Kai XR: Bringing VR To The Classroom, One Headset At A Time

Kai XR offers students a unique look into their futures.

Kai Frazier is a woman on a mission who wants to know why we aren’t building technology for children.

The dedicated Techstars entrepreneur has always shown a passion for the difficult, yet rewarding work of teaching students. In 2017 she sealed her commitment to the cause when she sold almost all of her possessions and moved across the country to found Kai XR, an immersive “edtech” start-up focused on getting emerging technology into the hands of the next generation.

For as long as she can remember, Frazier has wanted to work with children, calling herself a “forever teacher.” In fact, she started at 17 years old as an assistant in her former third grade teacher’s Chesapeake, Virginia classroom where her then-six years old sister was in first grade. 

“[In] high school years I was homeless. The only way that I could see my sister was by being in her classroom,” Frazier shares. “I know first-hand what it’s like not to have access to anything. What would my life have been like if I knew more about my surroundings [and history]? I never really left my neighborhood.” 

Personally experiencing the lack of resources available to educators put Frazier on her path to helping others. “It’s why I have the ability to work with kids and it’s also how I can really read [and understand] kids, what’s wrong or what they need because I didn’t have what I needed,” she says.

After years of teaching grade school, she temporarily left the classroom to work at both the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, but once again found herself drawn to education. This time ,however, she wanted to bring the power of exhibitions and immersive tech to the forefront of her educational efforts.

Kai XR founder Kai Frazier

“[I] realized there was a barrier to access in experiencing educational tools, installations and exhibitions, so I wanted to use VR to bring all that to my students,” Frazier says. She began asking herself who technology was truly serving and regarded cyber-truancy, poor attendance due to restricted access to tech, as a major issue.

According to the Pew Reseach Center, almost one-in-five teens struggle to complete their studies due to a lack technology, including everything from high-speed internet connections to proper hardware—this is known as the “homework gap.” The study goes on to share another upsetting statistic: 35-45% of teens studying out of low-income homes rely solely only their phones to do their schoolwork. The numbers are even worse for black and Hispanic households.

Frazier knew she had to address the digital divide in the classroom first. In the beginning of Kai XR, she documented monuments and historical sites on her own time with her first 360 camera, but now her own students are helping her produce and translate content while she curates for educational content for all-ages.

Freddy Lopez, an honors student at George Mason University and a former student of Frazier, helped the startup founder in translating some of her 360 works into Spanish, such as a clip about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

As a Guatemalan immigrant who traveled to the United States as a child, Lopez struggled in the classroom due to the language barrier. With patience and determination, he caught up to his peers and has reflected on how technology, like mixed reality, can “destroy barriers to knowledge,” as he writes. 

Eventually, Frazier asked Lopez to help translate VR videos for her other ESL students. “As I helped Ms. Frazier with her Martin Luther King Jr. VR experience, I realized that I could have benefited from tools like the ones Kai XR offers,” Lopez shares. “VR can allow students like me to explore a world that I could not explore during my time in middle school and even early years of high school. VR could have allowed me to learn about subjects through visual methods when I simply could not understand what my teachers were saying. Especially for immigrant students [for whom] many of the subjects being taught are brand new. VR can help students better comprehend the material through hands-on learning. Besides, it’s also much more fun than simply listening to lectures!”

Another former student of Frazier’s and George Mason undergraduate, Dung Ngo, also worked to offer translations of Kai XR content for future students. Having moved to the US at nine years old, she is grateful for the number of new opportunities she’s been able to experience through edtech. 

Before using VR in the classroom, Ngo found herself unaware of the accessibility and range it could offer. “My first experience with Kai XR allowed me to realize how beneficial an investment to technology can be for students in Title 1 schools (federally funded) and students with low socio-economic backgrounds. Many public schools do not always have enough budget to grant students the opportunity to go on field trips.” 

Ngo understands the great disparity between schools in the United States and around the world, and especially how that affects a family’s ability to provide educational experiences for their school-age members. “I know if I was a high-schooler using a VR headset, I would not have to worry asking my parents for money or field trip fees after their 12 hour shifts at work. Now that I am a college student, I know Kai XR would bring me to a new world of research and skill sets that I would not be able to experience at a costly conference and lab.”

Once Frazier proved her point in the classroom, she readied herself for a new test: finding funding. Having recently wrapped up a social impact accelerator by Cox Enterprises, Kai XR is well on its way to sourcing support and partnerships, including a collaboration with Mozilla Hubs.

Thomas Moore, a software engineer at Mozilla, was first introduced to Kai XR and the woman behind the headset by his father who sung praises about the edtech startup. Moore researched the educator-turned-entrepreneur and brought her to the attention of his colleague, Lars Bergstrom, Mozilla’s Senior Director of Engineering, to find a way to help Fraizer on her mission.

“She knows kids, she knows education. I deal with a lot of people who jump into this industry because they know there’s money and potential, but rarely do they go in with as many credentials as Kai,” Bergstorm shares.

Together, Kai XR and Mozilla teamed up to use the latter’s web XR programs, Hubs and Spokes, to benefit children who can learn how to create in virtual space, attend curated digital fieldtrips, and receive real-life classroom resources. It’s the first time these two Mozilla platforms are being used officially for kids and Kai is regularly giving the Mozilla team tips on how to make it even safer for students beyond the protocols that were already in place.

“I see a lot of alignment with her vision of Mozilla and what she wants to do to make technology accessible for children,” says Moore. “What she’s doing for young students of color to make technology available, especially to what they wouldn’t already have access to is awesome. I’m rooting for Kai. Even if she wasn’t partnered with Mozilla, her motivation feels really good and really right, especially when I look across the tech industry—I wish there were more companies that had the focus her company has.”

“The thing about [Mozilla and Kai XR] is that kids can be active participants, not passive, as they design their world and they can interact and learn via virtual tools,” Bergstorm adds.

Overnight, Covid-19 made every classroom and student a case study for Frazier, especially given the aforementioned lack of resources many kids face. Against the current landscape of technology and the future of education given the pandemic, inevitable change will come to both fields. Frazier considers future workforces when she raises these issues and knows she’s on the right path to providing relatable, reliable technology-powered experiences for children.

“We’re all talking about the future of tech and mixed reality, but not all the right voices are in the room to make those commentaries. My goal was never to topple the educational system, it is to give kids the tools to learn and do the stuff they want,” she says. “I’ve been in education for 15 years now…I have no doubt that kids can learn [and be excited to do so]. In the end, Kai XR might not to be a billion dollar company, but I want it to be an inspiration and jumping point for kids who want to create their own companies.”

A monthly subscription to Kai XR costs $10 for 1-5 users. Want to know more or support Kai XR and their quest to help kids get immersed in the classroom? Check out their newly designed website serving as both a distribution platform for content and a webXR experience.

Image Credit: Kai XR

About the Scout

Darragh Dandurand

Living to tell stories and build worlds, one adventure at a time. Darragh Dandurand is a multi-disciplinary creative whose award-winning works have reached international audiences by way of photography, writing, journalism, filmmaking, new media and immersive technology. She is known for artistic and academic efforts in story development, creative direction / strategy and community engagement. When she's not working, Darragh is volunteering, traveling, dreaming up projects, or dancing the night away.

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