Education General Stanford Start Ups VR/AR

Virtual, Disruptive and Integrative: Virtual Reality in the Classroom


 Nathan Kong at Stanford

Update, May 2017 :  Read what this startup is up to including a summer hacker house and  get a free VR App from DIVR.   Immunity Defender is free for now –  Check out how to be an immune cell fighting off pathogens and what Nathan has been up to. Click for the UPDATE

There were days in elementary school when I would have given anything to get out of school or disrupt the class. However, either one would have put me in a world of trouble.

Fast forward to Silicon Valley, Stanford, and Nathan Kong. Nathan is creating worlds of ones and zeros and they are disruptive as they help kids and teachers escape the boring and irrelevant aspects of education. Virtual worlds of educational material bring everything to life in an amazing perspective. (For future gen kids, TY Nathan!)

When I was in school the word “disrupted” was only used in context of, “You disrupted the class while I was trying to teach.” Or, “Those antics are disruptive.”

Yet today, we honor the word disrupt.  As well we should, for it is time to put away things that don’t work for us any more: fossil fuels, coal, high pricing for overnight stays, transportation, the way we pay for things. But fundamentally, basically, bottom line, school is broken and needs disrupting. Schools of today are based on the agriculture of yesterday. It was the changing of the seasons which decided when kids could work and when they could return to school – the crops dictated curriculum starts and stops. 

But more than that, we have the top down, “father knows best,” mentality of one curriculum decided by a school board and delivered by a single mouth piece – the teacher. Students are vessels to be filled. End of story. It gives new meaning to the phrase “old school.” 

But the story is being rewritten. Sometimes rewritten in cognitive maps, sometimes in code. And maybe where the two overlap is the future.

Do we expect those kids of the agricultural system to design 3D printed vascular systems or organs? I hope not, but we do. Will they be prepared to think outside the box, handle random new data points and make sense of them, deal with uncertainty and know it is a container of information as much as the times or periodic table?

Education is busy re-inventing itself but it isn’t easy, profitable and doesn’t attract mega stars. But maybe that is changing. Project XQ for example.

Think of Steve Jobs and maybe you see an iPod, an iPhone or a glass retail store.  Or maybe you think of the genius bar. But what you probably don’t think of or know about is his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, and what she began long before Steve died and continues to this day.  She’s disrupting education – with her networking skills, empathy and philanthropy.  She donated $50 million to rethink high school. Bravo! Laurene is founder of Emerson Collective, a project to help under achieving high schools and is on the board of Project XQ.

And let’s say bravo to Nathan, also of the Palo Alto area. Stanford, CA to be exact. Nathan is a freshman at Stanford doing what he began in high school with his friend and partner, Xiaohann Gao (pictured here)  a freshman at Cornell University. Xiaohan Gao  Nathan operates as the business and management cofounder and Xiaohan functions as the technical cofounder.

Nathan is taking kids out of the boxes that define the elementary school curriculum and opening up new worlds with his app in beta called DIVR Edu. You can get it now for free on the app store. iOS currently, Android coming soon.

Nathan says his app is not meant to replace school textbooks, but to supplement them. Remember field trips? Remember studying dinosaurs and then wow – you got to the Natural History Museum – and ‘big’ took on real meaning.  For me, going to the Betsy Ross House or Benjamin Franklin’s house in old Philadelphia that made a world of difference. Those ceilings were low! The stairs were tiny! I wish all my classes brought experiences to life like that. 

Nathan is doing that for every area of study. Virtually. Nathan took me on a virtual field trip as I was shrunk down onto a computer chip where I explored and learned about different components. I was immersed in 1’s and 0’s to learn about how computers store memory using binary and I loved it. You can do it too. Right now. Download the app:

Putting kids in a virtual world to learn uses the brain in a new way. Learning becomes a form of muscle memory when it is immersive.

Nathan describes his product this way: DIVR Edu’s vision is to provide the next generation of children with the next generation of educational technology through our mobile app: DIVR.  Our product aims to use Virtual Reality technology to create an immersive and educative experience for students and teachers alike. DIVR creates an interactive and immersive educational experience to supplement conventional learning by providing 3D worlds in which students can explore the descriptions within the textbook. Instead of reading a boring textbook and testing over material that they will soon forget, students can directly view and manipulate the very content the books try to teach and develop a true understanding of the topic at hand. Students can explore the inside of a circuit board, view the components of a cell, and interact with a mass spectrometer in real-time. This is accomplished through a mobile app that launches 3D Virtual Reality worlds via Google Cardboard.

Peter Diamandis, MD of Singularity University and X Prize Foundation  is an influencer in the world of future tech. He is a huge proponent of VR in the field of education. He has been known to talk about democratizing the educational experience through VR. Nathan Kong talked about this too: that the child in the poorer school district has access to the same tools and fields of study and as the child in the $35K a year classroom.

Power on, Nathan and Xiaohan.  Stephen Hawking says we have to leave this planet before a 1000 years is up.  We need the kids of today to prepare for the tomorrows that are nothing like the yesterdays.  With education like that from DIVR Edu, we can do it.

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