Lessons Learned from Over 100 VR English Lessons

Michael McDonald, TEFL-qualified English teacher from the UK and founder of the Gold Lotus language consultancy in Italy, and co-team leader of the Educators in VR vLanguage Arts Team Project and teaches English language skills in the new EDVR Institute.

After completing over 100 150 VR English lessons in AltspaceVR, Michael sheds some light on the lessons learned and reflections from the experience. His experiences will help future educators approach this new way of teaching as he shares his vision of how this technology can be the vehicle for positive change the global consciousness.

Gold Lotus in ENGAGE teaching restaurant and cafe use for English Language teaching.

What I have learned most from teaching over 100 English language lessons in Altspace is much more than how to teach a foreign language. It is how to exude inspiration for the benefit of my students, and how to raise an awareness and consciousness in the metaverse to be taken back into the physical realm.

In a nutshell, I’ve learned to be kinder and compassionate. I’ve learned that patience for teaching in VR requires a new level of commitment. Without a doubt, I’ve learned to trust my instincts, but also to step back and reevaluate my choices, listen, and look for clues in how to reach students in ways I never imagined. I’ve learned that there are infinite ways to immerse students in lifestyle, cultural, history, and society in general to explore language. I’ve learned that the technology for language learning is here, now, in virtual reality. Most of all, I’ve witnessed the ground-breaking revolution in VR for education, and I want to do more.

The experience however was not without its pitfalls, so let’s start with those first because we all love a happy ending.

Teaching Public Workshops is an Open Invitation to Everyone

In the early days of teaching in virtual reality I held the naïve belief that people would be better behaved in VR than they would be in, say, the asylum of many YouTube video comment sections.

ENGAGE VR - Exploring US Whitehouse with Gold LotusMy completely unscientific premise was grounded on the now comical belief that if people embodied a virtual avatar, with moving limbs and the ability talk to them and clearly reflect their emotions through virtual body language like hand gestures, head movements or physical proximity in real time, that this would serve as an antidote to idiocy, passive-aggressive behaviour or general naughtiness. My pseudo-scientific hypothesis was about as far from reality as the recent VR English lesson I did in ENGAGE taking a group of unmasked Norwegian students into the White House on the eve of the last US Presidential Election.

The reason I was wrong can be seen in everyday life. Open a bar in London. Many patrons on your premises will be welcomed. They come, guzzle their beverage of choice and leave. It won’t take long however before you see a different type of creature skulking its way through your door – intent on ridiculing the inexperienced member of staff struggling to grapple with the art that is pouring the perfect pint of Guinness, to others who have no regard for the sanctity of a public toilet. As someone who used to clean and then “pull pints” behind the bar of my local pub, I can only say that it was a harrowing yet valuable character-forming period of my life. The same can be said for venues like Altspace.

You literally see the best and worst (within reason) of humanity in social VR. In the last twelve weeks alone, I’ve virtually – no, really, virtually as in not physically, as opposed to “almost” (still with me?) – kicked out people for screaming and/or silently muttering the full array of English-language profanities, talking about self-pleasure or my pet hate: passive-aggressive behaviour in the form of continuous interruptions with vacuous comments or quips which are clearly designed to throw-off balance the harmony and good vibes of the learning and cultural exchange taking place.

Luckily, these incidents are uncommonly common and limited to events open to the public, thus, the open door policy for many pubs where anyone may walk through the doors, and often do.

Trusting Your Tingling Spidey Senses

Gold Lotus English Language Class - in the Bathroom - AltspaceVR.There are times, as with the drunken loon in your London bar, that you have to call in the heavies – in this case the deadly combination of hovering your VR controller or mouse (if on your PC) over the offender’s avatar and selecting the “kick” icon in their name tag, a privilege offered to events hosts and moderators. From there you select the explanation for removal from the event that best fits the crime. Simple. Kind of.

A few months ago I was teaching in Altspace to a group of around twenty people. It was 11am for me in Italy, meaning the room was filled with Europeans, Asians and the odd nocturnal North American. Native-English-speaking Californians, 2AM their time, are here to learn English. They seem to know each other due to the camaraderie among them. My spidey-senses are tingling. I give them the benefit of the doubt. After a short while the flatulence begins (them, not me). Farting noises ensue, from where they’re standing.

At this point the optimist in me is thinking that if I tell them to stop doing something, they’ll stop. Experience as a teacher dealing with children (or those who possess the mind of a child temporarily) tells me that “stop doing that” translates to “keep doing that”. Give them a second chance. Everyone deserves a sec… there’s fart number two. Without hesitation I slide my avatar towards the huddle where the noise is coming from and rid the room of four disruptive individuals.

Gold Lotus English Language Class - in the kitchen with fruit discussing food in AltspaceVR.

