Episode 105 - Alternatives to Traditional Higher Education: The Microsoft Mixed Reality Team

This week on Solutions for Higher Education, President Scott L Wyatt and Steve Meredith are joined by Seana Murray, business program manager and John O’Brien, chief technology officer, at Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Services. The group looks at how HoloLens is changing the landscape of virtual higher education and many other industries.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I'm your host, Steve Meredith, and joined in-studio today, as I almost always am, by President Wyatt. Scott, it's good to see you again.

Scott Wyatt: Yeah, Steve, it's good to see you. It's good to be here.

Meredith: So, I don't know if our listeners know this, but one of the things that has happened as a result…not necessarily as a result of COVID, but certainly there is discussion nationally about remote education and about asynchronous online education, and I have taken a new job at the university related to that where I am the Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management for the Graduate and Online programs that we have here at SUU. I mention that because we…I am particularly interested in how we can improve the educational experience, particularly for our asynchronous online students, and we have some people today who are working at the very, very highest level, maybe the bleeding edge technology of this world and I'm just really excited to have them join us on the podcast. So, why don't you introduce them?

Wyatt: Oh, yes, thanks Steve. It is really an honor for us to welcome Seana Murray, who is a Business Program Manager at Microsoft Mixed Reality Services and John O'Brien, Chief Technology Officer with Microsoft's Mixed Reality Services. Seana and John, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

Seana Murray: Thank you. Thank you very much for having us.

John O'Brien: Yeah, thank you. It's great to be here.

Wyatt: And you're both joining us from your home offices or offices wherever you are somewhere in the country.

Meredith: I'm actually curious—where are you joining us from?

Murray: So, John and I actually, our team is pretty diverse and we've got folks all over, but John and I are two of those hunkered down here right outside of Microsoft's main campus. I'm in Kirkland, Washington, and John, you're Issaquah, aren't you?

O'Brien: Sammamish, Washington.

Murray: Sammamish.

Meredith: There you go.

Wyatt: It's a great place.

O'Brien: Yeah, I've been working out of my house for the last year. They've certainly been interesting times.

Wyatt: I will say as a side note—we do red sand kind of the way you do green grass.

Meredith: [Laughs] That's right.

Wyatt: Southern Utah University is in a desert, and you certainly aren't in a desert up in Washington.

O'Brien: No. No, we're in our seven months of rain season. [All laugh]

Murray: But it's just a short drive over the pass until you get to high desert. So, we do have desert. It's an interesting place to live here after being an East coast-er all of my life until moving here. We have a really diverse ecosystem here, which makes living here really interesting to me.

Wyatt: One of my favorite life memories is flying up to Seattle and then renting a car and driving down to climb Mount Rainier, and going around the corner on one of the streets when Mount Rainier was visible—the mountain was out, the sun was shining—it was a stunning sight. And then getting to the top was spectacular. You've got some beautiful places up there, and the city is a delightful place to be. So…

Murray: When I first moved here, my mom came to visit me for two weeks and the only thing she wanted to see was Mount Rainier and it was overcast and cloudy and rainy and grey the whole time, and so, the last day or two we were sight-seeing down at the Space Needle and every time we'd walk by a postcard or a poster I'd be like, "Look, mom, the mountain's out." And she didn't find it nearly as amusing as I did by the end of her trip. [All laugh]

O'Brien: Yeah, I've lived in the area for nine years now—I'm originally from the East coast as well—and I never get tired of seeing it, and especially just how much of the sky it takes up even though it's 50 miles away from you. It's just…there's nothing even close to that big on the East coast.

Wyatt: No, it's stunning isn't it? It is just stunning. And it looks bigger than it is because everything around it is so low. You know, the mountains in Utah kind of build one on top of the next.

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: And where we're sitting right now is 6,000 feet, so when we look up at an 11,000 or 12,000 foot mountain, it looks tall, but it doesn't look as tall as a 14,500 foot mountain from virtually sea level.

O'Brien: That's impressive.

