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Episode 39

transformed: Extended Reality Learning Innovation

In this episode, Dr. Mary Gallagher – President of L.A. City College – and Marcy Drummond – Vice President of Economic and Social Mobility Innovation – describe their use of extended reality solutions to enhance student engagement and advance each student’s learning journey.

Joe Gottlieb: (00:01)
Welcome to Transformed a Higher Digital podcast focused on the new why’s, the new what’s, and the new how’s in higher ed. In each episode, you will experience hosts and guests pulling for the resurgence of higher ed while identifying and discussing the best practices needed to accomplish that resurgence. Culture, strategy, and tactics, planning and execution, people, process, and technology. It’s all on the menu because that’s what’s required to truly transform.

Joe Gottlieb: (00:35)
Hello, welcome and thanks for joining us for this special presidential series episode of Transformed. My name is Joe Gottlieb, President, and CTO of Higher Digital, and today I’m joined by two guests from LA City College. Dr. Mary Gallagher is President of LA City College, and Marcy Drummond is Vice President of Economic and Social Mobility Innovation there. Mary and Marcy, welcome to Transformed.

Mary Gallagher: (01:04)
Thanks, Joe. Very happy to be here. What do you wanna talk about?

Joe Gottlieb: (01:09)
I’m so glad you asked Mary. I wanna talk about your amazing extended reality initiative. It’s way more than a project, but first perhaps you can give our podcast listeners a bit of your background. What makes LA City College unique? When did you first realize the potential of extended reality and how you brought Marcy back to your team to help you accomplish your vision there?

Mary Gallagher: (01:33)
Sure. So I’ve been at the President at City College since January of 2018, and I knew when I came to the college that it was an amazing place to be and that there were things that were very special about the college. So I started to think about what are the ways that we can really, really make a difference to our community? And two of my deans were invited to go to a demonstration of augmented and virtual reality for other community college folks around the region. So my two deans came back so enthusiastic about this technology. They told me I had to take a look at it, that I would love it and it would be the best thing we could do for our students. So I had a demonstration done. And I have to tell you, Joe was transformative for me. I knew then as soon as I had that demonstration that I had to get this in the hands of our students.

Mary Gallagher: (02:32)
I knew they, they say education is the game changer. This is the game. And I knew I had to bring it here. And I knew that I knew the one person that I could count on to get this technology here. And I want to tell you that it has not been easy. But I do not give up. I am ex incredibly persistent about what I do. And even during this two years of the pandemic, we never stopped. So I’m so proud that this college is doing this kind of work. Uh, just a little aside here, uh, the history of this college is so amazing. We’re located, uh, at the home of ucla. So UCLA’s first campus was where a c C is right now. Wow. And Cal State LA was also established here on this campus. UCLA spent 10 years here. Cal State LA spent 10 years here, so I like to refer to Los Angeles City College as a birthplace for public higher education in the city of Los Angeles. So we’re a unique place doing unique things,

Joe Gottlieb: (03:39)
I should say. So thanks for sharing that background. And from the sound of it, you really had to stick your neck out and make a strategic investment based on your vision. So tell me a bit about how you got that ball rolling.

Mary Gallagher: (03:53)
Well, Joe, I had to knock on a lot of doors and I had a lot of doors that I knocked on just slammed shut on me. And I was really surprised. I thought people would be really interested in this, fascinated by this, be attracted to this. But you know, when you are really breaking out on something new that really is not out there, it is very challenging to get people to even listen to you. So, uh, I put together a actually along with Marcy, uh, a pitch deck to pitch to some, uh, funders in the area to see if we could get a planning grant just to get this started. I believed in it so much that it was easy for me to pitch the concept. Uh, but again, lots of doors closed. So I got to the point where I said, Well, I guess it’s just not gonna happen right away.

Mary Gallagher: (04:43)
I’m just gonna have to be a little more patient. And then when the pandemic hit, the federal government sent higher education emergency relief fund that we know as hf that gave us a substantial amount of money. It was 70, $76 billion across the country to actually do some things technologically and that would help students and faculty through the pandemic. That was what we needed. We needed some seed money to get it going, and Herf was a seed money to get this going. And we were even challenged on our campus with people believing in this technology. We had a faculty member too, who were doing a little bit in virtual reality, but not really as extensive as we really saw this becoming where you could actually deliver extensive educational content using augmented virtual reality. And I do believe that that many on my campus thought I might be a little crazy, but again, as I said, I don’t give up. I believe in things. And I just said, Just trust me. Let me pilot this. Let me try this. Let me see what happens with this. And so that’s what we did.

