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Putting the Well-being of Students in Technology Design

Leading Change with Human-ware
Michael L. Mathews

People are fascinated with technological advances in the medical, science, and education disciplines. Thanks to the micro-sizing of integrated technologies in the supply chain, there are thousands of breakthroughs happening within each field.

All these advancements have proven that we can develop better systems. Unfortunately, better systems within industries and supply-chains have do not improve human well-being. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues — stress, depression, suicide, illness, and drug abuse continue to take our health, well-being and lives at an alarming rate.  All the innovations and integrated technologies have not solved cancer, addictions, suicide, depression, and the anxiety levels that loom over every society at increasing rates. We have separated the human heart and mind from technological advancements. The human heart and mind can no longer keep pace with the technologies we are all using and leveraging to improve our environments.

It is time that all technological advancements factor in the human heart and mind. In other words, we need to find the balance of how humans ‘wear’ and ‘personally’ integrate the advancements in technology. The proper concept is to design all advances with human well-being in mind. Factoring in the human aspects of the body, mind, and spirit would be human-ware. Human-ware is a holistic approach to technological advances that brings all advancements together for a more significant outcome.

As technology and educational leaders, we must not make technology and ‘blended learning’ only about the content of education and technology mechanics. Doing so will be at the peril of our human well-being. We must incorporate the very aspects of how humans think, feel, grow, engage, and assimilate emotions into the changing world around them.

Putting this into perspective

Amazon hired 400,000 people in the last two months of 2020 to fulfill the desires, wants, and demand for their ‘Prime’ customers. Amazon has perfected the logistical capability of treating shoppers as ‘Prime’ customers. These are ‘Prime’ human customers whose every whim of purchasing and receiving products to their door-steps within days, if not hours, is completed by using integrated technologies.  During this time, technologies such as Zoom are producing world-wide connections that work counter-intuitive to human well-being. Zoom is becoming as proficient with micro-innovations, and integrated solutions as Amazon has become.

In many ways, Amazon and Zoom have become the ‘Hallmark’ of both technology and business done-right. They are also the Cinderella’s of the modern pandemic world we find ourselves within. Unfortunately, the integrated and advanced solutions seldom factor in the engagement of human well-being. Both Amazon and Zoom have business goals to meet and exceed —  but take no stock in human well-being; other than to be ‘happy’. Unfortunately, happiness is short-lived and fickle.

Below are three pictures of my granddaughter during her first week of Zoom-based virtual classes in September 2020. The images represent a 30-minute time span during her virtual course. You can see she quickly transitions from being slightly engaged, rolling her eyes, to throwing a towel over her head. Please note that our granddaughter is an extremely engaging person during in-person class sessions. Suffice to say, the best systems and most integrated technology in the world cannot fix the human-ware aspect of who we are as people.  We must learn to design and leverage the technology that engage and connect to the minds-eye.

Granddaughter going through the three stages of virtual grief with the best technology in the world.

Human-ware and the Mind’s Eye

Oral Roberts University has been intensely testing and deploying the human-ware aspect of technology since 2015. We have continued to leverage the best of technology, yet allow it to be integrated into the whole person education model; body, mind, and spirit. In 2015, ORU became the first university to leverage the Fitbit wearable watch to help students manage their well-being while utilizing the finest in integrated campus technologies. This was the first break-through in higher education whereby technology advanced, in proportion to the student’s well-being.

In 2019, Dr. Sheila Riley, K12 Principal, caught the vision of human-ware and the necessity to redefine blended learning to include all human learner aspects. In the Spring of 2020, Dr. Riley obtained the necessary funding to deploy one of the nation’s leading immersive learning environments at Tulsa Public Schools, Nathan Hale High School.  Dr. Riley has embraced the reality that students learn best when immersed in a learning experience. They accelerate their learning and engage in the learning environments when their human hearts and minds experience the learning experience.

[Image of Dr. Riley touching the globe of Blended Learning and VR]

As a CIO and vice president for innovation, numerous organizational stakeholders have asked me to leverage many of the ‘rave’ technologies such as AI, IoT, cloud computing, chatbots, big data, augmented reality, and virtual reality to improve their bottom line.  We have been extremely successful with pieces of these technologies to add value to the organization. The success of leveraging these technologies has garners us the spot-light in over 600 magazines, newspapers, trade journals, TV spots, and invitations to the Whitehouse and the United Nations. These technologies have also allowed us to win over 20 prestigious educational technology recognitions and awards.

Even though we have garnered the limelight with technological advancements, I believe in leveraging each of these technologies where appropriate. I am even a greater advocate of understanding how they integrate properly to aid individuals’ well-being. The end goal is aligning the mission of education with the most appropriate blend of these technologies – while predicting the impact on students in a favorable manner.