I won’t lie. The relief it brought me for not having to police them felt good. It was a quick fix. They were gone and unable to return to the event. Where else could I so easily take the reins of the law in my hands and wield such justice? The lesson goes on.

After the class, one of the disruptors did something which can only be admired – he resurrected his Twitter account to message me asking why I would do that to him. At this point, given his genuine dismay at what had happened I unblocked him from the upcoming event and he had been a valuable addition to the conversation before the trouble. I go for the second chance opportunity. His temporary banning was a mistake on my part – I cast blame by association. I wasn’t sure who was passing wind so I booted everyone in the proximity it was occurring.

This happens in VR and in real life – you let the intensity of a situation get the better of you and make rash decisions which can potentially lead to people branded as guilty when they most definitely are not. What if this were a student on a year-long course and his parents were paying for him to be there in order to pass an exam. I wouldn’t have had the luxury of being so trigger-happy, or at least would have had to justify my actions afterwards.

Onto my second mistake I regret from these past 100 lessons. A few months later, this same individual – a quite jovial and often talkative chap – began to assert his presence a bit too strongly on the group dynamic. Too many jokes, too much laughter. Other more passive attendees informed me that they felt he was slightly distracting nature to the class. One lesson I let my frustrations get the better of me and in front of the group of a few dozen people, shut him down quite abruptly and flat-out asked him why he felt the need to continually bring the attention to him. He left the lesson within the following minutes, then started messaging me apologising for causing offence and that he would probably take a break from our events.

Cue the compassionate teacher. I responded, asking him to meet me in the Campfire, a popular gathering space in AltspaceVR. We shared our feelings about the situation under a rather old, sprawling virtual tree. I took the time to understand more about the person he was – a student, interestingly quite well-read on aspects relating to language acquisition in children – and had the opportunity to apologise for not approaching him privately about his behavior.

Since then, his participation in the classes has been very different, adding genuinely productive interjections in the class, and supporting others to learn English better. It added a wonderful flavour to the learning and social experience.

Micheal McDonald teaches English to global students in VR.

I learned to bear in mind that people aren’t necessarily fully aware of how they are coming across to others, and a gentle comment in private can serve as the perfect remedy to bring everyone onto the same page. I learned valuable lessons about how to interact with people in virtual worlds, and how not being trigger happy with the moderation tools can save a lot of bad blood.

Since then, I’ve been more conscious of how I deal with people who aren’t the right fit for my English lessons. Is it right to banish someone rudely from your Shakespeare book club because they want to talk about Dostoyevsky? Maybe, but there are a series of steps I believe we must follow before clicking the kick button.

Given that we rely so much on voice in these virtual spaces since facial expressions and body language (apart from flailing your arms around) is pretty much non-existent, I’ve learned to embrace the power of enunciation – speaking clearly, tone of voice, emotional influences.

I’ve learned to keep people on their toes by projecting my voice and most importantly tap into the atmosphere of the space and modify that quickly. This is something that takes practice, and thankfully there are events throughout the day on Altspace and many other VR meeting platforms to help you refine your speaking skills.

Even in the face of inappropriate behaviour, we must set an example of politeness if we are to use this new medium as a vehicle for positive change. That starts with giving people the benefit of the doubt, and reminding them that there are people around them who mean no harm, winning the hearts and minds of our students.

The Logistics of Running Classes in AltspaceVR

As the Educators in VR co-founder Lorelle VanFossen once joked, running virtual events is like flying a jumbo jet. You’ve a number of things to keep your eye on and turbulence may hit at any time.

When I teach English in AltspaceVR, I’m usually in my Oculus Quest VR headset, as well as logged in on my laptop as another avatar. Not only does this avatar serve as the eyes through which the event is captured on film for later promotion but it gives me another quick perspective about what attendees other than me the teacher is seeing. For example, there have been times when I have seen the presentation slides on my Quest and not in the 2D view on my laptop, helping to isolate and respond to technical issues before the attendees notice.

Gold Lotus English lesson in a jungle tree house in AltspaceVR.

March 2020 saw me deliver a full consecutive 24 hours of English lessons in virtual reality to raise money for the Italian Red Cross in Italy to support them in their fight against Coronavirus. My usual classes last thirty minutes. When you are not only teaching English from inside the headset, but moving slides, engaging attendees, and capturing film footage via your avatar on the laptop (which requires juggling the VR controllers to lift up the headset from the sweat-covered brow), and keeping your eyes peeled for trouble-makers – it can be quite intense, yet exhilarating.

It is then you realise the importance of the expertise of the team like Educators in VR for support. Since joining them at the start of 2019 to launch the vLanguage Team Project, it has been wonderful to see them evolve into a full-stack virtual events production company.

