Hi Adam, thanks so much for joining us! To get started, please provide us with an overview of your background and share what inspired you to get into immersive technology. Also, please tell us about your journey into the VR industry.
Hi there! My name is Adam Mangana, and I’m the Chief Product Officer and founder of Optima Ed. We’re the only education experience company that creates standards-aligned Virtual Reality Curricula worldwide. I’ve been in education technology for over 15 years, and I recently launched the world’s first Virtual Reality Charter School, Optima Classical Academy, in the fall of 2022. We offer tuition-free online education to students in grades K-9.
My passion lies in education, ancient history, and computer science. I received my undergraduate degree from Brown University with a double major in Classics and Public and Private Sector Organizations. I’ve been fortunate to work with some prominent classicists who inspired me to explore ancient texts and delve deeper into the subject matter. In addition, my mother’s work in the physics department exposed me to computer science, and I had the opportunity to work on research projects with physicists, which gave me a strong foundation in computer science.
Around eight years ago, I became interested in virtual reality and its potential to enhance education. At that time, I created an Unreal Engine course and had the chance to work with the first commercially available headset when Facebook acquired Oculus. Since then, I’ve pursued graduate work in VR education at Vanderbilt and have been part of some initial longitudinal studies on VR in education.
During the pandemic, I had the opportunity to pilot a VR education program with several schools, which led to the opening of the first tuition-free charter school delivered in the Metaverse. I’m excited to be at the forefront of this new field, and the possibilities for immersive and interactive education are endless.
I live on a farm in rural Mississippi outside of Hattiesburg and run a company based in Naples, Florida. I go back and forth between the two and have two kids who attend the world’s first school delivered entirely in the Metaverse, Optima Online Academy. The platform allows students to be present together and experience the school together, building a relationship with the faculty, which is a powerful experience and the primary use case for the Metaverse.
One of my big ideas is to make ambulatory learning great again. I’m inspired by the ancient teaching methods of our two greatest teachers, Jesus and Socrates, who walked alongside their students and asked questions. With the Metaverse, we can create a more immersive and interactive learning experience reminiscent of these ancient teaching methods.
In summary, I’m passionate about education, computer science, and VR technology and committed to creating innovative and practical approaches to education. I’m excited to share my insights and practical advice with anyone interested in exploring the potential of VR for education.
Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?
Absolutely. At Optima Education, we’re on a mission to make education more accessible to everyone through the power of VR and immersive technology. Right now, we’re focused on scaling our operations beyond Florida, where we’re currently providing our coursework for free to students with a Florida residence. We’re also proud to partner with Step Up for Students, an organization that supports students with neurodiversity, to offer educational field trips or learning expeditions to 94,000 students. Our nonprofit, the Optima Foundation, supports this work with neurodiverse students, and we welcome anyone who wants to contribute to this cause.
In addition to these initiatives, we’re constantly improving and expanding our curriculum and platform to offer even more engaging and effective educational experiences. We see ourselves as the world’s first education experience company, and we’re excited about the potential for VR and the Metaverse to revolutionize education in future years.
For anyone who wants to learn more about what we’re doing at Optima Education, visit our website, optimaed.com, or check out our charter school at optimaclassical.org. And if you’re interested in supporting our work or want to connect with me directly, don’t hesitate to reach out on LinkedIn. We’re always happy to speak with others who share our passion for transforming education with VR and immersive technology.
What’s your vision for the future of VR and the Metaverse?
My vision for the future of VR and the Metaverse is exciting, and I see it as a natural evolution of the internet. Thanks to blockchain technology, interoperability will be a crucial feature of this new digital landscape. Companies can trade assets and connect with customers and stakeholders in new and exciting ways. This will make it possible to take assets created in one platform, such as Fortnite or Roblox, and trade them in an educational forum or even a digital real estate market.
Many companies will transition from having a traditional website to having a web place, a three-dimensional metaverse space that will help them stand out and create new opportunities. With the influx of eyeballs and attention, I see a massive adoption curve for the Metaverse coming in the near future. However, as we move into this new digital space, we must also prepare for the need to teach people how to be responsible and ethical digital citizens. Therefore, it will be necessary for schools to play a role in shaping civic virtue and instilling digital citizenship in their students, preparing them for a future where they will need to be good citizens both in real life and the Metaverse.