Murray: I have to say, of all of the travel…I'm very fortunate in this role that prior to COVID, I got to travel not only all over the country, but all over the world, and honestly one of my favorite places to fly in is Salt Lake City airport. I think flying over the salt flats…I think it is beautiful every single time I get to see them.

Wyatt: [Laughs] It is cool.

Murray: So, we can be envious a little bit of each other's location.

Wyatt: It looks like a palette, doesn't it? An artist's palette?

Murray: Yeah.

Wyatt: Well, speaking of imagining things, let's talk about Mixed Reality. Where should we start, Steve?

Meredith: I want to know about the hololens thing that you guys have created and that you use to train people in industry and other places in a 3-dimensional environment. That's particularly interesting to me.

Wyatt: A lot of our listeners have no idea what the hololens is, so maybe we should start with that.

O'Brien: Ok.

Murray: Yeah.

O'Brien: I can go, or Seana…yeah, go ahead, Seana.

Murray: OK, yeah, I'll take that one. So, yeah. So, hololens is Microsoft's first untethered, fully functioning Windows 10 computer that you actually wear on your face and you can see holograms through. So, it is not specifically an augmented reality technology, right? Augmented reality you think of as just Pokémon Go and the Heads Up display of your car where it's just a digital overlay of data. And it's not virtual reality because you're not fully excluded from the real world; you can actually see through the lenses on a hololens and you can place holograms in your world, and so, you can interact with them and there's a variety of use cases that we have seen over the past five years customers develop across industry. Training, development, maintenance, education…and so, HoloLens 1 came out at the end of 2016 and then about a year ago, we released HoloLens 2, which is obviously same technology advancements on the 1, but bigger field of view, much more comfortable to wear for folks who are going to be wearing it for a long period of time, much more natural interface to access with it. And so, although we joke about our face computers, you're actually your hands and it's tracking your hands to actually select and move holograms really naturally. So, again, it just advanced the applications that were possible with the device.

O'Brien: Yeah, with HoloLens 2, you can literally reach out and grab a hologram in front of you or push a holographic button, pull a holographic lever. And what that's opened up, especially in the realm of training, is really powerful for us. I would say…I've been on this team six years, I was working with HoloLens even before it was launched. I was working on the Skype for HoloLens product as a software engineer at that time and everything that customers have come to me and asked me, "Can we do this with HoloLens 1?" where I had to say, "Maybe not yet." With HoloLens 2, we can do it now.

Wyatt: Give us one of the real big "wows" for training.

O'Brien: Sure. So, we did a project—I actually can talk about this one, some of our customers are private, so if you ever hear me pause when you're asking me a question, it's because I'm trying to make sure I'm allowed to say that so I don't get fired. [All laugh]

Murray: Yeah, we love our jobs. We try to keep them.

O'Brien: Yes, I love what I do. So, we did a project with Honeywell, who I'm sure you've heard of.

Wyatt: Yep.

O'Brien: And they were…so, there are many divisions of Honeywell, but we were specifically working with the group that makes components for power stations and whatnot and it was around training. And basically, the problem they have and many of our customers have in many industries is that right now, they're training people using videos, they're training people using PowerPoints, and these are very hands-on procedures that they want people to learn how to work with equipment, but they're training that way because maybe the equipment is very large and there are only so many ways to get people directly to the equipment, or maybe that equipment is very rare or expensive or whatnot, and so, hands-on time is difficult to obtain for one reason or another. So, what they wanted to do was build fully holographic training to improve retention, because if I'm actually carrying out a task and feel like I'm actually pushing buttons and actually pulling levers or plugging things in, I'm going to remember that much better than just watching somebody do it on the video. So, their project with them was one of their components of their power station control—and my understand is that this thing is key in terms of when something horrible happens at a power point in terms of shutting things down and whatnot—and the procedure we initially did with them was just, "Let's replace a faulty component and go through the steps." And so, we can bring up the steps floating in the air next to you, but what's great is, what you can do in terms of the training this way that we couldn't do another way, is you're pulling out the old faulty component and putting in a new one and turning screws. We can do that now. We can make you actually do some of those motions. It's not exactly what you'd do, but the feeling that you're actually reaching and grabbing a component and pulling it out and pushing another one in, it really feels real, it feels like it's there. Now, it would be even better once we get to the Ready Player One style haptic suits where you're actually feeling it too—we can't do that yet—but in terms of the visuals, we can do all of it.