Imagine the complexity of a VR event when attendees and speakers cover multiple time zones, training speakers to feel comfortable navigating the virtual space, integrating and managing slides or other audio-visual effects into the event, and booking, managing, and supporting the event with moderators. You quickly see their value.

Would it have crossed your mind to design the space devoid of nooks and crannies for virtual tyrants to stealthily park themselves and wreak havoc on your all-important event with a blitzkrieg of flatulence? Probably not and this is where VR event organisers like Educators in VR really come into their own. I am honored to have learned under their tutelage how to improve my hosting and moderation abilities and so grateful for their continued support.

Michael McDonald - Gold Lotus vlanguage learning

Other advice I’d give is to mould the tools, features, and worlds on offer to the particular learning objectives you have in mind as the teacher. Altspace has a smorgasbord of worlds on offer – anything from cities, to cafes to ancient historical sites. Use the world search feature on the web version of AltspaceVR. Favorite ones that look interesting. Visit them and consider how you could adapt those environments to add more context to the topics you’re covering in your classes.

Don’t be shy to use more traditional locations. A space like an office or classroom might cause VR evangelists to grimace and ridicule you for not making the most out of the metaverse’s time-space bending capabilities, but I’ve seen best results among my students when I strike the right balance between epic field trips around the world to expose them to highly contextual language in realistic settings then balancing that with a more sober debrief of the grammar structures and vocabulary learned in an environment that is somewhat less distracting.

VR a Catalyst for Unprecedented Global Change

It could be argued that the longer a police officer serves, the more acutely aware he or she becomes of the danger that exists in the world around them. Countless exposures to situations of peril and conflict honed their ability to foresee certain events and either diffuse them before the point of eruption or be on the front foot should all hell break loose.

Teachers are the same. If you’ve ever spent any time at the coal face of education – standing on your own at the front of a class staring down the barrel of thirty sets of eyeballs, you can’t help but liken it to a lion encountering a group of cackling hyenas in the unforgiving Serengeti. Show too much weakness and they will be feasting on your sorry carcass within hours, show too much strength and the toxic atmosphere will breed tension, revolts and poor performance for all concerned.

Only through experience can a teacher truly tune into the energy of a class. When you do tap into it, the autumn months bring new students, and new dynamics for you to adapt to. You’d be hard-pushed to find an entirely angelic class anywhere. It is the teacher’s job to try to keep the lid on negative energy bubbling over onto the other students and spoiling the integrity of the lesson, while maintaining a level of sensitivity to the reasons why people act the way they do and that their behaviour may well be a direct consequence of a deeply troubled home life or other.

Michael McDonald - English lessons in a cafe in AltspaceVR.

This melting pot of factors is reflected in VR. In my experience, approaching questionable behaviour with politeness and even a sprinkling of humour can continue to reinforce the idea that mutual respect and a bit of give and take can bring harmony. Language like “If you don’t mind I’m just muting you so we can give other people a chance to talk, but we’ll come back to you in a few minutes” or “If it’s ok with you, could you stop doing that because there are people here to learn and you’re stopping them” can be a way to separate the harmless jesters from the outright troublemakers.

What happens when this fails to register in the mind of the individual whose sole aim is to disrupt the event and disturb others? This is where clear guidelines both in the event and lesson description and a quick review of them at the start of the gathering pays dividends, just like reviewing the syllabus on the first day of class.

Establishing the ground rules early as an educator (or event host) and physically (well, virtually through your avatar) dominating the space around you by not standing in one spot I find helps, too.

It is the role of a teacher, in my opinion, to promote empathy above all else. Teaching in virtual reality in places like AltspaceVR, where people can freely jump from one publicly-listed event to another, has huge potential for educators, businesses and content creators. There is a constant flow of passing people from all corners of the world entering your virtual space and being part of your lesson, product launch or meetup offering many opportunities to connect with new people.

As a teacher of English as a foreign language both in and out of virtual reality, I have a core belief: inspire people and they can learn anything.

People’s minds need to be fertile for learning. It is the role of the teacher to do the hard work initially in clearing the fields of weeds, rolling up his or her sleeves and turning the land over so that the seeds of inspiration can be sown. Combine that with a regular sprinkling of serious pedagogy, openness and goals to reach may increase the chances of spring bringing flourishing minds, bearing the fruit of the labour in the autumn and winter months.

This is where VR and spatial learning more generally really excels – the very fact that you can take your students on a tour of New York and Paris in one lesson, show them a 3D model of a bagel and a baguette, break them into groups to talk about their travel experiences, then finish the class gathering in a virtual departure lounge in an airport reviewing the key vocabulary, can be a huge stimulus for not just contextual learning, but supports collaborative learning and social interactions.

