Telling Stories to Enrich Learning with Wesley Della Volla
September 13, 2022
Telling Stories to Enrich Learning with Wesley Della Volla

We know that storytelling is a sure way to engage learners and hook them. Students need to want to learn if they’re going to retain the information. And immersing them in stories is a vital tool to humanize experiences, especially now as technology has changed and distanced many aspects of life and learning.

Building on technology and immersive learning is creating cutting edge opportunities for learning and engagement. This week on the podcast, we learn from an expert in storytelling and extended reality, the umbrella term that includes virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality.

Wesley Della Volla is sharing his expertise as a National Geographic storyteller and adjunct lecturer in encouraging learning, engaging with audiences, making VR more accessible, and creating an environment where it’s okay to make mistakes.

This episode is a refreshing conversation that supports the idea that technology is just one piece of the puzzle.

About Wesley Della Volla:

The founder of Meridian Treehouse, Wes is a visionary, educator, and master dot connector. Whether transforming National Geographic’s Grosvenor Auditorium into the largest, permanent virtual reality theater in the world or winning Emmy, National Press Photographers Association, and Webby awards for his innovative storytelling, Wesley pushes the boundaries of what is possible. He also shares his expertise at the intersection of education and entertainment as an adjunct lecturer in Georgetown University’s Environmental Studies Department and Resident Immersive Experience Innovator at the Harvard University Innovation Lab.

Jump in the Conversation:

[2:15] – Who is Wes Della Volla
[3:36] – What brought Wes to use his expertise in education
[5:45] – When you see 450 people get excited, that’s when you know immersive learning is something special
[6:24] – Immersive learning 101 and how it ties into schools
[7:58] – Where is learning going with VR learning
[11:03] – So much potential to add to the richness of the world around you
[12:37] – Immersive learning shouldn’t exist in vacuum
[13:35] – What issues do we need to consider as XR learning becomes more available so it’s accessible and inclusive for everyone
[18:18] – Stop using $5 words when a $2 works just fine
[19:37] – There’s science misunderstanding because it’s been so closed off
[20:58] – Humans have been trying to share our stories for as long as we’ve been around and it’s evolved over time
[23:22] – It’s our responsibility as educators to remember we don’t need the most expensive technology
[26:43] – How to be part of the tide
[28:00] – It’s okay to not be the smartest person in the room
[29:25] – Students and teachers should learn from one another
[30:27] – Turbo Time
[36:29] – Learning happens when you’re comfortable making mistakes
[37:08] – Wes’s Magic Wand
[41:57] – Maureen’s Takeaways

Links & Resources



Maureen O’Shaughnessy 0:03
Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at education evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of at active, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:07
Virtual reality and education are such a wonderful potential partnership. I am so pleased that today’s guest is a visionary who is making this connection a reality. He’s been telling stories through National Geographic for years, and has helped them create an award winning Virtual Reality theater. Today’s conversation will be all over the place. And I’m choosing not to edit this future reality is messy. And the science fiction qualities are counterbalanced by a need for human connection, sharing stories, and being willing to make mistakes and learn together. I can’t wait for you to listen in on my conversation with Wes Della Volla of Meridian tree house.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 2:06
Hi, Wes, it is wonderful to have you on education evolution today.

Wes Della Volla 2:10
Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 2:12
Mm hmm. And listeners. today I’m chatting with Wes Della Volla. He is the founder of Radiant treehouse. And sorry, Wes, I have to share your full bio just so much cool stuff that folks need to know. Wes is a visionary educator and master dot connector where they’re transforming National Geographics Grosvenor auditorium into the largest Permanent Virtual Reality theater in the world. For winning Emmy national press Photographers Association and Webby Awards for his innovative storytelling. Wes pushes the boundaries of what’s possible. He also shares his expertise at the intersection of education and entertainment as an adjunct lecturer at Georgetown in the Environmental Studies Department, and is a resident immersive experience innovator at the Harvard University Innovation Lab.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 3:07
I know that’s tons and that it’s in all of our show notes. But Wes, you do so much plays into what you bring to life for education. So Wow. The learner and educator in me are thrilled by the future possibilities that all of this stuff, and especially what’s going on with VR XR, I’m super excited. So let’s dive in. I’m curious how you even focused in on education with all these other pieces of the puzzle?