Wyatt: You're going to be able to feel it?

O'Brien: Eventually. Somebody's going to build that piece for us, and there are companies working on exactly that. I'd say that's the only awkward part of working with this technology today is that I can reach out and my eyes are telling me I'm grabbing a thing and it behaves, we can make the object move and there are little things we can do in terms of lighting things up for giving you some sense of feedback as to when you have it, but you want your hands to be feeling it too.

Meredith: It lacks heft…

Murray: I think the…

Meredith: Yeah.

Murray: I was going to say, the other thing that I will sort of add to that is we worked with a systems integrator, and one of the things that they realized is that light has no weight, and so although you might be working with really, really small parts, it costs you nothing to expand them and blow them up well beyond life-size. So that something that normally you might be looking at under a microscope, you can actually blow up and walk around so you get a completely different perspective and understand the inner workings of it. Or in the case of like a plane where you want to see the landing gear retract because you're training new mechanics, it doesn't cost you anything to have them standing in the hole and just over and over again, retract that gear so they can see the mechanisms versus burning fuel or energy otherwise having to do it with an actual…with a real plane.

O'Brien: Right, and we can give you a better view of it than you can get in real life. Since it's all holographic and virtual, we can peel away whatever is in your way that might be blocking your view of what you need to see.

Wyatt: Yeah. Are you doing…it's just really quite shocking technology, isn't it? And there's a lot of…

O'Brien: Oh yeah, when I first put one of these on…oh, go ahead, sorry.

Wyatt: No, go ahead.

O'Brien: I was just going to say, when I first put one of these on, my mind was blown. I wasn't working in…the first day I tried one, I have to—this is what I came to Microsoft to do—I have to get onto teams working with HoloLens. This is going to reinvent training, it's going to reinvent education, all that stuff. And I haven't regretted it for a minute in the six years I've been doing it.

Wyatt: There are so many things that we say, both at SUU and at technical colleges, that some things can be taught online or remotely, and some things just simply can't. But with the HoloLens, it seems to me that there is a smaller and smaller list of things that can't be taught remotely. Why can't you teach welding and auto mechanics and airplane mechanics and everything else in the same way?

O'Brien: Oh, precisely. Because we can put a car and all of your welding tools in your living room or wherever you are with you and you don't even have to have a big room because we can make it appear…even if what we're showing you wouldn't fit in that space, we can make it extend through the walls.

Murray: Well, and you can even…we've worked with some customers who have taken training and rather than spending six weeks training a technician to get them onto the floor putting parts together, they start in day one and they're at their workspace and HoloLens tells them, "Here's the first part you grab and here's the position you put it in," and "Here's the second part and here's how you put it together." So, again like John said, you're creating that muscle memory, but you also have people fundamentally outputting on day one, so you're increasing your training effectiveness but also increasing your output of employees. So, there's multiple benefits to it.

Wyatt: Can the HoloLens tell you, "No, you picked up the wrong screw?"

Murray: So, John, I'll let you go into detail about this. Yeah, I mean, I think it depends on…it doesn't inherently do object recognition, but with Microsoft as your cognitive services, we can certainly train models to say, "This is what you should be picking up versus not" and it will alert you, give you visual cues as to whether you've selected the right piece or not.

O'Brien: Right, the advances in AI and the ability to leverage cloud computing to help augment whatever the device you're using is opens up all of those possibilities. So, just using the cameras—HoloLens has multiple cameras mounted across the front of it—and what it's doing is scanning the room at all times and building up kind of a 3D map of the room, and that allows me as a developer to put things like a holographic coffee cup on a table, or hang a holographic picture on a wall and I know where the wall is. I know where the wall from the table from the surfaces are, but it also means that we can use those cameras and then into, as Seana was saying, the Azure cognitive services, and we can teach it just like we can any AI system, to recognize certain people or certain objects. So, as long as you have that WIFI connection then we can kind of leverage whatever back-end computing you want.

