Jacob Meade has been actively involved with the VREP program for a little more than two years. He is currently a freshman electronic media major at the University of Northern Iowa with the career goal of becoming a film director.
So first, what is VREP? Or at least, what is VREP from my student perspective?
First, what is VREP literally?
VREP stands for Virtual Reality Education Pathfinders and is a program that originated in East Marshall School District. Currently VREP encompasses over 50 Iowa schools and 10 Ohio high schools, but VREP is expanding rapidly with interest coming from Connecticut, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Arizona, and numerous other states. It is administered in Iowa by Trace Pickering (twitter: @tracepick)
Essentially VREP encourages students to APPLY the knowledge they acquire in class by CREATING a 3D model using 3D modeling software (in most cases the software used is the freeware program BLENDER). What is so very, very cool about this concept is students can experience real-world applications of their schoolwork that before were unreachable at the middle and high school level. Student projects cover a wide variety of areas, delving into topics such as engineering, science and math, design, film and animation, and history to name just a handful.
Alright, that is the “average” definition of VREP, but what does VREP really mean at a student’s point of view?
Well, when I first started VREP I was a busy high school junior, and quite frankly I did not put in the time I should have to learn the 3D program to articulately express my ideas. After motivating myself to commit more to my projects, I noticed a change in the way I was thinking about the projects, and ultimately my schoolwork as well. First, for some background on myself, school was never overly challenging for me, and I would try to excel more through organizations and extra-curricular activities than through schoolwork.
Not that I did not enjoy school, but I was never pushed. VREP forced me to push myself. With many projects with VREP, you are forced to research what you are making (therefore, learning) and you need to know a wide variety of math and science concepts to create a believable product in the 3D program. It takes work and dedication, but sooner rather than later it takes PASSION. VREP helped me find my passion. That is really what the “PATHFINDER” part of VREP stands for. Finding your passion.
I was selected to be a student VREP guide at a VREP learning institute in Cincinnati, Ohio ( a guide is essentially a student teacher/ambassador for VREP). The experience was amazing. I spent a great week with Trace Pickering and Rex Kozak, the adult leaders of VREP, and three other great colleagues that were my age, just teaching Ohio students about the program and the value of such an opportunity. It is such a reassuring and completely amazing experience to know that adults are willing to allow high school students to teach and truly take charge of education.
Shouldn’t it be that way though?
It kind of reminds me of putting the lid on the bottom of a ketchup bottle. Doesn’t that just make putting ketchup on a hamburger better? Education is like a bottle of ketchup. We are still stuck with the skinny-necked bottles that are slow and not overly efficient. Our education system is just a factory assembly line of grades, meaningless tests, and dream-crushing. Why don’t we reinvent the bottle?
That is what VREP does.
It puts the power in the hands of the students. There are no limitations as students; you can’t do TOO much; you can’t plateau; you can’t overwork yourself but you can’t sell yourself short. Real-world skills are ACTUALLY being developed. In many ways it destroys how most “classic” teachers teach right now.
Now if there are any teachers reading this blog, you are probably digging out the bow and arrow trying to hunt me down for saying this. Hold on just a second.
I actually was truly considering teaching before I decided shift my focus to film. Teaching is THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB IN OUR SOCIETY. Hands down. Without education society falls FAST. It happened before. The Greeks and Romans built up a great society. Then people stopped learning. And suddenly….(cue evil music)….we have the DARK AGES and peasants and lack of democracy and dictators and kings and lords and famine and slum cities…..
Things eventually got back on their feet when the average Joe Citizen started learning again.
So, teaching is important. What VREP does is it turns the teacher from a talking textbook into a great reference and a facilitator. “Classic” lecturing and homework is still an okay concept, but only if there is worth to the information. Only if the students need to know it for more than a test point. Classes suddenly gain worth if you change from a test-oriented class to one that has application. Honestly though, we live in a world where I can use a cell phone to find out any bit of information I want to. “Learning” facts for a test isn’t nearly as important as knowing the critical thinking skills and application of knowledge.
Let’s change the bottle.
(Walks off soapbox)
Okay, my story again. Because of my work with VREP, doors have opened. Like I said before, my experience with Cincinnati was amazing. Earlier I said I wanted to be a film director, which is a very hard job to nab because of high competition. But I AM GOING TO DO IT. Much of that passion came from two sources: American Legion Boys Nation (which I won’t discuss here) and VREP. It is really quite crazy how much confidence you can build through VREP by learning skills, applying them, creating a finished product, and getting recognized for it.
Recently, through VREP, I was offered an amazing experience in film. I am currently working with a scriptwriter who wrote a great script about 1800’s racial issues and heroism. Because of my VREP ties, the writer wanted me to assemble a group of other VREP students to create a 3D “virtual storyboard” of his movie. What an awesome experience! And I am not the only student who has had doors opened (not by a long shot!) Universities, engineering firms, and large businesses are very interested in the skillsets that VREP students bring to the table, and many students easily earn internships and special projects through these institutions.
Well, hopefully I have you all convinced that VREP is more than a glorified video-game maker. This program is truly special, and I see it changing the face of education very, very soon.
Iowa has always been a primary state for education, and quite frankly, I think we are becoming a REVOLUTIONARY education state.
If you have questions or comments, feel free to contact me at