As a CIO and technologist in numerous industries over the past 25-years, it has become more evident what technologies will be at the center of innovation and change. I predict that the clear winner will be immersive learning with spatial computing that leverages augmented and virtual reality. The primary reason is that human nature will always lean toward the elements that closely align with how people feel, think, and respond to our surroundings and environments.  The ability and degree to which technology can allow humans to feel successful, technologically savvy, non-threatened, and in control of disruptive change will ultimately be the center of technological change.   The smartphone illustrated this very point. The smartphone personalized technology advancements with personal applications (i.e. my-text, my-voice, my-apps, my-entertainment, my-contacts, my-music, my-email, etc.). The smartphone was the closest extension of the human mind and body that found the combination of resembling how I perceive my life yet allows me to feel as if I am advancing into the tech-realm with the rest of the world.

A sample of spatial computing in an immersive way is shown below with my granddaughter. She is seen wearing a pair of VR glasses and entered a truly immersive experience.  As you look at this image and compare her previous stated experience with Zoom, you can easily see the human well-being aspect at play.

Spatial computing that leverages augmented and virtual reality in an immersive manner hits the center of allowing humans to extend the visual nature of our human-experience through computing power. It enables people to sense/view a combined aspect of themselves, the future, and personalized experiences to produce new found knowledge in their ‘mind’s eye’. The minds-eye[i] allows human beings to visualize change, advancement, and be technologically savvy – all at once. Even though I have worked on supercomputers and experienced some of the most amazing technological advances, I still recognize that our sensory organs, heart, spirit, and brain, make up the culmination of intelligence perceived by our minds-eye. Spatial computing with augmented and virtual reality plays perfectly into the ability to extend and expand our minds-eye.


Diagram 1 below illustrates the technologies mentioned and how they relate to one another. The most tragically named technology of all time will prove to be IoT. The Internet-of-Things impersonalizes the internet and predicts a future of ‘things’ versus a future and hope for people. A United Nations lecture I gave describing why the IoT will never be the center of attention can be viewed at:

Diagram 1

Since 1948 Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives has been the gold standard of classifying educational goals for student performance evaluation effective outcomes of education and engagement. The original taxonomy was created by psychologist Benjamin Bloom, and revised in many different formats. The diagrams below represent Bloom’s Taxonomy’s various revisions by other universities[1] over the years. These diagrams illustrate the levels of engagement and learning that occur as you move the ‘educational-dial of intelligent engagement’. I have added (overlaid) the appropriate text to identify traditional education, augmented reality, virtual reality, and knowledge transfer.

[1] Base Diagram 2 by the University of Arkansas, and Base Diagram 3 by Iowa State University.

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Diagram 2 – Blooms Taxonomy from University of Arkansas with an overlay of AVR
Diagram 3 – Blooms Taxonomy from Iowa State University with an overlay of AVR

Advancing the Immersive Experience to a Humersive Experience; Human-ware

With the success of immersive learning, Oral Roberts University has developed an AI-enabled life-size digital assistant. The life-size digital assistant is deployed through an AI-enabled MQ-Mirror that allows students to interact with all campus services from a mirror mounted on a TV monitor. The new MQ Mirror can be installed in their dorm rooms and available at selected locations on campus. This new campus service will allow students, faculty, and staff to access all campus and worldwide information and services via the mirror.  Many students who have tested the service have labeled it a life-size personal assistant with artificial intelligence driving the interaction between the students and the mirror.

With students often distracted by smartphones and social media, the MQ-Mirror was designed to provide an additional method to access all information pertinent to student success easily. This personal information with AI allows students to receive auto ‘nudges’ that come in audio-format. These auto nudges help them stay focused and provide private well-being messages and tips.  The MQ-Mirror also includes mental health applications that allow individuals to engage in self-depression tests.

The MQ-Mirror integrates the entire university digital ecosystem and connects to the student information system, learning management system, courses library resources, and all departments to provide immediate and instant access to all data that help students navigate their journey. The MQ-Mirror provides the request access to recommendations and information in both audio and textual manner. This development takes spatial computing to a personal level while integrating all intelligence available around the world.

The MQ-Mirror enhances the way humans interact with intelligence

The human fascination with a mirror combined with the emergence of AI, virtual digital assistants, machine learning, eLearning, and 5G connectivity allows the human being to become front-and-center instead of the technology itself. Up to this point in the history of computers, the device has taken center stage to the human being. This has caused may undesired social, physical, and psychological outcomes.  We have allowed the labeling of technology 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 etc. versus a focus on civilization 1.0, 2.0, 3.0.  Brining human well-being into technological advances is simply the ‘right’ thing to do.

