I interview James O’Hagan, the Director of Digital & Virtual Learning at Racine Unified School District in Wisconsin. He is also a Doctoral Candidate at Northern Illinois University in the field of Instructional Technology, and the host of The Academy of Esports Podcast. He oversees a virtual learning program that involves all facets of learning through digital means. He’s launched two large school-based esports programs and has a wealth of knowledge in virtual learning and gaming.
Fun fact: James still plays rugby!
We discuss how mentorship is key to keeping people involved in digital learning, ideas for bringing gaming into business meetings, Jackbox games, and the 20m, 20ft, 20-second rule for eye health.
As we’ve all had to make a shift to online learning opportunities, people and educators are starting to realize that virtual learning isn’t just about sitting down at a computer, lecturing and handing out homework, there’s a much greater dynamic taking place.
According to James O’Hagan, the Director of Digital & Virtual Learning at Racine Unified School District in Wisconsin – Gaming isn’t just for kids and it’s not as bad as once thought. Most of you may even have a game on your phone that you play to relax most evenings or on your lunch break.
James oversees a virtual learning program and has launched two large school-based esports programs. He shares his knowledge of the virtual learning and gaming spheres as well as his thoughts on how mentorship can help people maintain an interest in digital learning, and how gaming can help not just kids, but also corporates gain a healthier mindset and sense of ease in virtual meetings.
Make virtual ‘personal’
What is virtual learning exactly and how do we make it personal? Well, to put it simply – Virtual learning is any learning that takes place in an online environment. To make it personal, we’ve got to ask ourselves, “What steps do we have to take to create those interpersonal connections that are missing in a virtual environment?” When Dr. Sugata Mitra did his Ted talk on building a school in the cloud, he talked about how he developed a group of kids in a slum.
He put a computer in a wall with access to information on basic genetics that was all written in English. After several weeks of leaving the computer there, he went back and asked the kids, “What did you learn?” And they said, “We really didn’t learn much. First of all, we had to teach ourselves English because none of us knew English.”
Then he gave a broad but very good overview of what genetics and biology are. He realized that learning can take place, but he also realized that children reached a certain level, they were achieving the level of their peers just by having the information there, however, they couldn’t get any higher on their own. They would need a little help.
Virtual learning mentorship
What drove the learning more and got better performance was simply adding in a personal connection. By having a mentor, not necessarily a teacher, but just having a mentor, somebody who checks in and says, “Hey, how are you doing? Where are you at with your courses?” – That broke the glass barrier that Dr Sugata Mitra was hitting.
Scaling virtual learning mentorship into the corporate world
To put it into the perspective of let’s say, in a corporation, there’ll be managers, and managers are supposed to manage people and know people from top to bottom – know where they’re at, and where their projects are at.
These managers may not all be working on the same project, they may have different projects and will perform regular check-ins with people, but having managers in place who are all designated to different areas of expertise is the first surefire step to scale virtual learning mentorship.
How can a fortune 500 incorporate aspects of gaming into their virtual learning experience?
Google and Apple and Facebook all have e-sports teams specific to certain games in their corporate culture that are like the official Facebook or Google team. The same sort of culture can be incorporated into many companies.
If you do a meeting well, there should be a structured agenda that goes out ahead of time, but hopefully, sometimes there’s a warm-up, something that sets the tone for what the meeting is going to be. There may be a Ted talk or a YouTube video or something like that, just to bridge the gap and get everything connected and involved.
‘Jackbox’ creates a variety of games. Let’s say we were on a Zoom call, we could put the game up on our shared screen between all of us, but the game is played on your cell phone, or on a browser on your computer. You could have the game on your upper monitor (if you’ve got more than one) and have your answer keys below, and we can be all interconnected and communicating via the chat, within Zoom.
These games are super simple and you can play them on any cell phone, or on any web browser, and all the games connect back to the host. They’re just a great way for four to eight people to get engaged and create a fun company culture and a great virtual conference atmosphere.
The great thing about these Jackbox games is that they can exist completely online. Remember that some people won’t want to play some of these games that you’re bringing in. Honour that and make it so that it’s about fun, not necessarily about competition.
Two noteworthy takeaways for anyone engaging in regular virtual conferences or digital learning platforms:
Blue blocking glasses
Get yourself a pair of blue-blocking glasses, they have specially made lenses that help to take off eye strain when you’re looking at a screen for lengthy periods.
Give your eyes a break
About every 20 minutes, try looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds, anything that’s not on a screen. Make it a habit and you’ll soon start doing unconsciously which gives your eyes the break they need