The deep connection and continued transferring of what works and does not work in VR into the real world and vice versa is critical. The two are, at this stage at least, inextricably linked and we should strive to use each reality – that of the physical world and the virtual one – as leverage to improve how we study, work, live and exist in the other.

VR: The True Global Village

To limit the accessibility of virtual worlds – whether it be AltspaceVR, ENGAGE, Facebook Horizon, or other – would be to play God in a way that probably no humans have done at any point in the history of our species. VR opens up possibilities in education we’ve never encountered before, and the potential is infinite.

No longer can we hold our hands up and ignore the far-flung, sun-scarred, and infrastructure-weak nations in the developing world, blaming logistical and physical factors for the reason why they are struggling to innovate and evolve societally as those more “powerful” nations. No longer can we fail to gather the collective energy and experiences of any strata of our global communities – village elders, the youth, the outsiders, the politicians, the academics, the entrepreneurs, the incarcerated, the economically struggling, the addicted and every other member to pool ideas and work towards a truly common goal for the benefit of all. We need a wholly unbiased, meaningful torch to firmly and collectively grasp onto to guide ourselves out from the quicksands of unfettered global corporatism, ongoing religious tensions, political uncertainty, toxic ideologies across the board and continued detachment from the wisdom and grounded relationship that all of our ancestors had with the soil under their feet and stars above their heads.

This torch must be the commitment to tirelessly giving back to the natural world, for the natural world is – as I see it – the only hearth around which people of all denominations can gather and warm their collective ideas, hopes and visions.

Paradoxically, the more time I spend immersed in virtual reality, the more vividly I perceive the physical world around me and develop a genuine, almost primordial urge to not just learn more about how I and others can coexist respectfully with the elements from which infinite generations descended. It makes me think more about what can be done to accelerate its rebirth. The rise of untethered headsets, where I can move freely around the physical space to do the same in the virtual realm has similarly sparked an untethering of my mind from what I believed to be important around me, something akin to only appreciating that which you lose.

Let the common, guiding light for us all in this new chapter of technology and human interaction be the health and sustainability of our planet.

Just as our ancient ancestors, long before the arrival of the pyramids and the Great Sphinx in Ancient Egypt communicated to us of their existence by marrying heaven and Earth through the alignment of the stars in the sky, to the strategic placement of fifty-ton stone megaliths in the soil they lived, must we too send the message to distant descendants that we used this wave of spatial computing to spark a renaissance of how we co-exist with the natural world around us. I implore all of you currently embracing or hoping to harness the power of this new wave of technology to ensure that the promotion of a healthier planet be a worthy beneficiary of the promotion of your event, conference or gathering.

This need not – should not – be an over-exuberant war cry which will only dissipate as the winds of time blow forth, but a calm and steady pursuit so as to respectfully and unpretentiously raise the collective consciousness to a point where it would be seen strange to run events and deliver ones services in virtual worlds without contributing, even in some small way, to the betterment of the natural world which exists on the other side of the head-mounted device.

Celebration of Gold Lotus English Language Classes.

What I propose is far beyond immersive content which explicitly shows the beauty and devastation of global warming and the submergence of our sea life in plastic, however powerful and needed that is. Just as enough raindrops on a meadow give rise to the incredible growth of a blanket of mushrooms, I envision a time where even the humblest of events acts as a single raindrop falling onto the soil. With enough drops, it can bring the rapid and uncontrollable fruition of a deeper global consciousness of the importance of the natural world around us.

In practical terms this might be a donation of a percentage of a virtual event’s revenue to a charity doing work for the benefit of the environment, made easy through an integration or type of plugin on all VR meeting platforms. It could be VIP access to an intimate Q&A with a famous person after a blockbuster VR event in return for demonstrating that you, in your local community, did something to give back to the environment such as riding a river of rubbish or collecting plastic waste from a stretch of beach. Other incentives could be free access to an educational expert for an hour in VR in return for an hour’s volunteering support at a local animal sanctuary.

Whatever it may be, let us use this advancing technology and the continually-growing list of events and experiences on offer as the fuel to more cohesion among us as a species, causing an osmosis – and not a continued detachment – from the virtual to the physical to the natural world at the grass-roots level, while we still have the chance.

Member Spotlight: Ekaterina Semeniuk, vLanguage Learning Team Co-Leader

This is a first in a series of articles, interview and first person, featuring the leaders of our Educators in VR Team Projects. Ekaterina Semeniuk is a language teacher and the new co-team leader of the vLanguage Learning Team along with Michael McDonald of Gold Lotus language teaching and consultancy. The next vLanguage Learning meetup is Monday, September 14, 2020, on “Cognitive Skills, Language Development and The Brain: Employing the Neuroscience of Learning to Create More Effective VR/AR/XR Experiences” with special guest speaker Cassondra Eng.

Ekaterina Semeniuk, known as Gingery in Discord and AltspaceVR, shares her story and passion for language learning and teaching with us.