Wes Della Volla 3:39
Well, I think education may be swapped out with learning. And for me, they are oftentimes interchangeable and synonymous for most people. But I think learning is a little different than education. For me, I’m an avid learner lifelong curious, like overly curious human want to know everything. My mom’s nickname for me as a kid was little professor. Chances are I was going to find something I loved and talk at people about it, some things never change. So for me, I think being in that space, being someone who creates stories that share information, get you excited, and make you want to learn is where I found my sweet spot. And that was from the start of my career. When I realized I wanted to make TV. In high school, I had a very influential teacher, Mrs. Christie Marx, who knew that I was a good storyteller, and helped me get better at it. I knew that I didn’t want to make narrative stories. I didn’t want to tell, you know, fiction, I wanted to tell truth. And I wanted to be either a journalist or make documentaries. Unfortunately, I got to do both with my first job at National Geographic and so that’s why I stayed there. I stayed in that space of, you know, nonfiction storytelling. How do I share stories about the world around me? How do I get people excited about things? How do I share what I’m excited about? And that’s why I’ve ended up in the space because I’m curious and like to talk at people I love it.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 5:01
And I also like your distinction education and learning, we have to be careful because education can be something dispensed learning is this passionate, engaging thing that the learner is participating in. So not always synonyms. I agree.

Wes Della Volla 5:16
And I’ve done both work in formal education, working for a textbook publisher, creating new media and helping them connect with talent that could help learners get excited about, you know, the education products they were using. And so that’s where those words get really interchangeable. But I’ve worked in that formal space. And I understand how it’s different than the informal space where it’s about getting people to want to learn, making it exciting, and they want to do it. And that’s where I think my my big shift, especially into immersive has really kicked in is because once you see 450, people get excited and smile about standing face to face with an elephant in the Okavango Delta, or face to snout with a manta ray underwater, or literally standing in Neil Armstrong’s footsteps on the moon, and how excited they get about what they’ve just experienced. That’s why you know, immersive is something special.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 6:15
Yes. Started out. We know, like Metaverse, XR, VR 101. Us, how do we even start looking at this and how it could tie into really cool opportunities in schools and with learners?

Wes Della Volla 6:31
Well, I think the first thing to think about in particular is a nice little comparative statement coupler, if you will, in that, you know, AOL for those of us who remember it, America Online some of the early way that we access the internet. So AOL is to the internet, as meta is to the metaverse. And I think that’s a great way to think about, you know, with our role in particular Meridian Treehouse of being a strategic partner with Meadows immersive learning fund, we are working with, you know, a company that was looking to invest in immersive learning, and they are one part of this growing Metaverse that is going to be so much more than just one company. Just as the internet was so much more than America Online. It may have been ubiquitous, you know, America Online was the way we connected to the internet. And metta may be the way many of us connect the metaverse and think of it and maybe the most vocal one sharing it and talking about it right now. But the metaverse is not meta. So and I think that’s a good place to start in general. Even I’m saying that as someone who works with meta and is really enjoyed the process of working with them for them. Like with any partnership, there’s ups and downs, but overall very positive. I want to start with that. Because I think that kind of sets a very broad base level. And that that understanding.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 7:47
Yes. So I hear these amazing possibilities that you’re sharing that I’ve read about dream with us. Where is learning going with VR? Where could it be going what and VR vs XR break down acronyms for us?

Wes Della Volla 8:06
Well, so the acronym like the way that it actually translate translates is virtual reality versus mixed reality, which is Mr. N AR is augmented reality. And XR is really all of it. And that’s so it’s extended reality. So that’s what you think of like the X. And that’s where you know, the metaverse really is xr, it’s extending reality. It’s bringing things together. And that brings in you know, augmented reality AR and mixed reality Mr. and virtual reality, VR all fall under XR, which is that extended reality or as I call them the realities. Not to be confused. The Metaverse is not to be confused with the multiverse. That’s a whole different physical like physics. Whoa, yeah. But anyway, we could talk about the multiverses that the metaverse or meta versus of the multiply Gosh subject.