Wyatt: Steve, I need to go buy a pair of these.

Meredith: Yeah, I whole-heartedly agree.

Wyatt: I think that it should be part of my work.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: That I understand this better.

Meredith: Yes, this is very…

Wyatt: And experience it all of the time.

Meredith: Well, and I know you're making a joke about that, but…

Wyatt: [Laughs] I'm not sure if I am.

Meredith: This is really true, yeah. This is the kind of stuff that we need to be, on our end, not only aware of but experiencing if we can. Yeah.

Murray: Well, and Microsoft has really made a large investment and there's billions of dollars' worth of research into HoloLens and we continue, Microsoft as a company continues to invest because they fundamentally believe this is the direction that industry, education, this is the direction we're moving in. That we are finding this to be the third wave of…fourth wave of computing and we're going to go from a large set of goggles on your face to eventually, maybe two or three, four generations from now, they'll be just like reading glasses and it will become ubiquitous with everything we do. And so, we do talk to customers a lot about if you're not starting to do it now, if you're not considering what the transformation looks like, you're probably going to be very far behind when you do decide to make that leap.

Wyatt: What I'm looking forward to is being able to wear a pair of glasses that nobody knows is anything different than my regular glasses, but has face recognition and will tell me what I should remember about the person that I'm approaching.

Meredith: [Laughs] That's a big part of your life.

Murray: Yes, I am right behind you in line for that one for sure.

Wyatt: Yeah. "That's your brother-in-law." "Oh, right. Right." [Laughs] "I knew that." How do you see this affecting what we're doing in education? Not just in terms of making it more affordable or making it so that more people can get education, but fundamentally, do you see this transforming the education world of colleges and universities?

O'Brien: Absolutely. I'll let Seana talk about a specific example in a second, but yeah, when I first put one on the very first day, that's what I thought. And the particular application I tried was a map of the solar system. it was taking up almost the entire room I was in. I was standing there and the sun was right in front of me and I turned around and the Earth was to my right and I could see where all the planets were and what the distances were like. There are certain topics that it's so much easier to teach and for people to appreciate if you can see it in three dimensions instead of on a screen or in a book—and I love reading, don't get me wrong—but as human beings, we're used to operating in a 3D world. We spot patterns and process information; our brains are geared to process information that way. And so, I think this is going to open up kind of a whole new frontier for history, for astronomy, for physics, for… you name it. So, Seana I think has a great example to go into.

Murray: Yeah. Case Western Reserve University was one of our first north star customers. They really went all in on mixed reality very early on. When a lot of other customers were really like putting a toe in the water, Case Western really saw the opportunity for developing out a full curriculum for holographic learning. And so, their new medical school is going completely holographic, and they have taught already a number of semesters doing holographic anatomy and cadaveric research. And if I remember correctly, they had decided at one point that approximately…their students are getting approximately 30% additional recall by learning anatomy via spatially contextual holograms versus flat textbooks. And so, that is a huge uptick in recall, and particularly since these are our future doctors. I am happy with every additional percent of recall that we can get out of these students. [All laugh]

Meredith: Yeah, no kidding.

Wyatt: Yeah. Well, and instead of looking at a cadaver—I'm assuming, tell me if I'm right—not only do you end up getting the opportunity to learn about one cadaver, but through this technology, you could throw in all kinds of curves that aren't limited to this one person.

Murray: That's exactly right, we did talk about that. Well, that's right, because cadaveric research is very expensive and you have a limited number of cadavers that you are working on in medical school, and with HoloLens, you can choose any number of illnesses or reasons that the person expired, and fundamentally, once you build it once, it's free to…"Now let's see what someone who expired from heart disease look like? Versus breast cancer? Versus…?" And so, you're really unlimited in the possibilities of how much training you actually are able to do once you develop one.

Wyatt: Yeah.

O'Brien: And then for…in the real world, in terms of jobs people do…like oil and gas or any other hazardous or even the power plants we were talking about before, there are a number of situations that would be dangerous to simulate for real that we can virtually simulate in an immersive way and let people get some experience with that situation in a way where they're not at risk.