Despite our many challenges, I remain deeply committed to making education more accessible and bringing the power of VR and what I know about learning to as many people as possible. The Metaverse is a three-dimensional version of the internet and a natural progression of how we interact and do business online. While there are challenges to face as we move into this new era, I believe that with perseverance, a deep sense of purpose, and a focus on building good digital citizenship, we can unlock the full potential of the Metaverse and create a better future for all.
What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why
As an expert in the field, the VR industry must focus on utility and relevance. VR companies should solve problems for their customers and users rather than just trying to showcase the technology. It’s essential to consider the practical applications of VR and how it can solve problems in fields such as education, healthcare, and engineering.
Another issue is that the industry needs to build experiences that will last for hundreds of years. Therefore, three-dimensional assets in VR are essential. Companies should take inspiration from the book “The Timeless Way of Building” by Christopher Alexander, which emphasizes the importance of creating timeless structures and experiences.
In addition, the communication around VR needs to be improved. Many people still view VR as a novelty or a niche technology, and it’s up to the industry to demonstrate its potential and practical uses. It’s essential to focus on the problems that VR can solve, such as enhancing empathy or improving access to education.
Overall, the VR industry must continue to innovate, push boundaries, and remain practical and focused on solving real-world problems. As the industry grows, it’s crucial to balance showcasing the technology and providing tangible, valuable solutions.
What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?
As a company that operates in the education industry, Optima Education prioritizes privacy and ethics. We understand that data privacy is critical when it comes to education, and we take our users’ trust very seriously. Therefore, we are committed to ensuring that our platform is safe, secure, and transparent with our users about collecting, storing, and using their data.
In terms of ethics, companies need to approach emerging technologies with a sense of responsibility and a deep commitment to doing what’s right. As we move into the Metaverse and other immersive technologies, we must take the time to consider these technologies’ implications and work together to establish ethical guidelines and best practices. This is particularly important in education, where we protect and nurture the next generation’s minds.
We believe blockchain technology is critical in building trust and establishing a sense of accountability regarding privacy and ethics. Using the blockchain to create immutable, transparent data usage records, we can help ensure that users retain control over their data and that companies are held accountable for their actions. Ultimately, it’s up to everyone in the industry to work together to ensure that emerging technologies are used ethically and responsibly and that the next generation of students can learn and grow in a safe and secure environment.
What advice do you have for people (professionals/ students) looking to enter the XR industry?
I advise those looking to enter the XR industry to understand the tools and technologies, build and experiment with different ideas, and network with other professionals. You can find free online resources, such as Unity and Unreal Engine tutorials, or consider taking a content creator course to get started. Attend industry conferences to keep updated with the latest trends and innovations and create opportunities for collaboration and career advancement. So roll up your sleeves and start building!
Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?
As someone fortunate enough to have many great mentors in my life, they have all significantly shaped my journey and career. However, one person who stands out, in particular, is Dr. Derek Ham, a friend, and mentor whom I met while growing up in Southeastern Virginia.
Dr. Ham, who went on to attend Harvard and MIT and now serves as the Chairman of the Design School at North Carolina State, has been an incredible inspiration to me. He built an immersive experience called “I Am A Man,” available on the Oculus Store and created for the National African American History Museum in DC. It takes users on a journey back to 1968 Memphis from the perspective of sanitation workers during the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Watching him pioneer perspective-taking and walking a mile in someone else’s shoes was inspiring, especially as someone who wants to engineer meaningful learning experiences for students. Dr. Ham’s dedication to his craft and ability to create immersive experiences that matter has been a constant source of inspiration to me. I’m grateful for his mentorship and friendship.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?
One of my favorite quotes comes from Saint Augustine: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” This quote is inspiring because it reminds us of the importance of gaining new experiences and expanding our perspective. We live in a vast and diverse world, and it’s easy to get stuck in our little bubble and forget about incredible things beyond our immediate surroundings. This quote encourages us to venture out and explore, learn from others, and broaden our horizons. I believe this is especially important in virtual reality, which allows us to “hack time and space” and experience new things in a way that was never before possible. By embracing this spirit of adventure and exploration, we can better understand the world around us and become more well-rounded and empathetic individuals.
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