Wes Della Volla 8:54
But I would say the the way to think about virtual reality that is, you know, we’re really you are completely cut off from the rest of the world, your your stimuli is coming from the virtual world. So you’ve got a headset on, you’ve got a device on that really makes it so that you’re seeing just this place we’re transporting you to and you feel as if you’ve left where you are, without any connection to where you are, and are in this new place, this new space, this new engagement opportunity. Mixed Reality is that you can kind of have an interaction between your physical and virtual world. So let’s say that you’re in, you know, a museum. And let’s say you’re in an art museum, and you’re maybe looking at a very famous painting. And with mixed reality, you’re looking through a headset or device where you can see both the world around you and additional virtual content. And so maybe when you look over that famous painting, something pops up around it, or even more more potential is that you go over the same as painting, and maybe something starts moving, but it’s triggered by the room that you’re in. So that’s what mixed reality is. And it’s really, you have the room itself, the physical space you’re in, in the real world is also connected in engaging with the virtual world that you’re also part of. So it’s kind of that standing in between, hence mixed reality.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 10:14
Mm hmm.

Wes Della Volla 10:15
And then if you want to think about augmented reality, that one actually, you think about that one, that is, you know, you’re really looking at that, as there, there’s objects in the space you’re in. But the objects are less informed by the space you’re in were mixed reality, the objects you’re interacting with also interact with the space you’re in. So the augmented reality is something that pops up and you can look at through either via, you know, handheld device, or potentially glasses that are, Google Glasses is one of those vintage ways of thinking about it, that are now coming back with you no matter having Ray band, glasses, and snap and having theirs as well. But what you’re experiencing in that virtual world is not really connected to where you are in the real world. So think of it as like a sliding spectrum. You know, you’re completely engaged in your real world, there’s no view, there’s no virtual connection at all, then all the way to VR, where you’re completely out of your world. But in between, you’re connected in various ways. Mixed Reality is the one that gets me super excited, because it allows you to bring in those different components. And because I do want to focus so much on the real world, as we’re talking about earlier. And the reason I wanted to go into documentaries in journalism was to talk about the real world, mixed reality really excites me because it has the potential to add to where you are and what you’re doing in the real world. Not that anything else takes away, but it’s to add to it. So if you’re, you know, taking a walk, you know, through a national forest, and you’re like, Wait, what’s that tree, and you know, if you’ve got a device on, potentially, you can look at the tree, and it’ll tell you what it is, you can maybe look at and see how old it is. And there’s so much potential to add to the richness of the world around you with this technology, versus escape from the world around you. And that’s where I like to be is how do I add to the world you’re in? Oh,

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 12:05
I love it. And I see it bringing learning to life because kids would get to, well, they have more of a voice to and what they wanted, where they wanted to stop and focus and go deeper where they wanted to cruise by and get to something else, it’d be so rich, that it wouldn’t be everybody on page 23 reading the same paragraph,

Wes Della Volla 12:28
right? I mean, being on page 23, reading the same paragraph does have its place and good for engagement. And I do think that immersive should not exist in a vacuum. Like, and that’s, that’s very important. You know, I say that without any equivocation. I know it may have been delivered with a little bit. But their immersive does not exist in a vacuum. It all connects into multimodal ways, traditional ways, whether it be, you know, analog digital, of sharing information, and helping people, you know, learn how they best do that. And it’s it’s part of a vast toolkit, and it is a tool. And that’s one thing that I think is hugely important, is it has to be a value add and immersive is incredible and has so much potential. But it’s not right for every situation.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 13:17
Yes. And I agree the value added, it’s not this toy, just for entertainment. How is it enhancing what we’re trying to accomplish?

Wes Della Volla 13:27

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 13:28
Love it. Yeah. So as I think of the pandemic, and I think of lockdown and all kids having access to remote learning, we became extra aware as a country of how disparate that equity is. So what issues do you think need to be considered as XR learning becomes more available, so that we take that awareness from the pandemic, and do a better job of being inclusive and accessible for all of our kids?

Wes Della Volla 14:07
I would say that, you know, the biggest potential way for it to expand and also exclude access is, you know, the technology itself, the cost of the hardware. You know, on one hand, going to Palau and swimming with manta rays is not something most of us are ever going to be able to do. So there’s a lot of opportunity to expand an incredible amount of access to have people interact with these animals in these places. But on the flip side, if the best way to do it isn’t a $300 device that requires Internet requires, you know, understanding of a new platform, all of these things that limits access. So to answer that question, I think the biggest thing is expanding the ability for everyone to have internet connectivity at speeds that help them do the most with that new technology. You know, we’re thinking about this as internet 3.0 There are so many communities that are still in internet 1.0 Are you no no internet at all, I’ve spent a good chunk of my time in a small town in West Virginia. And, you know, until recently the highest internet speed, which is not nothing to sneeze that was 25 megabytes per second. And that was on the very high end. And it’s not as it’s not as cheap as the other ones, where you just can, you know, to the basic minimum for schooling. But to think that, you know, now nine months later, they’re able to go higher, that changes the whole equation for that small town. And that they can work remote on different places, they can learn remote, they, it opens up so much potential to engage and access the world beyond where they are. That’s huge. And I think a good chunk of what’s going to happen with immersive world and learning next, is going to be contingent on us ensuring that there’s equity and access to high speed connectivity.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 15:51
That makes perfect sense. And I think it’s easier said than done, it’s going to take creativity, it’s going to take generosity, it’s going to take a commitment to equity and to access.

