My New (Space) Learning Hero

When I was ten, I desperately wanted to be the first female astronaut. I had it all carefully planned out: a degree in astrophysics, train to be an Air Force Pilot, then BAM! I’d be on the Space Shuttle.

Sally Ride destroyed that dream when I was 11. I simultaneously worshiped her and despised her.

Christa McAuliffe showed us that teachers could contribute to the space program. I was 13 years old on the day of the Challenger Launch. Completely devastated by the loss of the crew, I think that was the day my space dream truly died.

Now I have a new space hero: Col. Chris Hatfield of the International Space Station. He has masterfully used video and social media to invite us into his world on the ISS and teach us about zero gravity. He tweets with William Shatner and answers school children’s questions about life on the ISS. Most importantly, he connects with us virtually in a way that makes us feel like we know him. It’s the same way we feel like we know Jay Leno or David Letterman. Hatfield talks to us like we are friends.

Of course this is only possible because of current technology, but also because of his willingness to learn these new tricks. He’s no Millennial, but he sure communicates like one.

I’ve written before about harnessing the power of the virtual classroom to bring experts to the masses. It’s not just about using the tools, but knowing how to connect with the audience. It’s not about presenting. It’s about conversing. When you bring the audience into the conversation (either directly or by allowing them to submit questions) it becomes a richer and more meaningful dialogue.

Accessible Experts = Learning Heroes.

Live Virtual Experiences *Can* Be Intimate

If I told you that a live virtual experience could actually be intimate would you believe me? What if I showed you? Imagine you were preparing to play an instrument and record a song with someone in your studio. Now imagine that “someone” is orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station. Have a look for yourself.

ISS

On 7 Feb 2013 Canadian Chris Hatfield recorded a song with the Bare Naked Ladies. From Space. From. Freaking. Space.

I find this to be a beautiful example of how we can use technology to virtually bring special guests to a physical classroom. In Spring 2011 I attended a Video for Learning Lab at the Masie Center and experienced this technique. We met with virtual visitors from the CIA and CNN via Skype. Our facilitator asked them to speak for a few minutes about how they used video for learning, then we opened the floor for questions from the students. One of the visitors even asked to be “left on” so he could attend the next exercise we were going to do.

I was still at Intel at the time and working on the New Employee Orientation (NEO). One of the chief complaints from new employees was that we did not have a section on benefits during the first day orientation class. The benefits class is a virtual class offered once a month because the benefits team didn’t have the bandwidth to have someone teach the full session every other week when NEO was run. If you know anything about new employees or remember what it’s like to be a new employee, then you know that one of the biggest thing on their minds is benefits. I tried to convince our organization that we should partner with the benefits team to have someone virtually visit the class via video for 15-20 minutes to answer some of the students’ burning questions. It wouldn’t be as robust as the class, but at least we could calm some fears and show we care with a real human touch.

It didn’t end up happening at Intel but I keep this idea in my back pocket, waiting for the right opportunity. I’ll let you know how it goes.