New View EDU Episode 26: Bringing Virtual Reality into K-12 Education

Available October 18

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After COVID forced schools all over the world to dive headlong into experiments with online learning, most educators are delighted to have the chance to return to in-person classrooms. But what if the answer to a number of challenges in education—equity, access, student agency, efficiency—actually lies in going more deeply into the virtual realm? The founder of the world’s first virtual reality charter school believes that may be the way forward for schools.

Adam ManganaHost Tim Fish talks with Adam Mangana, the chief product officer and a founder of Optima Ed, an educational experience company focused on creating American classical and virtual reality curriculum. Adam also launched the world’s first virtual reality charter school, Optima Classical Academy, in 2022. Why, at a time when the world is opening back up for in-person instruction, would a deeply experienced educator and champion of classical education begin to advocate for teaching in virtual reality?

The advent of Web 3.0—what Adam refers to as a “distributed, permissionless internet”—is a game-changer, not just for education but for society. Adam shares his ideas about the inherent opportunities for greater personal ownership, democratized content sharing, improved access, new financial models, and a more equitable experience regardless of geography. Living in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, he points out that geographic boundaries are a significant current barrier to equitable access to quality education; with a new digital age ushering in possibilities like virtual reality learning, it may be possible for students and teachers to collaborate and engage with one another no matter where they live and work.

Far from creating a depersonalized experience of learning, Adam maintains that virtual reality offers teachers and students the chance to return to the kind of relational, ambulatory learning that characterized classical education. Arguing that our current model of industrial-age education was created for high utility and standardization, he makes the case that it’s time to begin educating for genius. Optimizing human potential, Adam says, means “walking alongside the learner.” In his estimation, virtual reality education allows for that deeply relational exchange to occur more effectively than in a traditional classroom or in other known online delivery systems.

In virtual reality education, anyone can attend a top-notch school, no matter what their zip code or socioeconomic status. Any student can meet with and learn from excellent educators. Any class, anywhere, can travel to the Acropolis without raising money for plane tickets, or go back in time, or create the future. By grounding the experience in relationships, classical principles, and the pursuit of equity, Adam believes that virtual reality education can improve school for everyone.

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Adam explore in this episode include:

  • The internet and technology are changing rapidly. What’s on the horizon, and how does it impact education?
  • What does a day at the world’s first virtual reality charter school look like? How do you teach and learn in a VR environment?
  • How do you overcome isolation and socialization concerns in a VR school? 
  • How does virtual reality education create an opportunity for maximizing human potential in a way that incentivizes teaching and learning at the highest levels?

Episode Highlights

  • “I really wanna make ambulatory learning great again. … Here's my crazy idea. I think two of the greatest teachers that have ever lived on Earth, Socrates and Jesus, they neither read nor wrote, right? They didn't know how to read. They didn't know how to write, but yet they are revered as two of our greatest teachers.” (6:40)
  • “Alexander would not have been great if it weren't for Aristotle walking alongside him.” (11:34)
  • “You can literally enter the avatar of somebody that has a completely different skin complexion, different life story, and be perceived in that simulation as that person. So you're walking a mile in someone else's avatar and you're able to perceive the world from their perspective.” (16:56)
  • “The negative externality is, as people are winning in this new web-three space, if we don't provide access, you're gonna see, I think, rises in fundamentalism. And you see this in every industrial revolution. Right? If you look at, we're in a fourth industrial revolution, if you track every industrial revolution, you have people who respond—for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction—you have people who respond in the opposite direction. So it's critical to me, as we're thinking about how this is evolving, that access is at the front of our minds.” (21:37)
  • “There's gonna be a tri-brid deal where you're gonna start to see schools partnering together and capturing families that are moving around the world and having a world-class education. And I think part of that bridge between the physical geography will be this virtual, immersive virtual campus that they can touch while they're in that space.” (30:32)
  • “We lost a generation of children. Some, we don't even know where they are. Others, we've seen rises in mental health issues. … I mentioned Aristotle and Alexander the Great. The relationship is at the center. And if we can create that relationship and that sense of connection and accountability with our students and with our teacher, I think that will allow for teachers to be valued again in our society.” (41:43)

Resource List

Full Transcript

  • Read the full transcript here.

About Our Guest

Adam Mangana is the chief product officer and a founder of Optima Ed,  the only educational experience company focused on creating American classical and virtual reality curriculum in the world. He has over 15 years of experience in education technology. He also launched the world’s first virtual reality charter school in the fall of 2022. Optima Classical Academy is a tuition-free online school serving students grades 3-8.

Prior to the launch of Optima Classical, he was the head of school at Benedict Day School (MS). At Benedict, he built the only virtual reality lab in the Pine Belt. Inspired by challenges of the worldwide pandemic, he has pioneered an immersive virtual education delivery system through the use of the Engage platform in VR. He also served as the director of Extended Reality Lab at Jackson Preparatory (MS), where he worked to build the Southeast’s largest extended reality lab in K-12 schools. This work is focused on curating the best educational experiences in virtual reality as well as teaching students to build their own experiences and content in VR.

He is a Teach For America alumni as well as an Albert Bennett award recipient. After his two-year teaching commitment with TFA, he worked for the education consulting firm Carney, Sandoe, and Associates. He holds a bachelor's degree from Brown University with a double major in classics and public and private sector organizations. He also earned a master's degree from Vanderbilt University in independent school leadership.