Ekaterina SemeniukIf you told thirteen-year-old me that I would become a teacher, and not just a teacher, but an English teacher, I would choke on my soda. And if you tried to guess why you’d guess it right.

My English as a foreign language journey was just like any other lifelong journeys, it was full of rich experiences. There were times when I felt blessed and there were times when I felt cursed. I started learning English “officially” at the age of seven at school, but unofficially, thanks to my elder brother, my mom and video games, it had started way before the alphabet song reached my ears. By the first day of school my wealth of knowledge had some useless bits of information like ‘a scarf’, ‘a doll’ and some important daily vocabulary like ‘new game’, ‘save’ and ‘exit’.

At the age of fourteen, I started to learn French as my second foreign language. Other foreign languages I’d been learning at university and afterwards.

Let’s fast-forward. Here we are in Moscow, Russia. My name is still Ekaterina. London is still the capital of Great Britain. But I’m not thirteen any more, and I don’t hate English any more. Moreover, we’re almost good friends now.

At the moment, I teach English as a foreign language. I have a background in foreign philology – the history and development of languages – and I used to learn eight foreign languages in total. I also have a master’s degree in TESOL in Australia. And my professional experience includes working as an ELICOS teacher in Sydney and as an English teacher and tutor at a private elementary school in the Moscow Region, to students between five and ten years old, some of which have dyslexia.

I’m also the new co-team Leader of the Educators in VR vLanguage track. I want to share with you my modest experience in teaching and learning languages with Virtual Reality.

Back in 2017 at the Australian university, I had a subject called ‘Technology in language learning’. In one of the assignments, you presented the concept of your perfect language-learning technology. Being a video game lover and a modern technology fan I presented a concept of an online VR game for language learning. That’s where it all began.

I can’t believe that every year we are getting closer and closer to all these futuristic language learning technologies I only dreamed about.

I bought my first VR headset a year later. It was a simple Cardboard-like gadget, the one where you have to use your phone as a display.

I used this headset as a speaking practice tool at my English lessons a year ago. At the end of a lesson, kids were supposed to watch a short 360 video and describe everything they could see in sentences, phrases or just single words, no pressure, the practice had to be as relaxed and fun as possible. The video was chosen on the same topic as the newly-introduced vocabulary.

With VR experience I wanted to create a positive emotional response in children, so they would have a desire to share it with others in the target language. Here the language becomes a tool for sharing experiences and information, and the whole practice doesn’t look like a task or an exercise.

My second headset was Oculus Quest and I used it in online teaching during the pandemic, choosing Mozilla Hubs for my ten-year-old students. Unfortunately, I was the only person in a VR headset. Luckily my students could join me from computers and tablets. We also were able to spend the whole 40 mins lesson on the platform, because the recommended session time in a VR headset for children of their age is 5-20 mins. I introduced my students to the platform gradually, where we spent around 2-3 lessons on getting used to the technology and doing whatever students wanted, having a silly time.

I started with explaining basic things like connection and movements, the next lesson I gave them permission to bring objects into the world and the third lesson was spent on travelling to various worlds. The English learning process was built around the idea of presenting vocabulary and grammar ‘upon request’. I followed my students and helped them with the language they needed most at a particular moment, for example, to make a specific joke or to call objects they built a house from.

All in all, it was a positive experience. Students loved it, it was something new, fun for them. They were excited to be there. It became another fun way of communication and doing things together.

After almost a year of working full-time with small children, I found myself losing the language. I still was reading and listening to advanced materials but had a lack of good speaking practice. I decided to find random people on VR social platforms like VRChat or AltspaceVR for a relaxed kind of chatting practice.

It was a surprise to find people were even organising language classes there, like Michael McDonald from Gold Lotus. Michael’s classes had a theory part presenting new vocabulary and some specific grammar. With the second part, he immersed us in situations, where we could apply in practice all the previous material, building new connections and stronger association.

VR technology gives us this great opportunity to transfer ourselves almost whenever we want to and experience it. I also visited a couple of speaking clubs and exchange language events. I even tried to learn a little bit of Japanese from scratch and I thank all of my VR teachers for their kind support and patience. This refreshing feeling of becoming a complete language noob I always find really helpful in improving my teaching empathy.

I see three main reasons to continue implementing VR technologies in my future English lessons.

  1. It helps to bring my students and the target language out of the classroom.
  2. It helps to use the language as a meaningful tool in various activities.
  3. Most importantly for me, it helps to build a positive attitude to the language.

I find a positive attitude more important than learning a particular amount of words or grammar. I’m aware that learning a language is a lifelong process and if you get a lot of negative experiences there is a great chance that you drop it once and never get back. If you have a positive attitude, no matter what happens in your life – more or less active learning periods, even pauses – you never drop forever, you get back and improve. It’s much easier to fix your knowledge gap in the language than to fix your negative attitude.