Wes Della Volla 16:07
Yeah, and I think in many ways, especially to particularly in America, it’s going to have to, you know, we’re gonna have to realize this rugged individualism that we love so much, and America has a place and has given us so much, but at some point, we’re gonna have to realize that we are connected and to be connected, we’re going to have to think outside of just our needs. And that I think is going to be one of the potential biggest challenges. But I think once we get there, thinking about how we can help everyone else lift up. My motto in life is always been, you know, rising tides raise all ships. And that is kind of the philosophy behind everything I do. And that’s why equity and access and, you know, making things available as best we can is really important. You know, the first thing we delivered from meta was through the immersive learning fund was an independent research paper, a practitioners guide, an introduction to learning in the metaverse, we purposefully didn’t want to do a peer reviewed paper, we didn’t want it to end up behind a paywall or, you know, access wall because of that space. That doesn’t mean we didn’t thoroughly do the work is through it as thoroughly as we would if we were doing a peer reviewed paper having, you know, 30 plus people review it. But what it meant is that it was written in language that more people could understand and access and be useful for. And we freely share it both on our web site, through partners, we want everyone to have access to it. Because if everyone is able to access it, get a better understanding of the platform and the potential that helps us all. And that’s kind of where, you know, I look back, what we’ve done in the two years is merging Treehouse since it was formed. In those past two years, this is the thing I’m still the most proud of.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 17:50
I love it and talk about access not just being free and available, but being expressed in a way that people can understand.

Wes Della Volla 18:00
Yeah, by creating it in a way that would be more accessible using everyday language, it means that it has the more potential to be understood and actually be a communication tool. Oftentimes, you know, I teach, you know, climate change and storytelling, and I’ve also worked with scientists on nearly all my life all my adult career, and oftentimes, you know, it’s like, why are we using this $5 word, you know, big, long word, when we could just say with this one $2 word, and everyone else understand it. And this is a big part of why we did this, we want everyone to be able to access it. And, you know, it’s not meant just for people who have PhDs and you know, you know, learning or technology. This is meant for parents, this is meant for educators, librarians, anyone and everyone who wants to learn and you know, understand what XR and AR is, we want you to understand this and to be accessible for you. There is no point in talking to ourselves or keeping information locked in ivory towers. And that has always been my my philosophy. And I think a lot of it comes from and I will say this, you know, admittedly, I worked for National Geographic for 15 years, the core of its founding goal was to disseminate scientific knowledge, scientific information that was its goal was the dissemination of scientific information. And it should not be sequestered. It should not be held and not shared. And I think it’s a bit of a divergence from the immersive learning but in general, the fact that it things have been so closed off might explain why there is so much science misunderstanding in the world, because we can’t access the science and understand it. And science communicating is a hugely important thing and something I have been so happy to be a part of for my entire adult career.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 19:56
Absolutely that access. When you say no National Geographic, I think of being a child and the pictures I didn’t even need to read to be like, Oh my gosh, that Grand Canyon, or those tribes in the gorgeous jewelry. So to create access, to me is such a gift and such a change from knowledge is power to use for control, which has been something historically.