Wyatt: Yeah. So, we do something like this called flight simulators.

Meredith: Right, in our aviation program.

Wyatt: So that a person can crash a dozen times, being confronted with all kinds of weather scenarios and nobody dies and they get to keep practicing and practicing. And what you're doing is technology way beyond that.

Meredith: Well, and President, you mentioned this earlier: we talk a lot about things that are hard to teach online, and I'm 100% in favor of recognizing that there are some things that are best taught face-to-face, but one of the things that we keep circling back to is the idea of an online lab, right? Labs that we build are typically expensive, a little bit dangerous…but they're expensive and they have a very limited size, which keeps the classes very small and as a result, the pipeline of those that can take the class is quite small, right?

Wyatt: And there are things you can't do in a lab.

Meredith: That's right, that are too dangerous, as John was just saying. There are things that we simulate that are too dangerous that not even…we wouldn't even let our professors do them because they're so dangerous. And this kind of technology would change that experience forever, I suspect.

Murray: Well, and the interesting thing about that is you can have 50 students in 50 different places across the country and all be viewing what the professor is doing from their perspective. And if you've got a couple of students in the class and everybody else is remote, one of the things we've found is that we as human beings want to interact with more than just a voice. And so, in some cases, like Case Western has done this, when there are remote students and some in a classroom, they actually create anthropomorphic avatars and put them in the space so that you have a sense of where other people are around you or what perspective they have that they're viewing so that it doesn't feel so outer space, next world kind of thing. It kind of grounds you back to what we're comfortable with as humans, but provides perspective for 45 other students that they otherwise wouldn't have had.

Wyatt: So, the faculty member can, in essence, see the classroom.

Murray: Yep.

Wyatt: And all of the students are spread out around the world and they're all looking at what the professor is looking at.

Murray: Exactly. And from their own perspective.

O'Brien: And…

Murray: It's not like a flatscreen. Oh, go ahead, John, please.

O'Brien: No, please finish.

Murray: Well, I was saying it's not a flat screen, right? If the professor has something…if they have a beaker that they're putting chemicals in and it appears that it's floating, the students can sort of, with their HoloLenses, they can look under it to see what the reaction underneath is looking like; they can look from the top. And so, you're sitting in your house and you can get a 360 degree perspective on that without having to ask someone to "please move it" or "can you show me?" So, you really do get an individualized learning experience without having to leave your house.

Meredith: Wow.

O'Brien: Yeah, and what I was going to say is this idea of remote collaboration, a lot of the teams at Microsoft, and certainly our teams, have been going deep on trying to understand what counts, to Seana's point, as presence. How much feel of the other people being in the team with you is important? How much of that do you need in order to feel like you're fully interacting with each other? Sometimes, voice is enough, but it's frequently lacking. And so, the question is, "Do you have to?" Because it's really difficult to do full representation of other people just yet; we're not all the way to that yet. "What needs to be there so that I feel like I'm actually interacting with you in the room and that we're looking at something together?" And it turns out just a simple representation of even like the upper body, and if I can see where you're looking at maybe even see your head, or even if it's totally stylized, see your head move and see where you're looking while you're talking to me and see where you're standing relative to this hologram I'm looking at, then I do feel like I'm in the room with you even though it doesn't look anything like you. I hope that that made sense.

Wyatt: Yeah, it does make sense. It makes perfect sense.

Murray: One of the things that customers of ours tend to be surprised about is the makeup of our team when we first start talking to them about application. Like, fundamentally changing things and developing holographic things with volume is very different than 2D .net programming. And so, our team, as well as our engineers, we've got 2D artists, 3D artists, UX and UI designers as well as creative directors, and so, there's as much art that goes into creating these new types of applications as there is the science behind how we do it. And all of that art helps really bring it to life and make you feel like it's a real object in front of you or there's another person or we're having a shared experience or I'm really getting the full detail on this project for somebody who's designing something. So, that art is really important and typically unexpected when we first start talking to folks.

