Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Bianca Woods is Senior Manager of Programming for The eLearning Guild and is based out of Toronto, Canada. With degrees in both art education and education media design & technology, she's passionate about demystifying design and technology for others. She loves designing course content and media, test driving new learning technology, and taking photos of bizarre warning signs.
Bianca, tell us a bit more about your background and your projects so far.
I’m Bianca Woods and my background is in education, visual/media design, and instructional technology. I originally started as an art teacher, but then pivoted over to instructional design, which in my case led to creating training for corporate environments. Much of my work has touched on how technology and multimedia/visual design can work together to give people the information they need to succeed in their work. I’ve also more recently been focusing on how to help people in the learning and development field find opportunities to build their own skills and share their knowledge with others.
What does your current job role entail?
I’m currently the Senior Manager, Programming with the eLearning Guild. We’re a member-driven organization that supports people who work at the intersection of technology and training. We produce conferences, online events, eBooks, research reports, and articles and our goal is to create a place where people in our field and related ones can share their knowledge, expertise, and ideas to build a better industry—and better learning experiences—for everyone.
My role primarily involves curating the programming for our in-person and online events. I love the work I get to do as it has this fun technology exploration side – to do this role you have to always have an eye on what’s happening at the forefront of the field – while also including a human side as well. I get to connect people in the learning and development community together, work to support new speakers at our events, and create experiences where people get to share the work they’re most excited about with others.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently spending most of my time on two of our upcoming conferences: Realities360 (which explores how AR, VR, and simulations can be used to create learning and development) and DevLearn (which focuses more broadly on what’s next for technology-based learning experiences).
Both are great ways to tap into the newest and most creative ways to use technology to support how people learn, but what I like best is the community feeling at our events. There’s lots of people from my industry who come and share the solutions they’re using at their workplaces right now with others, as well as people from related industries who explore the overlap between our fields. It’s just fascinating to see people supporting each other by sharing their own experiences, and this “show your work” approach can also challenge the idea organizations sometimes have that these technologies aren’t mainstream enough yet for using for training.
What do the #WomenInTech and #diversity movements mean to you?
When you work in an organization like the one I do, you become incredibly aware of how much your decisions can impact who gets a platform to have their work and expertise seen, as well as who feels welcomed at our events. And in our industry both those areas need to be more diverse than they’ve been in the past.
When you curate industry events, a meaningful way you can support women in tech is to look for opportunities where you can remove some of the barriers in the way of women who want to share the work they’re doing with your community. In our case, that can range from actively recruiting women to speak instead of passively hoping they’ll propose, creating more support opportunities and mentorship for new speakers, analyzing our proposal processes to ensure they don’t unintentionally discourage new speakers, and also deeply listening to the community to find out where they think we could do more.
Diversity is something we’ve made real progress on in my field, but it’s also something we have to keep working towards improving so that the industry voices that are highlighted at events truly represent everyone who works in learning and development, and everyone is equally welcomed and supported in this field.
What are the challenges of being a woman in wearable tech / VR/AR industries?
There are a number of challenges that apply quite broadly to women in all areas of tech – far more than I can cover in depth here – so I’ll just focus on one that’s close to my heart. As a former classroom teacher, supporting young women in STEM was seen as one of the best ways we could help increase the number of women in technology. But the big challenge that worries me now is the number of women who train to enter the tech field only to leave it. You talk to women who leave tech and so often you hear of the barriers and unequal treatment they faced. It’s no wonder that they chose to leave an industry they loved because it just didn’t love them enough back, whether it’s because of purposeful discrimination, constant microaggressions, or the emotional weight of always being on edge because you know it’s not a matter of if someone will say or do something to make you feel unwelcome – it’s a matter of when.
We lose brilliant minds because of this, and that can then funnel backwards and make young women less inclined to want to enter the tech field in the first place. It’s a bad cycle without easy solutions, but it should be front and center of every plan that works towards increasing diversity in this field.
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the wearable tech and VR/AR industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
It’s been interesting looking at these technologies through the lens of someone who works in learning and development. Up until recently most people in my field assumed AR/VR/wearable tech experiences could only be used in rare circumstances where you had a huge budget and lots of time for development, putting it completely out of reach for most organizations. But as the cost to build and experience these technologies have decreased, the barriers to entry have dropped drastically as well.
Over the next 5 years I’d expect these technologies to take a more prominent role in how we train and support skills. I’m hoping to see more simple development tools come to the market to allow people from my field (and any other more casual developers, for that matter) to create basic experiences on their own, but I’m also looking forward to seeing more partnerships between professional AR/ VR/wearable tech developers and people from the training industry as organizations start investing in more complex learning experiences using these technologies.
Who are your 3 inspirational companies / individuals in wearable tech and VR/AR?
I wanted to highlight two women in the learning and development industry who are doing so much to empower people in our community to dive in to using AR and VR for learning experiences: Myra Roldan (@MyraMade) and Cindy Plunkett (@SenseiCindy). Their sense of experimentation and innovation have lead them to create AR and VR projects that demonstrated that these technologies are ready for us to use in our field right now. Also, their openness with sharing their work and expertise with others have helped so many, myself included, feel better prepared to start using these technologies ourselves.
As for organizations, I have a local Toronto favorite who has been playing in the VR and wearables space lately: Dames Making Games (@DMGToronto). They’ve done an outstanding job in creating a space in gaming that everyone feels welcomed and encouraged in. If you’re in the Toronto area and are interested in practical workshops and events on VR and wearables, I’d definitely recommend checking them out.
Realities360 Conference is The eLearning Guild’s newest event dedicated to exploring the opportunities presented by virtual reality, augmented reality, and other alternate reality technologies. Learning and performance professionals will have hands-on opportunities to encounter these technologies and engage in discussions that put those experiences into the context of learning and performance.
2018 Realities360 will be held June 26 – 28 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, CA.
Women of Wearables are media and community partner of the event, use code R18WOW for a 20% ticket discount!
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.