Wes Della Volla 20:28
Yeah, I mean, and to go to that, too, I mean, that’s, that is actually one of the great things about being there is that it really was meant to share knowledge. And I think about you brought up a point of the pictures being your kind of view to the world. And I think of, you know, what humans have actually been trying to do is create virtual reality like it will get there. But this this, this idea process makes sense. Just going on for a little bit, right. Okay. So, you know, with VR now, one of the projects I got to work on was with photographer Aaron Huey, and scientist Devlin Gandy. And we, we worked with them, along with some other partners, blacked out films, and, of course, the National Geographic Museum, and National Geographic Magazine, to create an experience that would take you to Bears Ears National Monument, and you could experience these sacred Keaveny sacred places. And in those places, there’s artwork, there’s drawings, we, as humans have been trying to share our stories as long as we’ve been able to. And, you know, it starts with, let me tell you the story and talk about it, so you can experience it, you know, I’m trying to share my reality with you, you know, then we start doing cave drawings. And that’s our way of sharing this is how the world looks to me, I want you to experience it. And then we go into, you know, art of different ways and other other ways of communicating to, you know, perspective and the enlightenment, changing how we painted to photography, like, this is the world this is what it is, it’s we have been trying to, you know, find ways to share our reality of how we’ve experienced the world with others. That’s one of the most core human things is sharing our reality, and helping other people understand how we see the world how we engage the world. And when you think about the what we were able to do with that team with Aaron, Devon Devlin black dot, everyone at the museum, we were able to take people to a place they would never go experience the this story that we’d never know, but one that needed to be shared. And the tangent didn’t go where I thought it was gonna go. So I don’t know if this is going to end out right. So we may have to pause and rework it. I know, I know, we were talking before there was the conversation about how like virtual reality is just changing. You know, we went from being painting. And like, that was our way of sharing it, to photography to stereoscopic photography, like the view masters and things like that, where you tried your best to, like, connect into virtual reality into now we’ve got headsets that can do it. So that maybe if didn’t get us anywhere, I apologize.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 22:59
No, I think we are we do it’s a human need to share our stories and reciprocal is to be heard. So yes, to keep finding ways to do that. And it goes back to access to Yeah, I’m not going to make it to plow, I’m not going to get to dive there. So how cool that I have an opportunity, yeah, to experience that.

Wes Della Volla 23:23
And at the same time, you know, building off that, it’s our responsibility as the content creators and those who want to make learning as accessible as possible to remember that we don’t need the new fangled technology, we don’t need the most expensive thing, we don’t need to have it, you know, be that the fact that we could go to a classroom with mobile devices, and people could interact with those experiences on their phones by moving around, and it’s still tracking their body movement. And so that picture changes, or even on flat screens, there’s, it all has to work together. And I think that’s where sometimes the purists who want to do the best thing like you, I wanna make the best experience on the best platform that will continue to be the best best best. Sometimes, that’s not as important as actually having people connect with it. It’s the you know, the it’s the saying it’s the perfect for the good or something. Yeah, it’s that kind of realizing that, you know, to expand access, you have to sometimes make sure it fits where people are, you have to meet them where they are, they’re not going to have the best, the biggest, the most expensive and if that’s all you’re counting on, you’re not helping. That’s

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 24:39
Yes. I think that ties into your rugged individual comment we love. I did it on my own and we and our egos get fed being the best, the fastest that this just the baddest. And we really do want to be thinking about community and what can we create that has community good community access? And remember, we are interconnected. Like you said, we keep coming back to that. And if we are that rising tide, and if we do want to think of all the ships, it’s not going to be the best. And we’re not going to get the prize for having. And that’s hard for some egos. And at times, it’s hard for my ego and like,

Wes Della Volla 25:20
yeah, everyone, it’s something to have, you know, keep you in check a little bit. I will say part of my upbringing, maybe part of the reason I think that way, I definitely had six sisters who are not afraid to check my ego at any given moment. So there’s that. It also helped me realize that, you know, I might be an individual, but there’s this community that I have to think about and interact with and be part of to be successful and be happy. Now, I’m not saying everyone have the unique blended family experience I had I loved mine, but it could be a lot. And I learned a lot from it. But I think that you are hitting on something there too, which is that individualism and you know, how do we put that ego aside, and that’s where, for me, the really fun thing about immersive is you get to like, I’m not part of it, I get out of the way. Oftentimes, I’m hidden behind the scenes to making something happen. Throughout my career, that’s where I’ve wanted to be is behind the scenes. My goal is to help others share their work and share their knowledge and connect it with others. I don’t need to be on stage. I don’t want to be in the limelight. My goal is to help others. You know, that rising tide, I’d like to be the I would like to be the tide. I think merging Treehouse, maybe be the tide to help raise some of those ships. And that’s, that sounds like a perfect place to be one of the ships.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 26:38
Absolutely. So if others wanted to help be part of the tide and wanted to in any way just, they believe that this is a great resource for learning to come to life. Where does somebody even start from going, Oh, this is cool to being a part of making a change.

