VR FOR SPORT

Reimagining concussion education.

Physical injuries like a broken arm present an obvious and immediate need to seek medical care. But when the injury is more invisible, such as concussions, the need is not so apparent, often remaining undiagnosed and untreated. According to the CDC, each year, an estimated 2.5 million young people suffer from concussions in the United States, and three out of five high school students don’t report their concussion symptoms.

With her experience building education programs in multiple countries, TeachAids Founder Dr. Piya Sorcar felt the education around concussions could be shifted. Specifically, the TeachAids team knew from research how well students receive VR-based curriculum. So TeachAids, armed with a groundswell of support from 1,400 volunteers and experts, developed CrashCourse, a VR curriculum that removes the mystery of concussions and encourages young people to report their symptoms early.

“This medium has allowed us to place learners ‘in the game’ to experience what it can feel like to be concussed,” Sorcar says. “It has been a powerful tool to help build empathy for those who are injured.” By creating the curriculum in VR, TeachAids was also able to bring athlete role models directly into the learning experience. Students can interact with professional football players, who explain how to recognize and treat a concussion.

Among the legion of volunteers working alongside Sorcar are Dick Gould and Ryan Burns. Burns, a former Stanford quarterback turned TeachAids product manager, has experienced multiple concussions himself. As a student at Stanford, Burns studied VR as an educational tool and is now bringing that knowledge to the game he loves. “Now that my playing career is over, it feels great to be able to continue working in sports from a different perspective,” says Burns.

The statistics are not only driven by football. Serious concussions happen in sports as diverse as soccer, field hockey, wrestling and basketball. Gould, a 17-time NCAA title-winning coach and the Pac-12 Men's Tennis Coach of the Century, brings a perspective from life outside the gridiron.

“At the start of my coaching career, the general feeling was to simply ‘shrug it off’ – ‘bells being rung’ were simply an accepted part of the game,” says Gould. “We are so fortunate that much has been learned about head injuries.”

Through a partnership between the Arkansas Computer Science Initiative and Facebook TechStart, which donated VR headsets, Arkansas became the first state to integrate TeachAids’ CrashCourse into statewide curriculum. As such, students like Abbey Inman became some of the first in the nation to experience CrashCourse. A varsity soccer player, Inman once felt dizzy after taking a hit to the head. “I didn’t take a knee then but would now,” she says after getting virtually hit by a linebacker in the VR simulation. “It helps to have more knowledge to support younger students.”

With a multisport version and additional interactive modules expected for release in the next couple years, CrashCourse will reach up to 10,000 schools and youth sports organizations –– all for free. Piya Sorcar and TeachAids aim to share CrashCourse with as many student-athletes, parents, coaches, and teachers as possible in the years to come. “We believe it’s important to ingrain these healthy behaviors in our youth, which can ultimately affect the entire fabric and culture of sport,” Sorcar says.