I believe that XR technologies are those amazing tools that bring positive learning experiences in your life that lead to a positive attitude to the language. I’m looking forward to its further development and I’m sure it’s changing education for the better.

Ekaterina Semeniuk is a TESOL teacher with a strong background in foreign philology — the history and development of languages. At one time, she was learning 8 languages. She has a master’s degree in TESOL in Australia, and worked as an ELICOS teacher in Sydney and an English teacher and tutor at a private elementary school in the Moscow Region with students between five and ten years old, some of which have dyslexia. She is also the new co-team Leader of the Educators in VR vLanguage track. You may learn more about her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Tom Furness and the Virtual World Society in AltspaceVR

Tom Furness Keynote the window - Educators in VR International Conference

Tom Furness is coming back to AltspaceVR on Tuesday, April 21, 2020, and this time, he is bringing part of his Virtual World Society team to share what they are doing to turn the education industry upside down with virtual reality.

We’ve shared our love and passion for Tom Furness and the Virtual World Society here on our site and through our social media channels, and if you missed his presentation at the 2020 Educators in VR International Summit, watch it now on our Educators in VR YouTube channel.

Professor Furness will be discussing the work of the Virtual World Society, and announcing some very exciting news that will impact all of us.

He also brings us some homework and requests our support for some very worthy causes the Virtual World Society is supporting.

First, homework. Before the event, please complete this short 2 minute survey that asks you how you are doing with COVID-19 isolation and how you can help the Virtual World Society and how they can help you. The results will be announced at the event.

Next, you will learn about the generous work the Virtual World Society is doing for the Make a Wish program and other community events and activities. Please support these worthy causes by donating and spreading the word as it takes a community.

Consider joining the Virtual World Society and be among the growing membership determined to democratize and disrupt VR in education.

Tom Furness, Virtual World Society founder.Dr. Tom Furness is a virtual reality pioneer and inventor who has earned the title “Grandfather of Virtual Reality.” He is Professor in the University of Washington Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering, and the founder of the Human Interface Technology Lab at the University of Washington and its sister labs at the University of Canterbury and University of Tasmania. He is known for his contributions developing virtual interface technology and its applications in education, training, medicine, design and entertainment. He and his students and colleagues have spun off 27 companies in the immersive computing space. He is also the general manager and owner of the RATLab (Rocking and Thinking Laboratory) and Founder of the Virtual World Society.

Expect to see Professor Furness and his Virtual World Society team members in and around AltspaceVR and the metaverse more often, but we won’t share any more details. You’ll just have to show up tomorrow and see what all the fuss and excitement is about!

PS: This week is his 77th birthday. To celebrate and honor his life-long work and passion, join the Virtual World Society and let’s make his dreams come true.

April 2020 Events and Workshops

Educators in VR is busier than ever as the world stays self-isolated, working from home, reaching out to virtual reality and Educators in VR to help provide resources, consulting, and training on producing and hosting virtual events in VR.

This past month found us busier than ever as we moved from the success of the 2020 Educators in VR International Summit into consulting, training, and production support for schools, governments, businesses, and conferences changing from real-world to virtual.

Michael McDonald of Gold Lotus and the Educators in VR 24 Hr English Lesson in VR.We also had a very successful first-ever 24 Hour English Lesson and fundraiser with Michael McDonald of Gold Lotus, an Educators in VR sponored and produced event that raised over 2,000 Euro for Red Cross Italy Lecce and had hundreds of attendees across 3 virtual platforms in those 24 hours. Well done, Michael!

In addition to our regularly weekly Educators in VR workshops on Tuesdays in AltspaceVR, we have special events, open discussions, and great news for you. We’ve also updating our Educators in VR events calendar on Google to help you find all our events across multiple platforms, including our Educators in VR AltspaceVR channel. For a look at all the events across the VR metaverse, check out the VR Events by VRevents.io.

Educators in VR Workshops and Trainings

Educators in VR Workshop with Sonya Haskins, esports and VR games expert.Tuesday Weekly Workshops: We meet in AltspaceVR and the workshops are free and open to the public.

Educators in VR International Summit - Workshop.Training Workshops: Educators in VR is dedicated to providing training programs and workshops for educators, learners, researchers, and anyone interested in creating educational events in VR. The workshops are a combination of free introductory programs and paid workshops.

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UPDATE: Rocking Out the Summit in AltspaceVR & Somnium Space

UPDATE: To ensure the best experience for our users, we will be hosting the main event for the closing ceremonies in both worlds simultaneously: Somnium Space and AltspaceVR.

