Here is the full transcript of serial entrepreneur Michael Bodekaer’s TEDx Talk: Reimagining Education at TEDxCERN conference.
Today, I am going to show you how this tablet and this virtual-reality headset that I’m wearing are going to completely revolutionize science education. And I’m also going to show you how it can make any science teacher more than twice as effective.
But before I show you how all of this is possible, let’s talk briefly about why improving the quality of science education is so vitally important. If you think about it, the world is growing incredibly fast. And with that growth comes a whole list of growing challenges, challenges such as dealing with global warming, solving starvation and water shortages and curing diseases, to name just a few. And who, exactly, is going to help us solve all of these great challenges? Well, to a very last degree, it is these young students. This is the next generation of young, bright scientists.
And in many ways, we all rely on them for coming up with new, great innovations to help us solve all these challenges ahead of us. And so a couple of years back, my cofounder and I were teaching university students just like these, only the students we were teaching looked a little bit more like this here.
And yes, this is really the reality out there in way too many universities around the world: students that are bored, disengaged and sometimes not even sure why they’re learning about a topic in the first place. So we started looking around for new, innovative teaching methods, but what we found was quite disappointing. We saw that books were being turned into e-books, blackboards were being turned into YouTube videos and lecture hall monologues were being turned into MOOCs — massive online open courses.
And if you think about it, all we’re really doing here is taking the same content and the same format, and bringing it out to more students — which is great, don’t get me wrong, that is really great — but the teaching method is still more or less the same, no real innovation there.
So we started looking elsewhere. What we found was that flight simulators had been proven over and over again to be far more effective when used in combination with real, in-flight training to train the pilots. And so we thought to ourselves: Why not just apply that to science? Why not build a virtual laboratory simulator? Well, we did it.
We basically set out to create a fully simulated, one-to-one, virtual reality laboratory simulator, where the students could perform experiments with mathematical equations that would simulate what would happen in a real-world lab.
But not just simple simulations — we would also create advanced simulations with top universities like MIT, to bring out cutting-edge cancer research to these students. And suddenly, the universities could save millions of dollars by letting the students perform virtual experiments before they go into the real laboratory.
And not only that; now, they could also understand — even on a molecular level inside the machine — what is happening to the machines. And then they could suddenly perform dangerous experiments in the labs as well. For instance also here, learning about salmonella bacteria, which is an important topic that many schools cannot teach for good safety reasons.
And we, of course, quiz the students and then give the teachers a full dashboard, so they fully understand where the students are at. But we didn’t stop there, because we had seen just how important meaning is for the students’ engagement in the class. So we brought in game designers to create fun and engaging stories. For instance, here in this case, where the students have to solve a mysterious CSI murder case using their core science skills. And the feedback we got when we launched all of this was quite overwhelmingly positive.
Here we have 300 students, all passionately solving CSI murder cases while learning core science skills. And what I love the most about this is really when the students come up to me sometimes afterwards, all surprised and a little confused, and say, “I just spent two hours in this virtual lab, and I didn’t check Facebook.” That’s how engaging and immersive this really is for the students.
And so, to investigate whether this really worked, a learning psychologist did a study with 160 students — that was from Stanford University and Technical University of Denmark. And what they did is split the students into two groups. One group would only use the virtual laboratory simulations, the other group would only use traditional teaching methods, and they had the same amount of time. Then, interestingly, they gave the students a test before and after the experiment, so they could clearly measure the learning impact of the students.
And what they found was a surprisingly high 76 percent increase in the learning effectiveness when using virtual laboratories over traditional teaching methods. But even more interestingly, the second part of this study investigated what the teacher’s impact was on the learning. And what they found was that when you combined the virtual laboratories with teacher-led coaching and mentoring, then we saw a total 101 percent increase in the learning effectiveness, which effectively doubles the science teacher’s impact with the same amount of time spent.
So a couple of months back, we started asking ourselves — we have a wonderful team now of learning psychologists and teachers and scientists and game developers — and we started asking ourselves: How can we keep ourselves to our promise of constantly reimagining education? And today, I am really excited to be presenting what we came up with and have been working incredibly hard to create. I will explain briefly what this is.
Basically, I take my mobile phone — most students already have these, smartphones — and I plug it into this virtual-reality headset, a low-cost headset. And now what I can effectively do is, I can literally step into this virtual world. We’ll have some of you in the audience also get to try this, because it is really something that you have to try to fully feel how immersive it really is. It literally feels like I just stepped inside this virtual lab. Do you see me up on the screen?
Great! Awesome. So basically, I have just turned my mobile phone into a fully simulated, million-dollar Ivy League laboratory with all this amazing equipment that I can interact with. I can, for instance, pick up the pipette and do experiments with it. I have my E-Ggel, my PCR and — oh, look there, I have my next-generation sequencing machine, and there I even have my electron microscope. I mean, who’s carrying around an electron microscope in their pocket? And here I have my machine, I can do different experiments on the machine.
And over here I have the door, I can go into other experiments, I can perform in the laboratories. And here, I have my learning tablet. This is an intelligent tablet that allows me to read about relevant theory. As you can see, I can interact with it. I can watch videos and see content that is relevant to the experiment that I’m performing right now.
Then over here, I have Marie. She is my teacher — my lab assistant — and what she does is guides me through this whole laboratory. And very soon, the teachers will be able to literally teleport themselves into this virtual world that I’m in right now and help me, guide me, through this whole experiment. And now before I finalize this, I want to show you an even cooler thing, I think — something you cannot even do in real laboratories. This is a PCR machine.
I’m now going to start this experiment. And what I just did is literally shrunk myself a million times into the size of a molecule — and it really feels like it, you have to try this. So now it feels like I’m standing inside the machine and I’m seeing all the DNA, and I see the molecules, I see the polymerase and the enzymes and so forth. And I can see how in this case, DNA is being replicated millions of times, just like it’s happening inside your body right now.
And I can really feel and understand how all of this works. Now, I hope that gives you a little bit of a sense of the possibilities in these new teaching methods. And I want to also emphasize that everything you just saw also works on iPads and laptops without the headsets. I say that for a very important reason. In order for us to really empower and inspire the next generation of scientists, we really need teachers to drive the adoption of new technologies in the classroom.
And so in many ways, I believe that the next big, quantum leap in science education lies no longer with the technology, but rather with the teachers’ decision to push forward and adopt these technologies inside the classrooms. And so it is our hope that more universities and schools and teachers will collaborate with technology companies to realize this full potential.
And so, lastly, I’d like to leave you with a little story that really inspires me. And that is the story of Jack Andraka. Some of you might already know him.
Jack invented a new, groundbreaking low-cost test for pancreatic cancer at the age 15. And when Jack shares his story of how he did this huge breakthrough, he also explains that one thing almost prevented him from making this breakthrough. And that was that he did not have access to real laboratories, because he was too inexperienced to be allowed in.
Now, imagine if we could bring Ivy League, million-dollar virtual laboratories out to all these students just like Jack, all over the world, and give them the latest, greatest, most fancy machines you can imagine that would quite literally make any scientist in here jump up and down out of pure excitement. And then imagine how that would empower and inspire a whole new generation of young and bright scientists, ready to innovate and change the world.
Thank you very much.