Crashcourse offers VR and interactive learning to recognise and treat concussions.
“When you’re trying to do something on a large scale or at a global level, there are always problems and hardships. And it’s that passion that helps pave the way to work through the challenges together and figure out creative solutions.”
In the latest episode of 15 Minutes With The Doctor, Vinay is joined by Dr Piya Sorcar, the founder of TeachAids. She leads a team of world experts developing public health education content used in 82 countries. We previously covered Crashcourse, an education tool that aims to reduce the effect of concussions through interactive and virtual reality digital content. In this exclusive excerpt for Once Daily, you can learn more about Piya’s background, user research and the role of VR in health.
Tell me a bit about your background. You said you were at Stanford. What led up to this work in terms of your professional career?
I was working in for-profit previously, but growing up, my family has really emphasised the importance of education and the importance of giving back and non-profit efforts in particular. So I decided fairly early in my twenties that I wanted to switch into the non-profit sector, and it seemed like there was a lot to do in education in particular. I’m now the founder of the non-profit Teachiads and I work at Stanford as an adjunct affiliate from the Stanford School of Medicine, and I’ve been teaching there for about 11 years.
Creating engaging digital content
…Yeah, such a vast amount of content you’ve got there, and good work on the engagement of so many different organisations. I think I’ll come to that in a second, but I just wanted to get your tips on how you create compelling and engaging content? What have you learned so far, and what would you do differently?
Honestly, I think the number one thing that we forget often is that you have to engage the people you’re designing for. And so I had several classes. Over three years of classes at Stanford, where these kids from junior high, from high school, from college, all work together to figure out what would really matter for them. And they were the ones that were teaching the adults the lessons of how do we create engaging content.
It was great.
The advisors had recommended, here’s what we need in terms of scientific content. And then the kids, the students, were the ones that decided, okay, this has got to fly in from here, and this has got to have a story around it, and here’s where I don’t understand what you’re talking about. So then, we would figure out how to create an analogy that would work for that. So it was very much this iterative, collaborative process with lots of different people working together to design something that would resonate.
“No matter what topic you’re talking about, there’s so much information overload. And people want things to be shorter than other kinds of media. That actually what ends up creating the problem because you’re getting bits and pieces of information from different places, and you’re trying to put that together to create your own understanding.”
You mentioned that a hundred or so experts were involved. Did you actually do much research or user research in terms of knowing that this is what people would respond to?
Yes. Everything we do is heavily research-based from the very, very beginning. So, we will use secondary research as a start to see what other people have collected, what they’ve seen. But again, there are limitations to any kind of study that you might look at, based on how many people they used, who they talked to, and when it happened, in what context?
So we do that research ourselves as well, just starting to understand the problem, why kids aren’t reporting, understand the relationship between kids and coaches and parents, and really just trying to understand the root of the different problems that are riddled in the topic of concussions. So we do interviews, and we do experimental research, and we use that to design various versions of curriculum that we then test using an iterative design process to see how kids are then responding. And then, of course, in the end, once we create the content, we do run larger-scale studies and primarily run between Harvard and Stanford. And results have been incredible.
Role of VR in health
What do you think will be the role of VR in health?
I think VR has the tremendous capability to show us so much. I think the biggest challenge we have is trying to expand that technology across more users. So the folks that have been very excited about VR, they’re the ones that can afford the units, share the units. But the majority of the people using our product are using the video versions, or they can afford to have one or two of the VR units. So I think the capability of VR is tremendous, and I’m hoping that the future allows for much more usage of that platform.
Yeah, and I think with time, hopefully as the units get cheaper, that as we increase access, we can create more impact.
Exactly, yeah. And that’s with any technology. I didn’t have a mobile phone when I was growing up, and now I don’t see anyone without a mobile phone and laptop. So it’ll be fascinating to see how we can leverage the incredible affordances of different kinds of technology to make education and health more compelling and impactful.
15 Minutes With The Doctor Podcast: Using digital & VR content to reduce the impact of concussions with Piya from TeachAids