Verizon and the future classroom: A Q&A With Justina Nixon-Saintil

As Verizon’s Director of Corporate Responsibility, Justina Nixon-Saintil plays a pivotal role in ensuring that even the most high-concept innovations solve practical, real-world problems. A prime example is Verizon Innovative Learning, an initiative of the Verizon Foundation that provides under-served middle schoolers nationwide crucial STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) instruction and exposure to emerging technologies like virtual reality and 3D design. To date, more than a million children have participated in the program, a fundamentally new classroom approach that equips and empowers educators and students alike.

Here, Nixon-Saintil discusses how Verizon’s Corporate Social Responsibility team and Verizon Innovative Learning coordinate the efforts of teachers, engineers and nonprofit partners to bridge the digital divide—and the ways in which 5G Ultra Wideband will supercharge these educational endeavors.

Because ultimately, even as the network evolves, the goal of Verizon Innovative Learning remains the same: to unlock a sense of possibility in students that will guide the next stages of their education, and to spark curiosity about the world around them that last a lifetime.

How is Verizon Innovative Learning using its assets and tools to help bridge the digital divide?

In our nationwide network of 150 schools, we’ve worked extensively with our teams to ensure the best possible experience for our educators and students. We start by collaborating with Verizon engineers to guarantee that network access always lives up to the highest standards, both in the classroom and in the students’ homes. Then we work closely with our device marketing teams to provide the latest technology. Once the network and tech are in place, we work alongside our extensive network of partners to provide a seamless experience.

Students are ultimately building resiliency and collaborative skills, as well as learning to create empathetically. These are skills we hope they’ll refine and take with them throughout their academic careers.
Justina Nixon-Saintil

Verizon Director of Corporate Responsibility

We’ve created a best-in-class professional development program that provides training and support for teachers, to make sure the devices we provide supplement their day-to-day teaching in the right way. Our curriculum introduces students to technology and career skills with applications outside of the classroom—and more broadly within their communities. We also organize STEM career exposure days, which include Verizon employees.

Ultimately, we strive to be innovative and cutting-edge as we develop programs, from teaching coding to middle schoolers—unheard of five to six years ago, outside of the most affluent schools—to launching the 5G EdTech Challenge, a nationwide open call to find the next transformative educational technologies.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Verizon Innovative Learning is its emphasis of design thinking. How does this framework help students get more out of their classrooms?

Design thinking is a creative problem-solving method rooted in empathy and iteration. In traditional schooling, students are taught that failure is to be avoided at all costs. Through design thinking, students are relearning the value of failing, in an effort to gain insight and reach a better product or solution. Students are ultimately building resiliency and collaborative skills, as well as learning to create empathetically, understanding the needs of the end user when prototyping and iterating. These are skills we hope they’ll refine and take with them throughout their academic careers.

We hear a lot about the potential of 5G. What classroom experiences might 5G make viable in coming years?

Augmented and virtual reality may soon become integral parts of a student's education in the 5G world. Until now, VR and AR haven’t been used regularly in school, due to the lack of available bandwidth and low latency needed to properly render these experiences. But with 5G, these applications will be able to help students learn in a very hands-on sense, heightening engagement and understanding.

A good example of this comes from one of our 5G EdTech Challenge winners. The World Science Festival, in partnership with Columbia University, created a “visceral science” program—an immersive VR experience that exposes students to inaccessible realms such as atoms and particles, planets and stars, black holes and galaxies. This project will allow schools to access the VR program at the same time, with limited lag or interruption. Students will be able to learn about the vast complexities of the universe up close.

Verizon Innovative Learning’s mission begins in the classroom, but its reach is potentially much wider. What implications will 5G have on remote education?

The ability of teachers and students to collaborate in near-real time, even when they’re not in the same room, will be a game-changer. Remote education through 5G is expected to give schools the opportunity to bring experts into the classroom in the form of holograms. Thanks to AR and VR tools, whether a student is in the classroom or miles away should no longer make much of a difference. They’ll feel like they’re right there with the teacher.

How does the program make good on its promise to give students and teachers the ability to do more new and do more good?

Verizon Innovative Learning creates new ways of learning and teaching. In a language arts classroom, a traditional written book report can now be submitted as a virtual reality experience. In a geometry class, where angles and degrees were traditionally taught with protractors and rulers, kids are now using coding and programmable robots to engage physically and visually.

For educators, this creates more opportunity to involve all learners, including those with disabilities, in ways that are authentic and intriguing, and that promote an environment of inclusivity. The tech also allows teachers more efficiency in organizing assignments, providing individualized support and introducing new ideas into the classroom—ideas they would have never previously imagined.

Building a brighter future
Find out more about Verizon Innovative Learning.