Wyatt: What we have talked about so far is that the learning outcomes can be higher, as you described at the Case Western example and their medical school, the outcomes can actually be higher, better recall. We've also talked about the fact that you can do things with the HoloLens that cannot be done in real life. That some things are too dangerous or too challenging or too expensive, but you can do them in this modality. And just these various kinds of practical things that seem to be very positive. One of the takeaways from the year 2020 is that we all need to be a little more focused on equity, fairness, equal opportunities for people. That as we move forward as societies that we don't leave people behind. It seems to me that this is one of those tools that can give a much, much broader group of people an opportunity for a high quality education because they don't have to move somewhere.

Murray: Well, and I think the other thing that I would add with that is there is a big focus within Microsoft, not just within our team—we had some devs who were particularly passionate about this—but the idea of accessibility is a fundamental principle of Microsoft, and so, it is one of the things that we also consider. So, not just gender or race or socioeconomic background. You're considering people who have different styles and abilities of learning, and those are all considerations that we make as we're developing these apps so that we're not limited to a certain set of the population. And like I said, we had a couple of developers on our team who took in very seriously. They participated in a number of hackathons, there's been some considerations about, "How do you use…what is a HoloLens experience like for someone who is blind?" Do they leverage the sound, do they get volume out of it? And so, it is definitely a topic that we spend a lot of time and consideration on.

Wyatt: This ought to be one of the outcomes for every advance in technology is social equity. Opportunities.

O'Brien: Yeah, I agree and I'm really proud that we're a company that prioritizes that. I was really impressed with the response, both publicly and internally, to everything that was going on last year. And certainly, as Seana said, it's great being part of a team…Microsoft does an internal hackathon once a year that's totally cross functional. Someone can put an idea out there and anyone in the company can sign on to participate in that. So, you'll get these kinds of really diverse teams coming together with the only thing they have in common—they probably haven't even met each other beforehand—the only thing they have in common is passion about a particular topic. And so, that's how that idea Seana was talking about came about. And so, I think the particular idea, one thing that I've seen repeatedly is HoloLens has a really impressive sensor package built into it, I was telling you about those cameras and I was telling you about building up the 3D map of a room…well, what if I can use those 3D maps to help a blind person navigate in an environment that they're in because the HoloLens can tell where obstacles are and then we can use sound maybe to trigger the person to understand. Just like in some cars have things like that now. If there's something in the lane and you're about to change lanes, we can maybe use sound to trigger you to help a blind person navigate a space they haven't seen before.

Meredith: Amazing. We're just sitting here staring at each other across the room. It's just such a…there's kind of a joke, especially for people of the age that Scott and I are, there's a recurring meme on the internet of…

Wyatt: We're not the same age, Steve.

Meredith: Yeah, that's right. I'm a year older, and he never lets me forget it.

Wyatt: You're a couple of months older.

Meredith: Yeah, that's right. [Both laugh] The meme is something to the effect of, "Hey, we grew up watching the Jetsons and we were promised electric flying cars by now…where is all of this stuff?" And while I appreciate the joke, the HoloLens seems to me to be the start of…this is all around the edges of that Jetsons way of going to school, right? It really is, as John has suggested, going to transform everything we do it seems like that.

Murray: It's definitely the biggest step change in education I think we have seen in 50, 60, 80, maybe 100 years. I mean, it really does change everything about how we can learn, where we can learn, who can learn…yeah. It is a major shift in education for sure.

Wyatt: So, put on your HoloLens and…I should say HoloLens/crystal ball…what do you see 15 years from now or so? Where do you think we'll be in education?

