For the generations raised in the digital age, using emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR) in their educational and work environments is not only expected — it’s welcomed. And for many, including Maria Jernigan, chief executive officer and founder of Redshift Education, Inc., these technologies also inspire their futures. THRIVE talked with Maria — a 2018 graduate who was recently named Virginia Tech Undergraduate Student of the Year — about the ways digital technologies will change education, fuel innovation and better prepare us all for a rapidly changing world.
Q: Millennials, Gen Z and younger generations have been raised on digital technologies. How does this shape your desire to innovate, to start companies such as you did, and your plans for your career?
A: The internet gives us access to the world’s knowledge, so it’s natural that the next step is for millennials and after to put that information together in new ways. The information can be overwhelming, but it can also be a source of inspiration. Having more immediate access to what headway other people are making allows me and others to build more quickly on their progress — and to apply their progress to a new field.
Students learn in groups, solving real-world problems, just like they will in their future careers. The result is not just a deep understanding of academic subjects, but also crucial skills that prepare students to thrive in the 21st century…
Q: Your company, Redshift Education, is introducing VR to the classroom with project-based learning. Why is this effective? And how will teaching with VR help students in the future?
A: Consider the world we millennials, Gen Z and beyond will be facing. We’ll be reacting to climate change and rising sea levels. We’ll be navigating shifts in geopolitical power. We’ll be both catalyzing and scrutinizing artificial intelligence’s role in our communities, and therefore revisiting what it means to be human. These are big, hairy problems that can’t be solved by a single person, and they don’t come with step-by-step directions! That’s the world we need to prepare our next generations for. And it starts in school.
Project-based learning is an innovative teaching method that puts students in the driver’s seat of their own learning. Students learn in groups, solving real-world problems, just like they will in their future careers. The result is not just a deep understanding of academic subjects, but also crucial skills that prepare students to thrive in the 21st century: clear communication, collaborating in diverse teams, technology literacy and a problem-solving mentality.
It’s very exciting to think about virtual reality added to this mix: If students could make anything, go anywhere and collaborate with anyone in the world, what kinds of climate change solutions might they come up with? If they get practice with complex challenges now, what kinds of marks on the world will they leave when they enter the real world? Teaching with project-based learning, aided by virtual reality, gives me immense optimism for our world’s future.
Teaching with project-based learning, aided by virtual reality, gives me immense optimism for our world’s future.
Q: Virtual reality is a hot topic that Gen Z is gravitating to. Why is it a necessity for business professionals to understand and adopt it for their organizations?
A: VR and similar technologies are morphing so quickly that it can be hard to know how to adopt it — or even to understand it. What’s vital is that business leaders stay curious, and that they keep reading about where emerging technology is headed. The future of business belongs to those who a) remain humble and hungry to learn more; b) experiment fearlessly with how new innovations could better solve their customers’ problems; and c) maintain sobriety about “technology for technology’s sake.” Millennial and Gen Z talent is drawn to that curiosity-boldness-intentionality trifecta.
The future of business belongs to those who a) remain humble and hungry to learn more; b) experiment fearlessly with how new innovations could better solve their customers’ problems; and c) maintain sobriety about “technology for technology’s sake.”
Q: Outside of VR, is there any way that you see technology changing education in the future?
A: I’m hopeful for how technology might enhance the way we measure and give feedback on student learning. Instead of telling a student she gets an A in social studies at the end of an assignment, what if we could give that student detailed feedback on different aspects of her learning, in real time, throughout the completion of the unit? “You led that group meeting well when you made sure that each of your groupmates had an opportunity to contribute to the brainstorming session. And you seem to have a better understanding of the causes of World War I than its effects, based on what you contributed to the conversation. Before you move on with your group project, maybe try this individual mini-assignment to bolster that part of your understanding.”
I see a future that combines “competency-based” and “classroom-based” assessments (that’s the industry jargon, in case anyone wants to read more about this stuff). Since a teacher can only have so much contact time with each student, there’s great work being done on how technology could facilitate this kind of real-time feedback that covers both skills and content knowledge. It’s a huge potential game-changer that I strive to contribute toward.
I call on policy makers, educators and tech entrepreneurs to put their heads together and experiment with evidence-based, student-centered innovations in education. If this sounds like you, let’s definitely get in contact; the collaboration between those three groups is key for making meaningful headway in education with technology.
Maria Jernigan is fiercely passionate about re-envisioning secondary schooling to create a more meaningful and inclusive learning experience, while also empowering students with the skills and characteristics that our globalized world will require. This interest in innovative teaching has led her to work with educators in Finland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and across the United States. She is currently a Lifelong Learning and Future of Work fellow for California-based Summit.Ahead (summitahead.org), the CEO and Founder of Redshift Education, and a Spanish teacher at Community High School in Roanoke, Virginia.