Access to Somnium Space is available only to PC/VR users, not desktop/2D or mobile users. If you have access, join the party there. We will have a live stream from the event there into AltspaceVR for the first part of our Rock Out the Summit event.

Join us on both of these innovative platforms to celebrate this record-breaking International Summit.


Somnium Space - Educators in VR 2

SIX DAYS! We can’t believe it. We have completed five and we are on our way to six. We have an amazing closing ceremony called the “Rock Out the Summit” at noon PST Saturday, February 22, in Somnium Space. Come join us in celebrating this record-breaking 2020 Educators in VR International Summit!

Somnium Space people from website.We are so thrilled to be a part of the grand opening of Somnium Space, and we’ve accepted the challenge to fill it with another record-breaking event: the largest group of people in a single virtual space.

The current record was by High Fidelity and stands at 462 people in the same virtual space. That is our goal, and with the help of Somnium Space, and you, we can break that.

Somnium Space - Educators in VR 1Somnium Space is an open, social, and persistent virtual reality world. You may buy land or import objects and instantly monetize and shape your own universe and experience.

VRScout described Somnium Space:

Somnium 2.0 has been designed to host all the players in a single interface, unlike other multiplayer VR gamers where players are categorized into sub servers and mirrored instanced rooms. The solution will be studded with new lucrative features such as persistent server architect and native NFT integration. These unique features help the creators to design and deploy the creations on the land owned by them. Somnium 2.0 will uplift the experience with features like enhanced graphics, full-body Avatars, along with support for Builder and Unity SDKs for creation and avatar importing.

We are thrilled to celebrate the opening of this innovative virtual space. It is currently only accessible by PC 2D Desktop and PC VR devices, not mobile like Oculus Go and Quest. They are working on that, but right now opening up to Educators in VR members and community and everyone to not just celebrate their grand opening but our own record-breaking conference.

To join, you may join on the web or download their client from Somnium Space. Register and when you arrive, you should see signs and information for our Educators in VR celebration. They’ve set up a special pavilion for us.

Accept the challenge and join us for the closing ceremonies and help us rock out the Summit tomorrow, noon, in Somnium Space.

We will also have an after party social in AltspaceVR, which we will be announcing in the next couple hours!

Tom Furness ENCORE in 2020 Educators in VR International Summit

Tom Furness presenting in AlstpaceVR.Tom Furness is back for an ENCORE at the 2020 Educators in VR International Summit on Friday – today at 6PM PST in AltspaceVR.

Tom was our keynote speaker Monday at the start of the Educators in VR International Summit and part way through his presentation when, we assume the power of his presentation combined with the impact of the Educators in VR International Summit blew out the power in his University of Washington VR Lab.

This ground-breaking pioneer in VR and founder of the Virtual World Society worked with his team to restore power, but too late for the event. He’s been with us on and off throughout the week, and is now back to not only look at the past, to the beginings of virtual reality, a field he developed, creating the prototypes that eventually became the devices we wear on our faces, but where we are going in the future as we play with fire and push the technology even further.

Come join us to not only celebrate the life and thought-leader, Tom Furness, but help us boost the event through the last 24 hours into the record books!

Tom Furness - Speaker Card - 2020 Educators in VR International summit.

Expanding Minds in the Metaverse: Special Panel Presentation

The 2020 Educators in VR International Summit, February 17-22, 2020, is breaking all the rules and the records, and continues on through Saturday. Come join the fun. It’s free and accessible in 2D(PC Desktop with headphones) or 3D devices in AltspaceVR, ENGAGE, rumii, and Somnium Space.

Tonight, we are honored to have five leaders in the virtual technology industry with us for a special panel discussion, Engaging Minds in the Metaverse in AltspaceVR, Wednesday, February 19, 2020 at 10:00 PM PST / 1AM Thu EST / 6AM UK/GMT.

This is an incredible opportunity to meet the people behind the devices, educational and social platforms, developers, researchers, and thought-leaders of virtual technology, to hear their thoughts about where spatial technology in education is today, and where it is going. We are thrilled to welcome Alvin Wang Graylin, Artur Sychov, Mat Chacon, David Whelan, and Karolina Manko to our virtual stage tonight.

Alvin Wang GraylinAlvin Wang Graylin, President, HTC Vive, Mr. Graylin is the China President at HTC, leading all aspects of the Vive/VR (VIVE.com) and the Smartphone businesses in the region. He is also currently Vice-Chairman of the Industry of Virtual Reality Alliance (IVRA.com) with 300+ company members, President of the $18B Virtual Reality Venture Capital Alliance (VRVCA.com) and oversees the Vive X VR Accelerators (VIVEX.co) in Beijing, Shenzhen and Tel Aviv.

