefits to a brick and mortar institution. So we can potentially start to reduce some of that, you know, infrastructure cost, we can reach a broader audience. So maybe it's going to cost a little bit less, which would be great. If we can build that in. Maybe I can reach people outside of my region that can't come and study in person that's going to increase my enrollments is going to increase my, my tuition. There are these benefits that we know are happening. And we also know that pre COVID


Carrie Purcell  12:16  

everybody who was studying in person had an interest, we have maybe 20 to 30%, depending on where you look that we're taking online courses in, well studying in person, right? So we have that interest where people wanted some flexibility, I want to be in the community and show up in person. But I'm going to take a few classes in my own time. And the pandemic, in so many ways has been a catalyst for change in education, for a chance to explore different models, how to reach people, what's working, and what we can do going forward. Yes. 


Amy Baron

So tell us how a university might implement Tech-AdaptiKa? How do they get people to use it? What exactly are some of the use cases? 


Carrie Purcell  

Hmm, I think I'll start by just pointing out that we existed pre pandemic pre COVID. So there's a very, very comfortable use case for online learning happening in our environment. And, as you can tell, but I'll just point it out, the focus that we're trying to improve is that synchronous element. So we see lots of asynchronous models that work just fine. But the idea of being able to interact with your peers, the idea of kind of building community of reducing isolation, those things are pretty hard when you're when you're on an asynchronous platform. So we're, again, not taking away the asynchronous studying, but we are adding that synchronous element and kind of amping it up, or making it a little more fun and engaging.


Carrie Purcell  13:50  

That's for sure. And so, with that said, you know, a simple use cases, I walk into a class like I used to do before, we don't make you take a seat, because you don't have to in you know, your legs aren't going to get tired, you're not going to get in somebody's way, you can zoom into anything that you need to see. So you're going to walk in, and you're going to be directed by your instructor. And in this case, you know, it may be more beneficial to avoid a traditional lecture style and start to do some q&a and start to do some group work because actually have a group with me that can that can have these conversations.


Carrie Purcell  14:25  

Now that said, once COVID started, we not only developed many, many more additional use cases, but we learned a ton from the market. a use case that I love is the idea that some of what people used to do in person in a community and in an educational environment was had nothing to do with textbooks that had nothing to do with classroom lectures. But it did have to do with team building it had to do with shared values and shared principles and also things that were kind of fun. So one use case that I love is we've been a


Carrie Purcell  15:00  

able to replicate or add on or recreate I'll say


Carrie Purcell  15:05  

the idea of a an in person orientation. Think like Frosh week, right? So Frosh week is like huge when you join that campus environment in that community and people have not had that, or they've had some version of it that is, is not the same as what they were doing in person. We've been able to recreate those types of interactions and activities on our virtual campus. And they the clients have taught us like, we typically say, you know, what works? Well. Try doing a scavenger hunt, try having groups answer trivia, try doing these things. And they come back and say, well, we want to do karaoke, we want to do movie nights, we want to do much we get to races that are much more intricate than than what your what you have already done. And we've been able to build and accommodate that it's been like, incredibly fun to see how people respond and use the tech in front of them.


Amy Baron

Yeah, one thing that I found really cool when I entered the space is that you are you have agency as an avatar, you walk into a space and you can go to the left, you can go to the right, if you see a group playing a game over here, or you know, going to look at movie times or whatever you can kind of go wherever you want. And it gives you the ability to explore in a way that, you know, most other virtual environments really don't have so so in terms of structuring an experience for multiple groups or types of users, you can do that much more easily with this platform. 


Carrie Purcell  

Absolutely. We do we say, with everybody that we talked to, we say we're multiplying those interactions, because again, rather than the one way talk that we'd be having otherwise, we really can have all of these little conversations happening, all of these activities happening, you have choice in where you're going. And the tech is cool enough to know when I decided to turn to the right, I can hear the things through my right speaker right or my right your phone, if I'm on the left, I can hear something happening on the left. And when I turn that way, it's now going to be in front of me full volume. There's a lot a lot of fun we can do with the spatial audio and the space itself. Yeah, very cool. Is there anything else you wanted to mention about the platform that we haven't talked about? It is video game, like anybody who is quote, a gamer, it will look quite familiar. But it isn't a video game. It really is an extension of real life. And it is designed in such a way that it's incredibly intuitive, as well as light. So a lot of video games are going to be super high on graphics, they're going to require now some pretty hefty hardware. And because we're working in education, we it's incredibly important to us that the that accessibility is an absolute priority. And that means hardware, it also means internet and bandwidth. So we do want to keep the requirements as light as possible. And we level ourselves a step below zoom. So if you can run zoom, you can run what we're doing. It's just going to look at kind of fun and interactive, but you're going to be able to use it. 


Amy Baron

I think it's incredibly cool. It's an incredibly new concept for most people to to be able to interact virtually in such an autonomous way. And I encourage folks to take a look at it. 


Carrie Purcell  

It's certainly a lot of fun. We want everybody to come on. And I think we're at this really interesting time, as you started the show, thinking about future of work thinking about future of education, and for education. There's so much change happening, there's so much competition around the corner. We'd love to be a part of what that change can look like and taking education to the next step. Absolutely, absolutely. We are we are definitely at some sort of tipping point with higher ed, I I'm not sure exactly what will come of it. But there's no doubt that a lot has been called into question. So I think that for higher ed to be competitive, it's it's that business model, it's looking at the what the market is requiring, and that is the student right. So that's a student asking for accessibility asking for lower tuitions. And it's also looking at the workforce and the workforce is saying I need students that are trained in this that they have this skill set that are ready to go to work. And experiential learning is a step toward that. But we're bureaucracy may plan is you know how long it can take to get new courses and new curriculum approved and that may not that may be out of sync with what the workforce is requiring and how fast their pace is moving. 


Amy Baron

Thank you so much for that succinct summary of the situation and thank you for coming on. It's been a pleasure chatting 


Carrie Purcell  

Thanks, Amy.


Unknown Speaker  20:03  

And thank you all for listening to upskilled this episode has been brought to you by convergent learning specializing in education technology, product consulting and market strategy. You can follow me on LinkedIn or on Twitter at Amy Baron one. That's AmyBaron1. And we'll see you next time on upskill


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