The Conscious Classroom

Tech & Teens: in dialogue with XPrize Semi-Finalist Anthony Holland Part 1

November 23, 2021 Episode 47
The Conscious Classroom
Tech & Teens: in dialogue with XPrize Semi-Finalist Anthony Holland Part 1
Show Notes Transcript

Can technology empower rather than divide? Can we train robots to exhibit the empathy of their operators in humanitarian situations? How is Inner Strength looking ahead and the possibilities for supporting youth wellness through technology? Join Amy Edelstein in dialogue with XPrize semi-finalist and Inner Strength Board Member Anthony Holland.

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So my name is Madison Wagner. I'm a member of the inner strength team and will be your moderator for tonight's Eve event. I am so thrilled to welcome you all to this first donors only event to kick off our giving Tuesday campaign, it feels really special to be in a room with all of the supporters of inner strength over the years because of your collective vision and enthusiasm, we have become the gold standard of school, mindfulness and systems thinking programs.

 

Our instructors, this fall have been sharing with us how their students are having amazing and transformative insights in the classes that your donations make possible are catalyzing a new cohort of instructors and regular school teachers who all believe that whole person wellness should be the foundation for learning.

 

We have a really big mission here at inner strength, and it could not be flowering at a better time. So I'm really excited to see you all here. And I'm going to take a moment to introduce our two guest speakers for the evening. So Tony Holland brings his depth of technology and large systems expertise as VP of SAP partner sales channels.

 

He's an executive MBA graduate of Villanova school of business and recipient of their prestigious Bartley medallion. He invests a lot of time as a mentor and coach, and was a semi-finalist in X prize competition, which is a million and a half dollar competition for innovation and technology. One of his peers describes Tony is a strategic thinker with an ability to connect a vision for the future to the business realities of today are so lucky.

 

Tony joined inner strengths board earlier this year and has been an incredible asset and thinking about strategy and leadership development, as we continue to get. So welcome Tony. And speaking with Tony tonight is Amy Edelstein, the executive director and founder of inner strength. I'm guessing many of you know, Amy fairly well.

 

So I'll try to keep her very prolific set of experiences and accomplishments short. Amy is an educator, author and public speaker. She has over 40 years working with contemplative tools and development philosophy. She is a recipient of the 2019 Philadelphia social innovation award and co-founder of emergence education press, which is a publishing house that produces transformational books and programs for adults.

 

Amy has authored now six books, the most recent of which, adventure of sand scar will be out November 20th in 11 days. I hope she doesn't mind if I plug it a little bit, her. Details. Her journey is a 21 year old into the remote high altitudes and scar valley desert and provides a really unique window into the beauty and wisdom of Buddhist culture.

 

So be sure to look out for that. And it's so great to have both of you hearing conversation. Just a couple of words on how tonight is going to work. So Amy and Tony are going to co interview each other. They both have very inquiring minds and they decided they wanted to ask each other questions.

 

The conversation will range as inquiry often does starting with technology and the promise for youth empowerment and thinking through the fulfillment of use higher potentials, we're going to take a short body break in about an hour to stretch and hydrate, and we'll also be showing you some fun slides.

 

And then after the break, Tony and Amy will take your questions. So you can post your questions any time using the Q and a. Or just throw them in the chat. If you do use the chat, make sure you put a capital Q in front of your question so I can find it quickly. All right. I think that's enough.

 

Housekeeping. Amy, would you like to start us off with a question for Tony? Absolutely. Thank you, Madison and welcome everyone to. Just before we start, just to highlight what Madison was saying to thank you all for your support. Over the years, it's really made a huge difference to us in inner strength.

 

You've literally made it possible for us to work with over 15,000 students to date. And we're reaching students in 70 classrooms a week this year, or so your have no doubt that your support, your enthusiasm, your financial gifts definitely make this possible. But tonight we're going to dive. We're going to start at least, talking about the world of futuristic technology.

 

So Peter de Mandy's X prize I have followed for, I don't know how many years it's been that for me, that sense of, oh my God. That's where, that's where new worlds happen. And Tony, you were a semifinalist and you got to be there up close and personal with the 30 semifinalists. Can you tell me a little bit about first of all, about what you are, innovation was your invention.

 

And also what you're hoping to accomplish. Many of our donors may not be familiar with the X prize or the kind of things that, that, people invent. So can you open up that world for us? Oh, sure. Then thank you for having me. I mean, you know, now the. Avatar X prize is one where it's four year type of global competition.

