from the world's big
How VR helps the NFL select players and score touchdowns
From quarterbacks in the NFL to retail staff at Walmart, virtual reality trains you to be the best at whatever it is you do.
Jeremy Bailenson is founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, Thomas More Storke Professor in the Department of Communication, Professor (by courtesy) of Education, Professor (by courtesy) Program in Symbolic Systems, a Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, and a Faculty Leader at Stanford’s Center for Longevity. He earned a B.A. cum laude from the University of Michigan in 1994 and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Northwestern University in 1999. He spent four years at the University of California, Santa Barbara as a Post-Doctoral Fellow and then an Assistant Research Professor.
Bailenson studies the psychology of Virtual Reality (VR), in particular how virtual experiences lead to changes in perceptions of self and others. His lab builds and studies systems that allow people to meet in virtual space, and explores the changes in the nature of social interaction. His most recent research focuses on how VR can transform education, environmental conservation, empathy, and health.
Bailenson consults pro bono on VR policy for government agencies including the State Department, the US Senate, Congress, the California Supreme Court, the Federal Communication Committee, the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Research Council, and the National Institutes of Health. His book Infinite Reality, co-authored with Jim Blascovich, was quoted by the U.S. Supreme Court outlining the effects of immersive media.
He has written opinion pieces for The Washington Post, PBS NewsHour, National Geographic, Slate, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, and has produced three VR documentary experiences which were official selections at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016 and 2017. His new book, Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do is out now.
Jeremy Bailenson: If you think about where we get virtual reality from, there’s something called a flight simulator. In 1929, Edwin Link said he didn’t want to learn how to fly from a book, but flying a plane is very expensive in terms of making a mistake; make a mistake in a plane people die and. obviously, planes get lost. So Edwin Link developed the flight simulator so people could learn by doing in a safe environment.
One of the ways the general public that people who aren't just gamers or technologists are seeing VR is in training. So one thing I've done for the last few years is I've used virtual reality to train athletes. The project began as a master's thesis by Derek Belch, who's a student at Stanford.
We use virtual reality to train quarterbacks to look around, recognize a defensive pattern, make a decision by changing the play—they can keep the original play or they can kill, kill, kill and go down to the next play in the queue.
When Derek graduated in 2015 he founded a company called STRIVR, and STRIVR in the first six months signed five NFL teams to multiyear contracts, about a dozen college teams. And what we've seen over the last few years is many teams adapting using VR so that players can get extra mental repetitions. Now, where this goes down to your everyday person, is the lessons that we learned by training athletes it turns out applies to just about every job.
So think about your own job. You have to look around, you have to see stuff—we call this recognition, pattern recognition—then you have to make a decision and then you have to communicate that decision. So, for a quarterback, he looks around, spots the defense, sees a pattern, changes a play. When he changes the play he calls that out to his teammates. That lesson, that general pattern, applies to just about everybody's job, and the exciting thing for me has been to watch Walmart. So Walmart we began training one of their academies. So Walmart has 200 training academies and basically, if you work at Walmart at any time you can get in your car, drive a few hours and you get to go and train for a week or so at one of these academies.
We started out in one of them where we put VR there and what we were training are things like holiday rush, Black Friday, where there are people everywhere running around and yelling at you and it's this really intense experience, giving employees a sense for what that's going to be like, or having them look around the store to spot safety violations or customers who haven't been helped. The same lessons that we use for quarterbacks in that first training academy, qualitatively we were finding that it was a good solution and that people were enjoying it, and the training was working.
We then went up to 30 training academies and what we had was 30 training academies use VR and we paired that with 30 who were not and we could run a nice controlled experiment to see the efficacy, how well VR worked in terms of training, and we had really good data there.
We're now in all 200 of Walmart's training academies and, to date, over 150,000 employees at Walmart have put on the virtual reality goggles to get better at their job. And it's a really nice use case; training to help you get better at what you do.
One of the most useful things about virtual reality is the tracking data. So for a company who's training someone, what we can do is we can figure out how well you're learning as you're doing the behavior.
We've developed algorithms such that we can quantify attention and engagement and how well someone's encoding a message simply by where they're looking and how they're turning their head. To make virtual reality work you have to track all the body movements, and so people when they think of VR most managers they think about the visual experience aspect of it but, in my opinion, the most valuable part of this from an organizational standpoint is actually having all this data, which is the richest data in history.
So if we can go back to football as an example, we have hundreds of thousands of plays watched over the last couple of years by players. Every player, when they play on the field, they get some level of assessment. They actually get a grade, even if they didn't touch the ball.
Later on, when they analyze film, every player gets graded for many teams. We've got the input data to our machine learning algorithms which is nonverbal behavior, where they're looking when they trained in VR, and we've got our output data which is how well they did on the field. And what we can do is build algorithms that can associate body movements when training in VR with the impact they had on the field. And we've actually developed a number of features that can predict, if you give somebody a novel set of body movements during training, it can actually predict how well that person will perform.
So the NFL, in particular Troy Vincent, who's the vice president of operations there, has been a leader in—they want to be known as the best place to work and they want to be a thought leader in this area. And so what we've done for the NFL is we've built an interview trainer. So we talked earlier about the flight simulator. Why do you have a flight simulator? Because when we teach people we encourage them to make mistakes. That's how you learn. You make a mistake and you get feedback, and that's why we have a flight simulator. Interviewing someone should be the same way.
So when I interview someone, maybe I ask the wrong question. I asked a different question from person A than person B based on how that person looked or maybe I looked in the wrong way or I leaned in in a way that was not the proper way. And what we've built is an interview simulator which is extremely realistic. These are very photorealistic avatars. And you go through and you interview people and you ask questions, and we record your movements, we record your utterances and we give you feedback. And then you repeat it.
And the National Football League is using this in a number of places. The example I'll talk about is there's something called 'the combine' in the NFL. And the combine is where players go to try out and they don't only try out with their athletic skills, they do interviews to see if they'd be a good fit interpersonally on teams, and there's interviews that go on between general managers and scouts with players. And for a couple of teams, we trained their scouts and GMs—the NFL as an organization encouraged us to do this—so that they could be better trained on how to do an interview.
Virtual reality isn't just for gamers and tech hobbyists anymore, it's also for NFL players. In 2015, Stanford professor Jeremy Bailenson and recent Stanford graduate Derek Blech co-founded a VR training company called STRIVR and in the first six months, they had signed five NFL teams on multiyear contracts as well as about a dozen college teams. What did this tech do for the NFL? It made football a game of the mind like never before, providing players a safe virtual space to make mistakes, learn from feedback, do mental repetitions, and practice communication and decision-making skills. Those same lessons apply to many jobs and industries, and where STRIVR went next was Walmart, implementing VR learning in 200 training academies around the U.S., helping over 150,000 employees improve their customer service skills, look for shoplifters, and prepare for the stress-fest that is the Black Friday sales. Whether you're a quarterback or a cashier, VR training can raise your potential and you can safely expect it to be part of your future job training in the coming years. Jeremy Bailenson is the author of Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
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Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.
- Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
- Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
- The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
These new status behaviours are what one expert calls 'inconspicuous consumption'.