Joe Gottlieb: (05:57)
That’s amazing that you were able to follow through on your vision. Despite the challenges, Nile would like to shift gears and get some perspective from Marcy. So Marcy, I know the science behind extender reality is an important part of understanding its value, specifically the concepts of reducing distractions and balancing cognitive load for the learner. So perhaps you can elaborate on these technical aspects that help explain extended realities great potential in a higher education setting.

Marcy Drummond: (06:27)
Yeah, as you, as you just said, um, the research has found that the distractions are decreased because learners are using more sensory channels at the same time, which means they’re not splitting their attention between, uh, moving from one channel to another. Um, for example, you know, there’s narration is combined with visual content in extended reality, and that also reduces cognitive load on the brain because the brain uses different channels for auditory information than it does for visual. Um, it’s also been found that immersive learning, like through extended um, and augmented and virtual reality, that learners start to break down concepts and focus systematically on the parts. And then they start to focus on the whole. Um, and so that, uh, that, you know, you know the whole saying, you can see the forests through the trees and the trees through the forest. Well, this type of learning enables a learner to do that quite intuitively.

Marcy Drummond: (07:23)
And what we found was really interesting was a, a brain study comparing cognitive activity when augmented reality is being used versus a more traditional way of presenting information. This was a study done by neural insight and it found that augmented reality actually elicits a, a surprise response in the brain. Um, and it also found that there is more than double the level of visual i, uh, attention as well as a 70% higher rate of memory getting encoded through the use of augmented reality. What we found is that students engagement is quite increased and I think this brain study, especially the, the surprise response, so it immediately engages students and then through this cognitive processing, it keeps them engaged and actually learning more and retaining it more.

Joe Gottlieb: (08:12)
That’s fascinating. So considering that the primary objective of faculty is focused on teaching and learning, did that science help stimulate curiosity and interest in faculty participation? I know you guys have done a nice job of really engaging recruiting and training faculty to get this program implemented, but was that science behind extended reality a big draw or not?

Marcy Drummond: (08:37)
Well, I think everybody intuitively when they see anything about this thinks, okay, this is how I learn. So if, if I learn better in sort of real life 3D mode, certainly the learners that I’m trying to teach would probably learn better. Um, they didn’t know the science behind it, they just intuitively knew that this was probably a better way. When we asked faculty like, Why would you wanna use augmented virtual reality, the three common responses they gave were, they thought it was a way to engage students. Cuz quite frankly, we’ve had a problem with engagement, especially during covid and going to primarily online and Zoom interactions. They saw this as a way to, to get students more engaged. They also saw it as a way of being able to teach them using objects and environments that we don’t have access to otherwise, like, you know, going inside the human body to look at how, for example, blood flows.

Marcy Drummond: (09:32)
We don’t have the ability to do that in a classroom. Yeah, we have the ability to do that through augmented and virtual reality. And then the third most compelling reasons, uh, faculty were interested is they said they really see this as a future very important technology. Um, much the same way that, you know, computing technology sort of took over our world. They believe that augment and virtual reality will as well. And they wanted to be out front and being the first to enable students to learn, um, using this technology and be leaders as well in this area.

Joe Gottlieb: (10:04)
Nice. And I understand that the way that the lessons are being set up, you’re actually harnessing students’ engagement to build out some of these materials and, and learning objects. Is that right?

Marcy Drummond: (10:14)
Correct. So our approach is that the augmented and virtual reality lessons and content and experiences are created by the faculty. So they’re the owners of this and the creators of this. And now we have students also engaged in creating content and lessons. Um, and so it’s, it’s upon them and, and that’s one way, you know, we can get greater use, um, and greater benefit, um, and scale this cuz that’s one of our big principles is we, we don’t wanna have it this be a little boutique program that a few faculty are participating in. And a few students get the luxury of being engaged in, in augmented virtual reality. So we really strongly believe that both faculty and students need to be, have the power in their hands to be the creator of this type of learning and the experiences that they can have using extended reality.

Joe Gottlieb: (11:09)
I know you’ve also invested in faculty mentors, coaches and extended reality design specialists that have experience with the tool set. And this has helped you train the trainers, so to speak. And then meanwhile, your faculty are a critical source of your success tracking, having them know whether or not they feel each student is advancing in their learning journey because of this technology. So what are you seeing there?

Marcy Drummond: (11:35)
So our faculty reported, uh, one of the things we do is we measure student learning outcomes in every course. And we ask faculty through the use of augmented and virtual reality, they see a change in students performance on on the learning outcomes. And the response was absolutely yes. And in fact, uh, they said, uh, that, that they saw near, uh, nearly, uh, 80% of the faculty said it absolutely increased students’ performance on the learning outcomes. Many also reported, they definitely saw the number one thing they reported that engagement definitely went up. Um, and others said they saw, uh, increase in skill performance cuz these courses were used in a lot of career technical education programs. So they actually saw their skill performance go up and they also reported the increase of retention of the materials, which goes back to sort of the research. You know, clearly they are actually seeing the same outcomes that the research says that extended reality in learning would actually, uh, produce.

