Mike Mathews and Oral Roberts University won the 2019 USDLA Global Impact Award for their collaborative work in distance learning on a global scale
In what manner and innovation did ORU expand its global reach?
Over the past three years Oral Roberts University has hosted hundreds of colleges, universities, and K12 executives to understand the innovation for immersive learning with Augmented and Virtual Reality (AVR) at the enterprise level through their Global Learning Center. This opportunity created a new global collaborative opportunity to impact education across multiple continents by designing what would become known as the first Virtual Reality Education System (VRES) at an enterprise level. Most education entities have a Student Information System (SIS) and a Learning Management System (LMS); so it was time for a VRES environment to take advantage of all the AVR learning environments and be integrated with the SIS and LMS environment.
This innovation at an enterprise level allowed ORU the opportunity to serve students in 92 countries to 108 countries, while allowing 185 nations to access their digital educational assets.
What kind of diversity was included in your global collaboration?
The wonderful aspect of great innovation is that it transcends all cultures, races, tribes, languages and know no limits or boundaries. This means, diversity is automatically included when a great breakthrough occurs. A simple example is the smart phone or tablet transcended all countries, races, tribes, and people groups and almost all ages. The innovation at ORU through our Global Learning Center with augmented and virtual reality had this same capability and capacity.
The collaboration occurred between leaders at Oral Roberts University, 3Dream Studios, India, Taiwan, Singapore, China, Pakistan, Latvia, Calgary, Canada, and an education organization with 80 colleges and universities around the world; with one million students eventually having access.
Within six months of 2018, the VRES system was designed and deployed with thousands of users around the world leveraging the free trial, and over 70 colleges and campuses having access for distance learning and blended learning purposes by 3Dream Studios.
With the VRES focusing on a similar concept as Open Education Resources (OER) – but with an official database and repository that allows all AVR assets to be filtered and sorted by each intuitions need, the co-collaboration exponentially grew. The VRES data repository allows all institutions to meta-tag, label, and create language and cultural specific info to each AVR asset. This allows personification, yet a growing open source method around the world. The VRES is considered a combination of OER and crowdsourcing educational resources to include all AR, VR, Panoramic, and 360 degree videos from around the world.
It is important to note that what makes this uniquely different than an LMS or SIS, is simply it is not priced per FTE. What makes SIS and LMS systems complicated for many cultures is that not everyone can afford the costs of the system and the ongoing maintenance based on FTE count. On the flip side OER is so spread out and hard to harvest the valuable assets that pertain to each individual faculty or institution. The VRES is intentionally designed for open collaboration and access while harvesting all the AVR assets in a manageable – for every faculty or institution.
How has pursuing disparate populations challenged you in delivering instruction and establishing report?
It has forced us to rethink education design and vendor selection. The cliché’ that ‘it is all about the students’ is not really that true when you dig deep among vendors. What is found is a lot of venders who want to sell you their perceived solution that help numerous colleges and universities compete against one another. This makes the greatest challenge being a combination of what you will buy vs. innovate in conjunction with the vendors.
ORU made a decision to innovate around ‘it really is about the students’ and therefore designed some unique aspects of helping students while working with a few select vendors who understood our goals. This also helped ORU create a trademark ecosystem called ‘ORU Geovision Technology™’ that created a single source of access to all data and resources.
At a global level we needed multiple smart spaces that could be virtually configured to meet the needs of various online and traditional students. This is where companies like Barco augmented our vision in a customized manner.
Does your organization share your enthusiasm and desire to reach the far corners of the world?
For 50-years ORU’s vision and mission has had a very unique focus that allows all stakeholders to share in the same vision. However, it is only been during the past five years that the technology has been capable of simplifying this mission and vision of reaching students around the world with whole person education. The more we simplified and integrated the technology with innovative methods, the more people could see the vision fulfilled. The momentum has been exponential and created a fresh synergy across all areas of the university. Winning ten national awards for education innovation has also helped bring all energies to a central focus.
What is the make-up of your organization’s enrollment on campus/ off campus?
ORU has about 3,800 residential and commuter students, 800 online students, and about 3,000 certificate seeking students who leverage the poly-synchronous method of the Global Learning Center. In other words, the Global Learning Center has become a hybrid learning management systems that integrates all aspects of teaching and learning. The future of helping people around the world is truly in what used to be called ‘distance learning’. However, with technological advances like the Global Learning Center, teleportation, and immersive learning there is no longer a ‘distance’ to learning. We are truly in the era of active learning, where anyone around the world can enter a ‘smart learning’ space created and reconfigured within seconds, while connecting the world in new methods. A collaborative learning space is no longer a physical classroom, but an ecosystem of learning connecting people from every corner of the earth within seconds.
What technologies enable you to have this type of reach?