Wes Della Volla 27:00
I would say you know, the little bit of a plug here, definitely make sure you take a look at our learning in the metaverse, a practitioners guide,

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 27:09
I’ll make sure we put a link in the show notes.

Wes Della Volla 27:13
Thank you, I think that’s a good place to start. Because with anything you you have to kind of you have to know what your walk like the landscape, what you’re walking into, you have that basic knowledge to understand. Okay, so this is what this space is like, this is what it can do one thing too about this, because it is independent research, you know, what, what can’t do you know, what are its affordances, but then also to what is it not good for, and knowing that starting there, that’s how people can become engaged. And that’s how all the ships will rise. If you understand how to drive the ship, then you’ll be you’ll be able to move maneuver it. And I think that’s kind of a way to really drag that metaphor out for a while. But to go back to that to go back to like, you know, ways that everyone can raise ships, I think it’s not being afraid to try something new, which I know sometimes hard. I’ve had the fortunate pleasure of working with countless artists in my life, and nine and a half times out of 10 know, 10 out of 10 times, I’m never the smartest person in the room. And that, for me is the best thing because I’m always constantly learning. And one thing I’ve learned from every one of them, you’re going to fail a lot more than you’re, you’re going to succeed. And I think a big part of how we raise the tide, get all the ships going is realize we’re going to make mistakes, we’re not going to get it right the first time. Immersive is going to be bumpy. It’s not going to be perfect. But it’s worth the dedication and understanding that it’s not going to be perfect. You just got to get there. And I think for me, that’s what I think about you know, how do you rise? Raise all the ships as you’ll be aware that it’s there, get to know it, play with it, try it. Maybe it’s not for you, maybe it is for you, or some aspects are but I think not being afraid to try it is going to be the key thing with any with immersive.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 28:59
Absolutely what a great thing to model for our youth. But hey, we can be curious, we can try things. And we know mistakes happen. And so not to be but that make us afraid to get out there and explore.

Wes Della Volla 29:14
Exactly. And I start with I did this at National Geographic and it didn’t realize how important it was until like I left and started teaching at Georgetown. I always make it clear with my students at Georgetown, that you know, we’re coming in here of course, you know, I’m going to your lectures so I have some expectation of knowledge of what I’m teaching and you know, talking about, but you also have some and you have a unique background. You know, you might be a business student, you might be a science student, you might be a math student, you might be international affairs. So your perspectives are going to be different. I want to learn as much from you as you can learn from me and so engage talk be part of it. When I was at National Geographic with the live events, my big thing was making it a space where people felt comfortable learning not I’ve always being right and willing to experience something new. And I think if you have that kind of outlook, you’re ultimately set up better to succeed, but also just to learn and stay curious.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 30:14
Stay curious. Yes, I love that. Before we wrap up, I want to just get to know a little bit more about you west. So I have two or three questions just to make sure that we know what’s going on for you. So what is something about you that most folks don’t know?

Wes Della Volla 30:39
I you know, there’s a there’s a few things, though, I will say the one that’s been the most enlightening and challenging is that I have Parkinson’s. So, Parkinson’s usually affects someone who’s older. So I am one of the 1% of annually diagnosed cases under 35. I’m like, I was diagnosed as 34. And, you know, it’s, it’s, of course, a challenge. But it’s also something that helps me be more comfortable being honest. Not only that, but also being empathetic. And I knew that you know, what I have, most people don’t see you don’t even realize, but it affects things. And so I know that there are other people when I’m interacting with them, or trying to figure out how to help them learn or connect or engage. They’re going to have some things in their own life. And so how do I pull away from my ego? And think about, you know, how do I connect to them? How do I help them want to understand this? What is important to them, you know, what might be going on with their lives at the time, too. And that’s something I stress to my students, you know, anytime I really speak about storytelling is you have to start by looking at yourself, realizing what your own biases might be, what your own realities might be, and then pull yourself away from it. And think about the person you’re trying to connect to and communicate with. What’s important to them. How do you help them, connect with it meet you there. You really have to meet people where they are. And you know, I’m thankful. As weird as it sounds for Parkinson’s. It’s forced me in many ways to slow it down. both literally and physically, metal metaphysically. Creatively, actually, no, it’s actually sped me up. But that’s a whole difference. Yeah, so so it’s, yeah, I am not living a life I thought I would have when I was 30. I don’t want to be anywhere else.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 32:37
Yes. Love it. One more. On the personal side, who are two inspirational folks you’d love to meet historic fiction fictitious? It can be, you name it?

