vLEAP: Virtual Reality, Gamification, and Experiential Learning for RI Students

At our Tech Collective Board of Directors meeting in May, Dr. Frank Sanchez, President of Rhode Island College, asked how the Tech Collective could play our part in mitigating “COVID learning loss,” which is expected to worsen over the summer months following months of distance learning. The Tech Collective, which has long been committed to building computer science and tech career pathways for our youth, jumped at the chance to lean in and figure out how to have a positive impact.

We quickly convened a meeting with members of our Board and partners that share in our passion for supporting K-12 education including: Rhode Island College, URI, PASA, FabNewport, RI Commerce, and the Governor’s Innovation Office.

One of the first challenges we wanted to tackle was how to deliver an engaging and productive learning experience for Rhode Island’s high school students, especially with physical meeting restrictions and “Zoom fatigue” still our new normal. Tech Collective Board Member Jason Albuquerque, CIO/CISO of Carousel Industries, suggested a virtual reality platform from Microsoft called AltspaceVR. With an experiential, interactive technology as the backbone of our program, we have been able to successfully launch what we are calling our vLEAP Summer Program.

vLEAP, short for a virtual learning, engagement, and achievement platform, provides students with a one-month learning experience that leverages the power of gamification, competition, prizes and digital badging to support students in acquiring critical new skills sets and competencies aligned with CCSS/NGSS and RI CS standards. Students that participate work directly with a community of teachers, faculty, mentors, and peers through a meaningful, virtual educational summer experience.

We are excited to announce that our first cohort of 16 students are underway! They started attending classes July 21 and will continue with us until August 20.

As opposed to other virtual learning platform, our vLEAP program provides a number of advantages such as:

  • A virtual reality platform that is as engaging as playing Fortnite!
  • Students can engage with each other in a virtual environment using AltspaceVR, as well as more “traditional” virtual communication platforms like Zoom
  • Students can access content—and track their progression—through a free online LMS called Schoology
  • Schoology is linked to an online digital badging platform through which students can share their learning with their peers and back with their home districts
  • Students will have access to powerful virtual machines though our Google partnership
  • College computer science mentors will be in each class
  • Students will gain exposure to local business through Innovation Café presentations, mentors and donations
  • Students will also get to participate in Capture the Flag events!

We could not have made this program as immersive and meaningful—and free of cost to our students and families—if it weren’t for our wonderful partners. Here’s a look at how leaders in the community and various Tech Collective Board members have rallied behind this program:

  • Amica donated $15,000 so that we were able to secure Oculus Quest headsets for students and teachers
  • Our Board Chair Tim Hebert donated $1,000 so we can provide incentive gifts to keep students engaged
  • We partnered with the RI Virtual Reality (RIVR) organization that will mentor students and add VR activities for the “Innovation Café”
  • NASA, thanks to Board Member Kim Arcand, will assist by providing content for our “Innovation Café.” In fact, they will have a female presenter every Wednesday to support our commitment to growing women’s careers in STEM!
  • Board Member Jason Albuquerque spearheaded the relationship with Microsoft to get the AltspaceVR platform donated to our vLEAP program
  • Board Member Doug Tondreau spearheaded the relationship with Google to get virtual desktops donated to our vLEAP program
  • CS4RI (Vic Fay-Wolfe and Jessie Barrett) helped us find Code.org teachers

I also want to take a quick moment to thank our four subcommittees from the vLEAP steering committee who will continue to shape this program for our students:

  • Vision and Funding: Determine the vision for the platform and attract funding. Members include: Daniela Fairchild, Rhode Island Office of Innovation; Tim Hebert, Trilix; and Dr. Frank Sanchez, Rhode Island College.
  • Technology Content: Identify and/or develop the content and experience students will have within the platform. Members include: Jason Albuquerque, Carousel Industries; Kim Arcand, NASA; Siu-Li Khoe, Rhode Island Commerce Corporation; and Doug Tondreau, Digital Forensics Center.
  • Digital Badging and College Credit: Work with Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island to assign college credit for future vLEAP offerings. Select a digital badging platform so students can share their vLEAP successes. Members include: Ann Durham, PASA; Jen Giroux, Rhode Island College; Steve Heath, Fab Newport; Trece Mattauer, Rhode Island College; and myself.
  • Technology Platform: Responsible for selecting the technology tools and platforms necessary to create a virtual reality environment. Members include: Jason Albuquerque, Carousel Industries; Bill Annino, Aqueduct Technologies; Jon Bartelson, Rhode Island College; Barry Silver, Pet Food Experts; and Doug Tondreau, Digital Forensics Center.

 

We will keep you posted on the student experience this summer and of upcoming vLEAP programs!

For now, you can learn more about the program by clicking here.