 

And it was, it was focusing on developing an avatar system that could deploy, you know, human senses and actions and presence to a remote location in real time. So you may not all be familiar with that technology, but the movie avatar, sorta model the future thinking where people could be remote in another world.

 

And yet it would be so real that it would be like we are right now present. So you're saying that I could be came into ice land and respond to a sick bird there. How can you explain that amazing that the technology exists now for that type of science fiction, futuristic thinking to finally happen? And so that's really we're at the beginning of this movement, but, all the Lego building blocks of the technology, they already exist from artificial intelligence to sensors, to virtual worlds and, robotics that can be remotely controlled.

 

And so the X prize, contest really was, Sponsored by AMA airlines for $10 million for teams really to come together and innovate. And those innovations are not just demonstrations that yes it's possible, but it was the building of the community. So, this it's exciting to be at the beginning, almost the birth of a new age of possibilities and to explore what the impact can be.

 

So there were 15 finalist teams from eight countries, and they're still competing, to create this system. But the possibilities of the same year are just, exciting. Yeah. Could you imagine now that you could experience your presence and care for anyone. Regardless of the, the distance. So think of disaster relief or think about Philadelphia and bringing the greatest minds around the world to the inner city school systems and be as present as you are with me right now.

 

So is it, is there a physical robot? Sorry. Is there a physical robot that goes first and then it gets embodied with like, we have video technology now and we're talking and, but it would be like a, or is it a hologram? Is it light? Is it, what would it look like? If you, did you see the movie in the movie, you actually put yourself your body into sort of a suit.

 

And when you put your body in this suit or this bodying case, man, you then woke up first, found yourself walking around inside of a real world, but it was you with the same expressions and emotions and empathy. And, but you're experiencing another world with other people. And so what was created during the contest were all these teams, including the art team where you created basically gloves that you could put on and this sort of body suit controlled the robot and the robot was in a different room, on a different floor of the building.

 

And that robot basically had a screen that allowed you to see my expression. So the remote operator could be smiling, could be, tilting their head left or right. And squinting their eyes and, and you would feel and see all of that, those expressions. And at the same time, the robot is in the room with you almost like the movie I robot, but it's being controlled by me because I have this suit on and the robot, has sensors to so spatial sensor.

 

So it knows how to pick up a glass of water and not squeeze the bottle too hot, but difficult in a way that it might, damage a plastic bottle. It, it still, it has touch and it has feel. And so then the robot basically played games. With the, the judges. And so the judges might have play a game of chess with the robot and I'm in the other room somewhere remotely.

 

And I play chess with, the, the, the, the, the, the person on the other side of that table, who is judging just how real is this presence. And, and of course I could see just like, I can see you as you're nodding your head. They could see, I could see that person's expressions and they could see mine. So they know if I'm perplexed or if I'm happy or I'm sad.

 

And so it, it was the conveying of a real human. Experience with empathy and touch, but operated remotely by a person. And all the teams were able to demonstrate that isn't different types of technology, all trying to show that this can be done today. So the implications are phenomenal. If you think about humanitarian missions in earthquake areas, disaster relief, you know, simple surgeries, even cataract operations that there's, there's a level of or mediation, you know, walking into the middle of a heated argument between two gangs and Philadelphia, and being able to be there without being in harm's way and cool things down.

 

When school hours are over, but you can continue to be right there in the home and interacting with the student and, the robot learns. So the robot actually can begin to do things that maybe it would take time for you to teach other teachers to be as good as you are in that mentoring process.

 

Interesting. But can the robot meditate? Why not? It's a person, right? So it's actually another person operating this robot, but they're able to start to transport their presence in a very personable way without being. So you think about the way teens are struggling with a lot of sleep issues? A lot of self-harm issues, a lot of depression, anyway, but because of the pandemic, it's just kind of screwed things up, and their normal patterns and social interactions.

 

So when they need that kind of companionship, you know, obviously an adult is not going to beam in to their house, but if this were, you know, once this becomes more common place, you could see that you could, you could actually minister and tend to teens where they are when they need it in ways that you can't really access at the moment.

 

I mean, it's wild to think about it's exciting. And, if, if,  that's what attracted me to. Inner strength. Because if I think about really the top social problems that teens are struggling with every day, it's things like depression or bullying, drug use, or alcohol use through BCD and academic problems and peer pressure and social media or violence, all of these things, I think inner strength is already addressing, but now we'll be able to continue that 24 7 and just bring that presence right into the home.