Wes Della Volla 32:53
Well, first of all, I have to say that, you know that that list going in your being thinking about your life and where you are, the opportunities you’re afforded, I have met a great many of my heroes, which is still mind boggling. But I think some people I’d really, really would love to meet. Again, there’s so many, I do think is, you know, potentially cliched as it is Albert Einstein. Just the, his, his thoughts the way he saw the world, but also the time with which he lived in this world. And to just talk with him about it all, like it would be insane. to just get that multifaceted layer of you know, yeah. How did how did living in that time period, being the way you saw the world the way you interacted with the world in the way you wanted to? Share it with the world? What was that? What did that feel like? What was it like? You know, he’s the first one that pops in, for sure it be just because of all those many layers. And then, beyond that, a little more personal. That would probably be my great grandmother. So my, my mom’s family came over to the US in the 60s, my grandmother lived through Nazi occupation in northern France. Oh, my God. And so this is no, this is one of the things I had way back. I didn’t think it was gonna bring it up. But just meeting her and knowing who she was. And just having that historical context of what’s my family, you know, who is this, this woman who helped her family lives through this? Good bad everything in between, just to to know the fallible human, that was my great grandmother. And what was that? Like? And I know those are similar timeframes, but I think, you know, and this is something you can decide to keep or not. It’s very prescient right now. Their insights would be very useful right now.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 34:54
Absolutely. I completely agree. And, yep, we’re keeping this In

Wes Della Volla 35:01
All right, I usually don’t I don’t get that emotional. Actually, anyone who knows me who listens to this knows I do I care, I care a lot. And I think that might actually be one of my pet peeves. I don’t understand when it became cool to be apathetic. Yes, and that’s a huge pet peeve where, you know, you have to pretend or lead on or play that, you know, something you love is not something you love, and wanting to share with it or caring is, I don’t know, if that’s something that’s caught my attention a lot, especially, you know, my 20s Trying to date and find significant others. If you can’t be too into someone, you gotta be cool. Like, I like you, I’m gonna tell you, it fits into so many more things. And I think that also paired with the rugged individualism and other things have led us to a place where we aren’t thinking of how do we utilize everything to race ships to raise the tide? We’re, we’re thinking about our own ship, and no one else is, and that might be good for the short term, but for the long term that doesn’t help anyone

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 36:11
No. And it’s sad. It’s based on fear. Others might think this if I really share my passions, and when we’re focused on fear, we’re not focused on love and connection and community is all about love. It’s like, sounds obvious, that doesn’t make it easy. Yeah.

Wes Della Volla 36:27
And learning happens when you’re in a space where you feel comfortable to ask questions, make mistakes, and we are in a space, you know, where I think about kids who can’t fail. There’s, there’s no, there is no room given for failure or experimentation. And that is, that’s going to hinder us that’s going to keep us back, that’s not going to raise the tide, that’s actually probably going to lower it and that we’re too afraid to make mistakes. And there’s a whole bunch of conversations we could have on you know that in many ways, but I think that that’s another podcast for another time.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 37:01
Absolutely. Final question. I really like to wrap up with people’s visions and dreams. So if you had a magic wand, tell us, what would you have? VR or any sort of this immersive technology looking like in 2027 2027, that’s

Wes Della Volla 37:25
just close enough to not have anything happened, but far enough away to where everything could happen? In DC. Richard, I see what you’re doing here. Before I do that, I’m going to do a throwback in and give you an option for the person I’d like to meet, because it’s going to tie in to this and I’m going to make this a hard edit for you.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 37:44
Well, what if I don’t edit anything? Just saying that’s possible?

Wes Della Volla 37:50
Go ahead. Gene Roddenberry.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 37:54
Ah, oh, my gosh, brilliance. Yes.