Joe Gottlieb: (12:40)
Wow. It, it’s great to see those numbers proving out because that’s where you can start to track the return on investment that I’m sure Mary forecasted as part of this program commitment and the ongoing funding. What other metrics are you tracking in line with your goals for this program?

Marcy Drummond: (12:56)
Yeah, and that goes back to what you said about we, we wanted to put a, we did put a strong team of people together that became experts on this. First, that service coaches and mentors to the faculty. We also provide them with all the equipment that they would need to be able to create these lessons. So we, we wanted to remove all the barriers that faculty might encounter and as well as students who were creating content so that we could achieve these metrics. Um, so our, our goal was by the end of next, uh, academic year that we would have 200 faculty and staff who were u creating lessons and experiences using augmented reality. We’re already to 97, so we’re already halfway there to our goal. So we’ll probably achieve that goal much quicker than than we had, than we had thought . Um, and then our, also our goal was that we would have 3,500 students also by the end of next year using augmented.

Marcy Drummond: (13:50)
In reality in our spring semester alone, we had, um, 1100 students, so a third of the way there within one semester. So I imagine we’ll reach that goal maybe by the end of this semester. Um, we also want, so we want as many students and faculty using and engaging in um, extended reality learning. We also, uh, are gonna measure actual student engagement. Our faculty have reported that it’s gone up, but we wanna see, um, you know, double digits increases in student engagement through the use of augmented reality. And we also wanted to see an actual performance improvement on student learning objectives by 15%. Um, like I said, the faculty did report that they did see an increase, but we’re actually going to now measure the more students that are using it, the easier it is for us to actually, uh, get these metrics and be able to measure the increase in, in learning objective performance. And then last but not least, we really think, um, much the way that, uh, for those that are familiar with green technology, the way that a lot of jobs have emerged where there are pieces of green technology and many jobs now we believe that for augmented reality, we think that many jobs, um, will have a portion of that work being done through the use of augmented, uh, and virtual reality. And we want our students to be in the forefront of that and be the leaders in that.

Joe Gottlieb: (15:14)
I love that last metric cuz it speaks to your longstanding mission of helping each of your students become more employable right there in the LA area. That’s just great. So now let’s talk a little bit about the extended a reality vendor that you partner with and how that’s gone. I know you ultimately developed a rhythm with the vendor, but that took a little bit of work and I’m sure it might be useful for our listeners to hear your experience with that process.

Marcy Drummond: (15:38)
Yeah, this has been a fantastic experience. We have a very good partnership with the vendor that we use, and I think this is a good lesson that if you look at a product and it doesn’t quite do exactly what you want to do, especially we’re pioneers in this technology, so things aren’t gonna be perfect right out of the gate. So we, uh, well, President Gallagher took the leadership in reaching out to the vendor and saying, Hey, we’d like to work with you more closely and directly on, you know, what ideally this augmented and virtual platform would do. And some of the areas we focused on was ease of use by both the faculty and the students. Um, you know, how, how it integrates with our learning management system. So it does, which is really, really important so that a faculty member doesn’t have to keep track because it has embedded, uh, assessments in a virtual reality lesson.

Marcy Drummond: (16:27)
There’s actually is, uh, assessments in IT, quizzes and other types of assessments. And so instead of, you know, getting the scores in one platform and then having to transfer it to a learning management system, you know, there’s this integration between the, that platform and the learning management system, which was key. And then another thing that’s absolutely critical as that we worked at the vendor a lot was on accessibility, the ability to close caption audio recordings and video recordings and things that we needed the platform to be able to do to ensure as much accessibility as you possibly could have in an extended reality environment. So it’s been a, it’s been a fantastic partnership. They’ve rolled up their sleeves, we started off meeting with them every week. We now meet, um, every other week, and that’s been ongoing for a year now. And so, and we’re moving on to other things that our wishlist that we’d love for things to have happen on the platform and they’re, they’re helpful with our wishlist as well.

Joe Gottlieb: (17:30)
Interesting. So when you were in that rhythm of meeting every week, was that part of an ongoing implementation that they were assisting with or was that a point along the way during which you were requesting new features and they were responding with some combination of product evolution and services delivery?

Marcy Drummond: (17:47)
It was both. And you know, subsequently they’ve come out with quite a few new versions of, of the software that have some of these new features that we specifically, uh, ask for and stress that were important that are now built into the system. Uh, of course they’ve increased, you know, features on their own. Um, one feature that we love is the ability to create avatars. Uh, you know, so there are things obviously that we wouldn’t even have thought of , but there are things from an educator’s perspective that we thought were very important, uh, that they were absolutely willing to make happen for us.