 

This exciting that's really exciting. You know, our baby step is with our, the inner strength vibe, which is our mobile app, which is a free download available in all English speaking countries. Except for South Africa, don't think it's available in South Africa yet. And you know, that the goal was to put some tools in the Palm of a student's hand, literally because that's where their phone is.

 

It's in there. And you know, and you can see their reflexes. I had one student who he was dealing with a lot of different issues and he, he fell asleep in class last week, you know, and as I walked by, I said, you know, you need to wake up. And he like startled. But the first thing he did was grabbed his phone and looked at his phone before he was, he was, he was asleep, but he grabbed his phone and like looked at his phone in order to wake up.

 

And it, it was just that moment of unconscious reflex that, that the phone B isn't the orienting principle. Rather than connection to the people around him or the class or the environment or his body. It was like the phone not, oh, where am I? You know? So, but getting the app developed, at least the first version, we have a lot more or anxious to build out in it I'd like this because the app is very multi-dimensional, it's mindfulness.

 

It's not, it's not a replacement. It's not another, it's not a teen version of Headspace it's now I think Headspace is great, but this is also, there's a lot of learning to it. And there is a lot of mental health components that specifically address teen issues. You know, like you'd were describing. Can you imagine if this could scale what this could be.

 

Amy, that just brings up an interesting question for me, in terms of how did you evolve to that thinking from, you know, sort of just person to person instruction, to even incorporating an app or digital technology into the process? That's a great question. I was actually very resistant to bringing technology in.

 

I learned mindfulness myself from a book, and then when I found real live teachers, that was what I was hungry for. And I started, I started experimenting with mindfulness when I was a sophomore in high school. So I was the same age as the students. It was a long time ago, but I was their age. And that was when I was looking for something, you know, life just, wasn't adding up.

 

It wasn't enough, you know, getting good grades, doing well, competing to go to college. That was all fine. And I was a very good student, but in terms of finding real answers to what am I here for? What's my potential, what am I going to do with my life? Not just what profession, but existentially, how am I going to be in this world?

 

What's this gift of life going to do? And so I felt when I designed the program and wrote the curriculthat the most important thing was the transmission, the quality of our instructors and their relationship with the students, they needed to have their own mindfulness practice. It needed to be deep.

 

They needed to have done inquiry. They needed him to have clock those hours of understanding their mind and really cultivating a state of, Inquiry and awareness and complexity and subtlety. And that's what I felt needed to be present in the classroom so that students could see, oh, there are dimensions to being a human being.

 

It's not just that my history teacher teaches me these facts and I memorize them. And now I can just look them up on Google and do I really need a teacher? Know you want them to be challenged in that interaction and relationship. And I also feel that, you know, so many of our students in Philadelphia because they close.

 

I mean, it depends on who categorizes it, but some people categorize it as a hundred percent or something around 82% of the students we teach come from families of poverty. And that is an income of $24,000 a year for a family of four, $6,000. For one person for an entire year, for all your needs in a first world country.

 

You know, if we were living in Bangladesh, $6,000 would go a long way. We're not we're living in Philadelphia. So when you are dealing with those kinds of economic hardships, all kinds of things also are compounded. And many of these students don't have enough of a stable adult presence. They'll have a caretaker or a parent who's working two, three jobs to make ends meet.

 

They're not around. They give a, they can't be there. They're trying to scrape together enough, you know, enough just to keep the family going. There's issues with mass incarceration and broken families and drug addiction. And you know, it, the, the so many students don't experience enough. Stable adult presence.

 

And maybe they have a solid family and a loving, caring family, but poverty poles in so many ways. It's not a question of values. It's a question of pressure, you know, economic and social pressures. So I really felt that the quality of our instructors was really important. They had to be able to be present and they had to be both hands-off because we're in a classroom, we're in a school.

 

We're not therapists. We're not, we're not foster parents. We're just there to put tools in their hands and give them the sense that we trust their potential. And you can't replace that. At the same time, our program, you know, we pushed hard with the school district to let us in a full period a week for 12 consecutive weeks.

 

So it's, it's not quite 12 hours. I mean, a period is 47 minutes, but it's give or take, you know, 12 hours of class time. And when they're high school students, they have all kinds of minute by minute requirements that they, they have to log in order to graduate. We couldn't get more than three months, but mindfulness is a lifelong habit.

 

And we're talking about how we train our brains. We're talking about how we relate to the world around us, how we question our conclusions, how we, you know, whether we're aware that our thoughts are habitual and they come and go and. How much credit credence are we putting in the random things that pop through our mind, you know, oh, we get a random negative thought and then we give them down in the dumps.