Wes Della Volla 37:59
So you know that he’s someone that has shaped us on a long hike this weekend with a good friend for like, six, six miles, and we got to talking about? So do science fiction, authors, storytellers, shape the world that comes? Are they shaped by the world that’s like, it’s that chicken and egg? You know, do we have iPhones? And smartphones because of tricorders? Or how does all that fit in? And so for me, that’s someone I would really love to meet, just to see where his brain was and what he was thinking and how I have a feeling of might be let down. You know, think of things being your heroes, you never know. But he’s someone in particular. And I think that’s also plays into where I see immersive learning going, and that it’d be comes all around you. If if there’s any Trekkies out there who have watched discovery, the new series on Paramount Plus, I’m not pitching for them, but it’s a really good series. There’s this way that they can interact with information, and then it’s, you know, pops up and it’s interactive. And they’ve got holodecks. Everyone has a holodeck from Star Trek. So by 2027, the way I could see all of this going is that you may not need devices. And if you do, they’re gonna feel like devices you already may be wearing. Think about computers. And you know what they used to be in the 60s. So in Gene Roddenberry’s time, where he’s you know, make no creating Star Trek, computers were room sized. And now I have a computer in my pocket that is infinitely faster than something that was room sized, or the first desktop I had in the late 90s. You know, that’s going to change how we do everything. And in five years, you know, there’s the potential for us to have the ability to be in places and spaces and learning and it’s already there. It’s something we were normally we feel more comfortable with. It doesn’t block our interaction with the real world and hopefully becomes cost effective, but that takes time and technology to keep up with our imagination. So in five years, you I would, if everything went the way I wanted. There’s, there’s opportunities for every community to interact and learn more about their world around them with technology that allows them to add that richness they want to their world around them, they get to be the deciders of that with technology that doesn’t hinder them from connecting with that world. It’s a very broad way of saying it. But that’s only because I’m not a futurist. I know where things where they could go. But I’ve also been kind of thrown a few curveballs throughout my career in technology and storytelling. I’m not foolish enough to know to think I know all the answers. And that has been the best trait that has served me my entire life. I don’t know everything. And if by some freak chance anyone listening thinks they do, you don’t. And the moment you realize that, it’s going to be a lot easier to learn to be curious, and to make the most of this new technology and that, all right, I gotta learn something new. Try it out. What’s the harm?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 41:07
Love it? Absolutely. Wes, thank you, you are just doing so much in so many ways. And it’s nice to be able to just to unpack things, and not to have scripted conversations. So I really appreciate your candor today. Thank you.

Wes Della Volla 41:23
Well, you made it easy. He made me feel very comfortable and being able to chat with you. So I appreciate that. And it’s a unique opportunity to just share a different perspective. And you know, learning is deeply personal. It’s how we grow. It’s how we become who we are and helps us get to where we want to go. So of course, it would be a conversation like this, and that makes complete sense. Yes. Thank you. Oh, thank you.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 41:47
It’s fun. What did I tell you? Wes has done so much to not only further the world of virtual reality, but also to keep questioning how we make accessibility happen. He’ll also be unpacking more on a LinkedIn live in a few weeks, I asked west to explain to me how radiant Treehouse tied into the meta immersive learning fund. He explained that he had started Meridian treehouse in May of 2020. And when men announced their immersive learning fund of $150 million in August of 2021, he was one of the three selected strategic partners along with Hydros and the DC and Paris based black dot films. And even though meta has for profit goals, they are super dedicated to make sure that education is accessible and fun. So their first funded project for these three partners was the project guide that Wes referred to in the interview, you’ll find a link to the guide in the show notes. It’s a wonderful place for all of us to start our learning. It has great visuals, it has references at the end, it is going to give you that one on one tutorial that you probably need and I definitely needed. I also encourage you to play around on Meridian treehouses website, which is also linked in the show notes. It is fun to look at their mission and the wide variety of people collaborating to tell stories that use many forms of communication. There are also virtual moonwalk, links to from his Smithsonian work and other goodies, be sure to check it out. His website begins with foster curiosity, which is a wonderful reminder of how we can be activist in helping education evolve and include virtual reality. And remember, Wes also said don’t be afraid to try new things, or to not be the smartest person in the room. We have to engage and make learning mutual something we do together. So let’s get out there and be that rising tide, helping make sure that all learners have access to wonderful tools where they can feed their curiosity, explore and grow. Thank you for being activists in this education, evolution.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 44:41
If you are finding yourself thinking, I need to do this in my school. Let’s talk about it. I consult and also have a book TEDx talk an online course to support starting learner driven schools and programs. My goal is to help schools and individuals find new innovative solutions to reaching every student. Let’s create an action plan together. Visit to book a call and let’s get started. Education evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued and thriving. We need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. I’d be so grateful if you’d head over to your podcast app to give a great rating and review if you found this episode valuable. Don’t wait. Please do it right now before you forget. I really appreciate it. Thank you listeners signing off. This is Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.

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