O'Brien: I'll go first, I guess. Yeah, I think the trends are already underway, but we're going to perfect it. So, I think remote learning, this notion of that I have to be in a specific place to access content relative to that institution, that's going to be possibly gone, right? And I think the access to information is going to be much more widely distributed, right? Like, right now, like you were saying, from an equity standpoint right now, I have to live in certain areas and have a certain background maybe to get the best possible education. And I hope we're going to solve that problem. I think technology is how we're going to solve that problem. And on the technology front, in order for that to happen, the prerequisites to me are we have these building blocks, we have this V1 technology, but like the HoloLens 1 and 2 are the equivalent of…unfortunately, I'm old enough as well to remember the first cell phones, and those things were bricks with a large antenna attached to them. [All laugh] I remember seeing one and going, "Man, who the heck would want to carry that around with them? But there's clearly something powerful there, there's something to it." That's what, to me, the HoloLens, V1 especially is, and HoloLens V2. I don't know exactly what this technology is 10, 15 years from now, but it's going to be ubiquitous, you're not going to be aware of it, it's going to be commoditized to where just about anyone can have it. And once we have that, then that opens up all of these possibilities educationally. And I think that as the displays get more and more immersive and then as we do get things like haptics where you can get physical feedback, I don't want to say we'll be all the way to something like Ready Player One, right? But we are definitely heading that way. There's very little in that movie that is completely outside the bounds of what we can do now, right? We're just…it's execution and refinement and miniaturization and improving the price points of things. And I talked for too long, so go ahead Seana.

Murray: No, no. I actually think COVID, as horrendous and as detrimental as this has been, I think it is another pivot point in how we're learning and how kids are going to, kids or young adults, experience their education. I've watched my daughter now, I mean, she's only in third grade, but I've watched her now since last March try to navigate what remote learning on a screen looks like and I think schools are getting smarter, and I've even talked to some other high schools and universities, and even some enterprises about how do they keep kids interested? How do we look at the potential for gamifying education? And as much as we're saying, "Keep your kids off of a screen," fundamentally, I think realistically, screens are going to be what's ubiquitous. Whether it's a screen like some sort of tablet or whether it's your phone in some version or whether it's some version of a HoloLens, I think the screen and how that child learns and where they learn gets opened up to a whole new world. And learning how to keep them interested, again, not unlike some of the advances in education that you're considering at the university, will have a lot to do with how you recruit and retain students in their interest.

Wyatt: Yeah, I'm thinking through all of the ramifications of this and it's really amazing to think about it. What you've just described, both of you, John and Seana, is that the lingo we would use is access and affordability. That access is going to go way up through the injection of technology, and the cost for the same quality of education is going to go down. And that the outcomes, the additional recall or learning outcomes are going to go way up. This is what technology is supposed to do. It's supposed to increase outcomes, increase access, and decrease cost. I'm excited about the future.

Meredith: Me too.

O'Brien: Yeah, we are too.

Wyatt: How long do you think it will be before we see this kind of technology on all of the campuses around the country? How fast do you think this kind of technology is going to become ubiquitous?

O'Brien: I mean, there are a number of elements to that, right? If you're talking HoloLens and this style of education, it's not just about the technology that's available to a student to consume content, it's about the creation of that content and about the back end systems to support such content, right? So, there are a lot of moving parts to it.

Wyatt: Yep, you're right. Part of it you have to do…

Murray: I agree with you John, I think that's…

Wyatt: Part of it we have to do. Go ahead, Seana.

Murray: Yeah, I think the content is the…no, thank you. Yeah, I think the content is a real driver. I think that's a really valid point is that the device without something that really lights it up will certainly not expedite the use of it, but I also think experiences like COVID have the opportunity to accelerate. I think about it like with electric cars. I mean, electric cars have been sort of this idea that a few people, certainly more in Seattle, but it's still a novelty for a lot of the country to think about driving an electric car, and I actually…my other half yesterday told me that apparently I was ahead of the curve, because I six months ago bought an electric car, and Jaguar just announced that by 2025, their entire fleet is going to be electric. And I think there was another company that by a few years later, maybe Ford or something, and so, it's almost like it's slow, it's slow, it's slow, and then there's this hockey stick uptick that everybody just sort of gets on the wagon at the same time. And so, I think we're sort of in that…we're getting to that acceleration point and I think there's a number of factors that are causing that, but I do think it's the technology or the change in education is going to really start to accelerate from here on out.