We used multiple technologies that are seamlessly integrated together under the name ORU Geovision technology. This ecosystem is comprised of the crème-of-the-crème of hand selected vendor solutions who have agreed to be part of our mission to reach the uttermost bounds of the earth with education.
Our promise to faculty is ‘all you have to do is walk in a classroom and everything will be turned on and connected to every student in the world via their phone number.’ This promise has held true and allowed ORU to increase their reach through every faculty member. In essence, the technology brand and types is hidden from view and all accessed from one number.
How do you establish connections in far-away lands?
The connections to 185 nations out of 195 nations have proven that our access methodologies with simplicity are capable of now reaching 95% of the world. However, we desire to do more and make sure we can reach all 195 nations. We believe the key is to provide simple access, and people will find a way. This is opposite of what many are trying to do by rationalizing that everything has to be broadband and flawless. We have created the digital learning center and now the rivers of education and knowledge are flowing through ORU.
How do you handle providing instruction in a 24+ time zone strategy?
This was accomplished by recording and archiving all education content in the learning management system. A class that is live at 10:00 PM can be recorded and archived through our ORU Geovision ecosystem and watched live or any time after the class. In essence the combination of the Global Learning Center and active learning spaces allows us to be a fluid education environment meeting the needs of a 7x24x365 world.
What instruction is more effective, synchronous, asynchronous or a hybrid of the two?
It is truly a hybrid approach that produces the most effective and most engaging experiences. Synchronous and asynchronous are outdated delivery models by themselves. The learning management systems have forced education to take a huge step backwards by creating a linear format to teaching and learning, and we called it asynchronous. An asynchronous approach provides very little engagement and blending in synchronous brings engagement into the mix. ORU has arrived at a term called ‘fluidity’ which we use to challenge ourselves to realize we need a ‘fluid’ approach to meet the needs of a fluid world, with fluid workers, with fluid economies, with fluid governments. This fluid approach is truly a hybrid approach between synchronous and asynchronous.
It is important to note that instruction and education are fairly neutral and been perfected for years. What the differentiator will be is how one leverages technology in a seamless and appealing manner.
Where do you see your organization from a global perspective in 5 years?
We will be reaching all 195 known nations around the world with the fluidity of both education and technology. We will be using smart glasses, whereby our entire Geovision technology ecosystem allows all education to be available on a thin pair of smart glasses. In between the smart glasses running our ecosystem, we will have the AI enabled MQ Mirror that allows a fresh new way to provide personal engagement with all the knowledge of the world. The mirror will leverage what is now being called AioT which is the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies with the Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure to achieve more efficient IoT operations, improve human-machine interactions and enhance data management and analytics on a personal level. Education and technology will truly be fluid for the needs of a fluid world. A sample of the AI enabled MQ-Mirror can viewed at: https://vimeo.com/340840908
What technologies will emerge that will revolutionize education in the next 5 years?
There are a lot of emerging technologies available. However, the more technologies to choose from, the less likely a breakthrough will happen. The breakthrough will happen when these technologies begin to be wisely and innovatively integrated in an affordable manner. My prediction is Blockchain for digital credentials along with machine learning and the emergence of AIoT will allow a vending machine style of planning, ordering, and delivering education. In essence, the first university who can treat students like Amazon Prime customers will dominate what was once known as distance education.
What advice would you have for CIOs getting started?
There is no more rewarding job than being a chief information officer for people who desire to see their organization survive and thrive in the global and digital age we find ourselves. I would suggest to every new CIO that they develop a mindset and culture that is service oriented while recognizing the average user/employee in their organization is a novice to technology. This is the greatest challenge when living in a world that is moving fast-forward with technological advances. Just when you think you have trained employees it’s all fresh and new again within the next 2-3 years.
Michael L. Mathews (Mike) has over 24-years of experience as a senior-level IT executive bringing creative solutions that value the end-users of technology and business process management. These solutions have benefited the end-users of higher education, manufacturing, and high technology company products including Cray Research.
Mike has held positions as a VP of Innovation, chief information officer, general manager of CIOs, chief strategist for innovation, business development officer, trainer, teacher, and vice president of academic services for leading corporations and higher education.
As part of ORU Mike was awarded the 2018 CIO 100 Award, 2018 Ellucian Technology Award, 2017 Campus Technology Award, the 2017 Top 30 Innovators Award, and the 2017 United Stated Distance Learning Association Innovation Award.
Blog written by: John Copeland serves on the Board of Directors for the United States Distance Learning Association and is the Director of Sales, Education for Barco. John also serves on the Board of Directors for the Texas Distance Learning Association (TxDLA) and has been inducted into the TxDLA Hall of Fame. He also serves on both the Diversity Council and Manufacturers Council for Avixa.