Artur SychovArtur Sychov is Founder and CEO of Somnium Space. He has been navigating virtual worlds for more than two decades starting with Ultima Online in 1999, then Second Life and many more. Artur strongly believes in the ultimate future of Virtual Reality worlds with open and decentralized economy, amazing creation tools where imagination is the only limit. Artur has worked as an investment trader for many years before creating his first startup and becoming a serial entrepreneur.

Mat ChaconMat Chacon is the co-founder of Doghead Simulations and the innovative educational and meeting platform, rumii. In 1994, he started a website development company, and at 25, took part in the $63 million USWeb IPO. By 45, he was named a top 20 VR executive. He eventually returned to school and attended college, and now teaches online education for free, much of it in virtual reality, determined to make education accessible and affordable to all.

David WhelanDavid Wheland is a tech entrepreneur and founder of VR Education PLC. He is a former Editor-in-chief of Virtual Reality Reviewer and a multi-awarding winning VR director and producer with 10+ years web development, a background in app creation and programming large CRM systems. David believes in a future where education is accessible to all no matter your geographical location or financial status. David’s company VR Education PLC are also the people behind the ENGAGE virtual training and education platform providing users easy to use tools to create and share immersive learning experiences. David has directed and produced Apollo 11 VR and 1943 Berlin Blitz. David also produced Titanic VR and Shuttle Commander.

Karolina MankoKarolina Manko, Program Manager and Marketing, AltspaceVR, is an expert project manager in media and technology (XR/MR) sectors. As a project and community manager, she managed Future of StoryTelling community, creating year-round events and community projects, responsible for growth and management of FoST Community including working individuals and key orgs such as Meow Wolf, The VOID, Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab, Punchdrunk, Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, etc. A thought-leader and published author, and winner of the 2017 BOAAT Writers’ Fellowship, The 2012 David Markowitz Poetry Award, and the 2012 Esther Unger Poetry Prize. She is also a member of the Golden Key National Honor Society, and Phi Betta Kappa Honor Society.

Join us tonight North American time zone, morning UK, and whatever time it is in your time zone.

Spotlight: Alvin Wang Graylin, HTC Vive

Alvin Wang GraylinWe are proud to announce one of our Spotlight speakers, Alvin Wang Graylin of HTC VIVE presenting “Education Elevated vs Reimagining Education,” a special keynote in ENGAGE Monday, February 17, 10PM PST, to help us kick off the 2020 Educators in VR International Summit.

He will be returning to us in Altspace for a special panel called “Expanding Minds in the Metaverse,” 10PM PST on Wednesday along with innovators and thought leaders in the XR industry including Artur Sychov of Somnium Space, Mat Chacon of rumii, David Whelan of ENGAGE, Dr. Sana Farid, Healthcare Futurist.

Mr. Graylin is the China President at HTC, leading all aspects of the Vive/VR (VIVE.com) and the Smartphone businesses in the region. He is also currently Vice-Chairman of the Industry of Virtual Reality Alliance (IVRA.com) with 300+ company members, President of the $18B Virtual Reality Venture Capital Alliance (VRVCA.com) and oversees the Vive X VR Accelerators (VIVEX.co) in Beijing, Shenzhen and Tel Aviv.

Mr. Graylin has over two dozen years of business management experience in the tech industry, including 18 years in Greater China. Prior to HTC, he was a serial entrepreneur, having founded four venture-backed startups in the mobile and internet spaces, covering mobile social, AD tech, search, big data and digital media. Additionally, he has held $100+ million P&L roles at a number of public companies.

Mr. Graylin was born in China and educated in the US. He received his MS in computer science from MIT, MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and BS in electrical engineering from the University of Washington, where he had specialized in VR and AI over two decades ago. Mr. Graylin is fluent in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

We are honored to have Mr. Graylin with us on two platforms in VR, and he is eager for your questions on the future of virtual reality and XR.

Mozilla Hubs: 2020 Educators in VR International Summit

Mozilla Hubs logoThe 2020 Educators in VR International Summit, February 17-22, is hosted on multiple virtual social and educational platforms. The following is a list of events hosted on one of our partner educational platforms, Hubs by Mozilla.

Mozilla Hubs - Panda avatar.To access these events, visit Hubs by Mozilla and login in or install the virtual platform for PC VR (desktop/2D) or VR device.

Please note that these are first come, first serve events with a limited seating, so mark your calendar and get in there early.

Date Time Presentation Title Speaker Track
19-Feb Wed 3:00 AM PST How to Share and Access Education 3D Content Online Thomas Flynn General Topics
20-Feb Thu 4:00 PM PST Mozilla Hubs: Designing for All Elgin-Skye McLaren Dev
21-Feb Fri 9:00 AM PST VR Experiences as Substitute for Museums and Planetariums Alexander Kaurov Medical & Science

Mozilla Hubs - Avatars in room.Schedule subject to change without warning.