Meredith: So, Seana, can I ask a question? We had talked earlier in the podcast about Case Western Reserve and you had said they jumped in with both feet. My question about that is did…obviously they jumped in with both feed regarding probably the purchase of HoloLens and all of the other materials that they would need for that, but did the university itself jump in with both feet in terms of developing the curriculum to be used on HoloLens? Because, as John has pointed out, it's the creation that, in some cases, the creative side, the materials to be implemented on the technology that sometimes holds back the progress. What was your experience with Case Western in that regard?

Murray: They did. They were…I think, and not to overuse the word, but I think they were quite visionary in really looking far out into the future. They were building a new medical school at the time, so they were kind of faced with a different set of choices than a university who, "It's business as usual next year" kind of thing, but they really, in building the new medical school looked out ahead to think, "What is this going to look like? What is the education going to look like?" And so, they did. Microsoft was building some of the first applications. They actually started working with us even before the product was generally available to the public. And so, our product group started working with them, but they've expanded. And so, they really have…they now license I think at least one of the courses for students. And so, they sort of turned it not just into curriculum for them, but now potentially curriculum for all. So, yeah, they've onboarded their own little enterprise as it relates to holographic development and curriculum updates and management and that kind of thing. And so, there's definitely…I don't think every school has to go that way. I mean, I've got a number of customers who we've talked to and they were like…one of my customers was like, "I have enough to manage, I don't need to manage software devs too." And so, he was like, "We always want to outsource." Where we've got other customers who are like, "No, we think that the ROI and having the control and not having to license software, we want to bring this in house and we want to have this skill set so that we have more freedom to develop." And so, I think that there's a wide range, but Case Western definitely went to the, "All in, we're going to be able to develop our own curriculum."

Meredith: And as John pointed out, there's also all of the backend stuff to consider. So, there are many moving parts and getting them all coordinated so that there's frontend software for curriculum and then the implementation of the actual HoloLens device, and then the data that you're collecting on the backside or the integration with whatever system that it needs to integrate with. That…I can see why…I love your analogy of the hockey stick, because I can see why this end of the hockey stick is kind of flat and lengthy, but I agree that once there are all of those parts in place, there is going to be a great big shoot up. And it's going to be hugely impactful to higher education. Education generally, certainly higher education.

Murray: Agreed.

Wyatt: Steve, it's time to stop looking at YouTube videos of the HoloLens.

Meredith: Yeah, we've got to go find one. Maybe our guests know where we could get one on loan. [Laughs]

Wyatt: I'll bet you they could tell us where we could buy one.

Meredith: Yeah, no, we'll buy one. [All laugh] I was mostly making a joke. But, yeah. No, we've got to go check one of these out. Anyway…

Wyatt: Well, this is interesting and really fun for us, and we're super honored, Seana and John, that the two of you with your incredibly busy schedules and lives would pause for a minute to talk to us on this podcast and help inspire us with the future-lies for education. And it's a reminder to us that we need to make sure that as we think about our future that we—for us and for all colleges and universities around the world—that we start thinking about how we can leverage technology to increase access, increase affordability, increase outcomes, and increase all of the equity issues that have plagued us for centuries.

Murray: Well, thank you much for having us. I think you can probably hear, John and I have both been at this for five or six years and we're still really passionate about it. And so, given the opportunity to talk about the technology, even if it's just creating awareness and conversation, we're happy to do it and happy to build out the ecosystem so that more people can experience this technology as we move forward.

Wyatt: Steve, more than just getting a HoloLens, we need to engage in some kind of a project with Seana and John.

Meredith: We do, I agree.

Wyatt: I cut you off, John. I didn't mean to do that.

O'Brien: Oh, no that's fine. I was just going to say it's been my pleasure to be here and I love talking about this stuff and I'm really passionate about what we can do and about how to apply this to make the world better.

Meredith: You've been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We've had as our guests today via phone from their home offices in the Seattle area, Seana Murray and John O'Brien. They are members of Microsoft's Mixed Reality Services team and just a fascinating discussion. Thank you so much for helping us catch a glimpse of what our very near future will be, John and Seana, we very much appreciate it. And thanks to you, our listeners, for joining us. We'll be back with another podcast very soon. Thanks for listening, bye bye.