 

We get a random positive thought and we're full of ego. You know, we're completely arrogant. You know why? Just because we had a thought, is it based on any cake? Is it objective? Is it true? So that takes time, you know, takes, takes a years to really develop this. And the only way to stay in touch with the students is through techno.

 

High school kids don't email. You can't stay in touch with them by email. And because they're under 18, of course, they're all kinds of, you know, positive, protective rules that we, we teach in the classroom, but we don't communicate with them outside of the school space. So the app is the way to deal with is to get on their phone.

 

They can keep, you know, we can send push notifications, reminding them and encouraging them and we can see how they're using it. So when you design this app, I have to imagine you, weren't thinking about a pandemic and people having to really learn remotely and not even be able to come into school. How's the, is this technology been impacted, in supporting the students as they return to school after a year of remote learning?

 

Well, it's early days, we're still, we have about 500 students on the app now. My goal by the end of this year is to have 5,000 and, you know, by the end of next year, maybe 25,000. So I see this growing incrementally, but it's going to take it. It's going to take time. Teens are interesting. It's, they're very precious about their phones and they don't just put anything on there.

 

Candy crush, you can go on there, but if you're a new, not the, you know, the it's it's, you're, they're inviting you into their lives and it takes, you have to convince. So it's a meet and greet thing. So it's going to kick over at a certain point. I'm sure. But early days that are early days we're seeing steady use.

 

So the students who were early adopters, the, the app went live the end of April. So it was the end of the school year. Last year was in development for about 15 months before it went live. And, but what we saw is with the early, the early adopters, they, their usage went up when they went back to school.

 

I'm not exactly sure how it's going right now, because now they're in class. And a lot of those students who are on the app are also getting live instruction. So I'm not exactly sure. I know that the usage has remained steady. It's, you know, it's, it's growing over time. So in hard numbers, there's more usage now than there was before.

 

In terms of frequency per person, it may be around the same, but what's going to be interesting. I feel is when the program ends, are they staying with the app? Are they turning to the app for continuity? Because they don't have that classroom instruction. We're doing a lot of outreach right now where we're doing outreach.

 

We're in 70 classes a week. So we're doing outreach in those classes. We're doing outreach to youth groups. We're doing outreach within the schools. We have two of my instructors, who are writing, who write the push notifications. I developed all the content with another instructor. But these, these two do all the communication.

 

And so they're, they're really ratcheting up their outreach. And one of them happens to play in a band. So she's got a little bit of like street cred. Nice, nice. So, Amy, if you were to just think about a year ago before the app even existed and now are there any breakthroughs. In learning that you're observing or the data is, well, one of the things that we cause we, we do research on our program every year.

 

And we have a researcher out of Syracuse university and we've gone through all the hard work of, you know, an institutional review board approval and school district approval. So we really, we really value a third party analysis of the impact because I can, I, there, there are some things for the students I'd love to share, but I can tell you anecdotally how great it is, but we saw positive changes in well-being metrics during the pandemic, when we were meeting with kids virtually and.

 

That surprised me. We didn't have a control group. So if we had had a control group, I'm very curious at how far down they went. So the fact that our students improved on certain metrics related to self-care self-compassion, optimism and a sense of, of, perseverance. That to me means a lot because all the data on adolescents during the pandemic does not look very good on those metrics.

 

We didn't have a control group, so that the learning for me is that this works better than I might have thought. That it has. Cause I keep thinking we need to be with them more. We need to be with them longer. We need to give them more. We need to be more available. It needs to be in the classroom, out of the classroom, on technology informally, you know, that, that it needs to be more ubiquitous.

 

But what I'm seeing is that when we're able to reach them, it has an impact, which means that it doesn't take that much to help teens through these hard times. And to me, that's the biggest takeaway through the pandemic is, you know, everyone gets so discouraged and it feels like it's such an uphill battle, but with a little bit of support, teaching them tools they can do on their own when they have the sense that they're not lost.

 

It changes everything. And, and we can't lose sight of that. You know, that with, with the sense of, you know, mounting data that shows concerns, you know, we have to recognize that people want to thrive. And when you give them something that is authentic, that develops care and steadiness and objectivity and optimism, that's realistic, it's not fake, you know, but a sense of human potential and capacity and possibility it uplifts the human spirit.

 

So we can do a lot for these kids and an adult and their teachers as well.