Joe Gottlieb: (18:26)
Well, it sounds like you have established a nice partnership rhythm with your vendor, which is great. So that brings us to what’s next for this program? Where can you take this thing

Marcy Drummond: (18:36)
Well, uh, for, uh, educators that are listening to this? I’m sure one of the questions they’re asking is, what is, what is the business model? How, how can this work be sustained? Right? Cause there’s, there are some expenses and it is a, a lot of effort. Uh, and so we are working on the business model. Part of the business model is once we start to measure the increase in students success and retention, that that obviously, you know, improves the bottom line for the college, the more students that you’re retaining and that are completing. Obviously there’s a business, uh, model, uh, pertaining to that. But also we’re looking at licensing the content. So we’ve been working very diligently on intellectual property, um, and the ability to license what we create, uh, both the faculty as well as the students. Uh, we’re vastly increasing our library of lessons that we’ve developed so far.

Marcy Drummond: (19:29)
Uh, we’ve developed 764 lessons and we found that they’ve been consumed over 9,000 times. So we expect to double the library, our library content by the end of December. Um, also we have that the, the total hours that have been spent consuming the content that we have already developed is, is 3,500 hours. So, um, and we’re just in the beginning. So we really think we could grow that pretty fast. Um, we’re expanding our partnerships. Uh, we’re as we’ve been partnering with other universities, but we wanna start partnering with K12 so that we’re all in a big network of people trying to use extended reality and education. Um, and we also wanna partner with business and indu that they think is necessary for the workforce. Um, we’re, we’re, uh, about to, we’re hoping to open a metaverse maker space by the first part of the year. So we’ll have both a virtual maker space, but we’ll also have a physical maker space where people can come in and learn how to create, uh, augmented and virtual reality content. And then we’re also looking for other solutions. Um, we have this particular platform that we’ve started with, but we don’t think that’ll be the be all end all. We think this market will change rapidly. So we’re on the constant lookout for other solutions that we wanna pull into our,

Mary Gallagher: (20:46)
Our availability for both faculty and students.

Joe Gottlieb: (20:50)
That’s so exciting. Thanks for sharing all those details. Marcy. It’s a great description of how you took a challenging new thing and worked it into your operations to innovate your delivery of education. So now I wanna come back to Mary for some closing thoughts. Mary, in summary, what are three or four takeaways our listeners keep in mind when considering a project like this?

Mary Gallagher: (21:12)
So I think the student engagement and the retention of what the student is learning, uh, cannot be overstated. And the fact of the matter is when our students are learning and retaining more, that’s better for them and it’s substantially better for us. So that’s one really big component. The student experience with in the 3D environment helps students to be much more interested in what they’re doing. So when you’re reading something in 2D or looking at a diagram in 2d, it doesn’t have the same experience for you as ex as looking at it in 3D or in a 360 environment. And so that’s what happens to you is it stays with you. So if you’re learning something and it revolves around an object, all you have to do is think about that object and you remember what that lesson was about. It’s a phenomenal situation. I think also what’s happening for the faculty is it’s allowing them to be much more creative with the, the content that they’re delivering.

Mary Gallagher: (22:31)
The faculty are really excited about doing this and they keep reimagining how they can present the same material in a very different way. It’s, it’s, it’s really fun to see their reaction and to look then for the student’s reaction to what they’ve just created. It’s as if they’ve become artists now. It’s really amazing. And I think really finally the future of learning period is in this digital environment. We are going to have to get away from two dimensional learning because it doesn’t work as well. It worked better than not having anything, right. But we have something so much better to offer to our students and to our public at large, really to all the learners out there and talk about lifelong learning, imagine that you could just pick up your phone with a device that attaches to it and learn something in virtual reality that you didn’t know five minutes ago. It’s gonna be great for all of us.

Joe Gottlieb: (23:41)
Wow. This is just super exciting stuff. I’m truly moved by the pioneering spirit that you’ve brought to this opportunity and how you’re seeing it through. It’s just fantastic. Mary and Marcy, thanks so much for joining me today. It was a pleasure talking to you guys.

Mary Gallagher: (23:56)
Thank you.

Joe Gottlieb: (23:58)
And thanks to our guests for joining us as well. We hope you have a great day and we look forward to hosting you again on the next episode of Transformed.

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About The Host


As president of Higher Digital, Joe supports customers with strategy development, change management, and strategic operations. He is energized by the complex challenges and profound opportunities facing higher education and is motivated to have and share discussions around these topics.

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