Educational leaders like Dr. Sheila Riley are at the forefront of leveraging the spatial computing through immersive and mirrored learning. Tulsa Public School’s Nathan Hale High School now claims the title of the number one high school leveraging the best of immersive and humersive learning by blending tech advances with the human well-being; known as human-ware.

Michael Mathews and Dr. Sheila Riley demonstrating the auto-nudging of the MQ-Mirror as they design education with the well-being of every student in mind; human-ware

The future with Human-ware

In the mid-1990s, Dr. Clayton Christensen[i] came up with the term ‘disruptive innovation’ as the metaphor for suggesting changes to business processes, industry, and society. Technology vendors loved this concept, but they changed the phrase to ‘disruptive technology,’ which made a self-serving assumption that technology made the innovation a reality. Most companies did this to sell their technology devices and solutions as the silver bullet to change business processes, industries, or areas of society. In many ways, technology can change certain aspects of business and society. However, there is little evidence that things are changing in the right direction, except that technology companies are starting to become the new Fortune 500 leaders.

The in vogue and flawed phrase ‘disruptive technology’ allowed technology companies to see their revenue skyrocket. The burden of the disruption was on the back of the users of the technology. Clayton Christensen’s proper phrase (theory) ‘disruptive innovation’ leverages process improvement and a balance in technology, but doesn’t let technology drive the disruption. The improper phrase ‘disruptive technology’ forces itself upon industry or society due to its glamour, while seldom changes things for the better. When the later use is applied, the technology will generally create more work and confusion among people.

After 20-years of creating a lot of ‘perceived’ changes with disruptive technology, people have become overwhelmed and bewildered with all the disruption. Some of the wide-spread depression and anxiety related to work and family – is the result of 2-3 generations of fashionable technology that never really improved things. It is merely wishful thinking under the guise that ‘disrupting’ people, business, industry, and society with technology is always positive. Instead, a belief that technology with a sole purpose to cause disruption has put people on the proverbial gerbil wheel. Clayton Christensen’s original theory of ‘disruptive innovative’ was reasonable, but changing the phrase and intent was a colossal mistake.

About five years ago, while witnessing all the false promises of technology being caused by ‘disruptive technology’, I changed my own personal mission statement as a Chief Information Officer (CIO) to read ‘Help people survive and thrive in the global and digital age in which we find ourselves.’  The number of people feeling overwhelmed made me realize that the more disruption was being fabricated, the less likely people were embracing it. I started to publicly speak out that I was opposed to disruptive technology, but was completely supportive of leveraging technology to solve world problems. In essence, I changed the phrase ‘disruptive technology’ to ‘transformative technology’. This personal shift has created a 50X improvement in reaching people worldwide, alongside aa full list of digital transformation measurements for higher education.[ii]

Aligning Real Disruption with Technology

COVID-19 has proven to illuminate Clayton’s theory, opposed to purposefully fabricating disruption to sell technology.  We are all currently witnessing a real disruption across the globe that allows technology to be leveraged to transform the issues we now encounter. While most of the world was slowed down by the global pandemic, I could sense the reality that this may be the first real global disruption we have seen in generations. It was also clear that people could quickly embrace the innovative ideas in the making for years. The innovations that were in the shadows for years no longer needed ‘different words’ to explain them, as they were required to address health, education, finance, communications, and regulatory challenges. Within four months of Covid-19 the disruptive innovation of Zoom grew from 20 million users to 350 million users while people realized they could do business, education, and have collaboration and relationships in a limited, but surely, innovative manner.

I witnessed things that took me 20-years to explain, quickly become embraced. I heard leaders say, ‘I finally understand what you have been talking about’. In a very humble way, I realized that a real disruption was needed to allow many innovations in technology to be embraced. Dan’s words still echo in my ear, as I realized we are all saying the same thing, but using different words such as … COVID-19, global pandemic, shelter in place, lock-down, limited air transportation, borders closed, 14-day quarantine periods, etc.

I invested 24 years of my career in seeing professors embrace the value of technology to do more virtual, distance, remote, and online learning. With just a few word changes, they flipped the switch and saw the innovations waiting in the shadows.  Ironically, Dr. Clayton Christensen passed away just before the Covid-19 pandemic; January 23, 2020. I am reasonably sure that he is on the other-side, grinning that his theory has held true. However, he also sees that you can’t fabricate disruptions for the benefit of technology; but you can leverage technology when a true disruption occurs.

It’s time to incorporate the well-being of humanity into all technology advances with Human-ware.  Below is an image of Dr. Sheila Riley with a team of individuals helping her factor in human-ware as she embarks on the journey of immersive learning and spatial computing.

From left to right; Augustine Mpemba, Data Scientist, Currica Clark, MBA student, Dr. Sheila Riley, and Vinay Manda, Chief Data Scientist,


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