What does the future of learning hold? What will classrooms of the future be like? Emerging technologies such as cloud computing, augmented reality (AR) and 3D printing are paving the way for the future of education in ways we may have yet to see. At the very least though, we can extrapolate from what these promising technologies and predict how schools will adopt them in time to come.
However, just as the original intentions for new technology often give way to innovative and unpredictable usage, we can never be sure if a twist is waiting for these rising stars. As for now, let us observe their progress and speculate on how these 8 up-and-coming technologies could potentially change education for the better.
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1. Augmented Reality (AR)
We’re still waiting for Augmented Reality to take the world by storm by way of Google Glass, gaming and awesome apps for astronomy.
It’s expected to wow audiences with its AR capabilities, which allow users to see additional information layered over what they see through the lens. Currently, however, access to AR technology for educational purposes is mostly limited to smartphone apps.
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Apps like Sky Map lets you scout the night sky for constellations, but they are not fully integrated as a component of education as they have yet to reach the stage of seamlessness. The AR experience must be immersive enough to blend information readily with the reality.
With Google Glass and the other AR-enabled wearable devices that will soon follow, students explore the world without having to hold up a device which could distract from the experience. Created by Will Powell, an AR developer for Oxford, a simpler version of the Google Glass showcases how effortless this can be. Check out this video to enter a world with seamlessly integrated augmented reality.
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A New Way To Teach
Virtual field trips are also possible with AR. Physics teacher, Andrew Vanden Heuvel, taught from inside the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, streaming what he sees through a beta Google Glass to his students thousands of miles away. They see him, and he sees them; it’s as if they are in the same classroom! The "Hangout" feature in use here is particularly promising for team collaborations in projects and assignments.
In other cases, students may be able to see supplementary and interactive information appearing on historical artifacts for them to get to know more about its history, just like how this AR advertising app can recognize images in the real world and interact with them.
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2. 3D Printing
What’s a better present for your 10-year-old than a LEGO set? How about a 3D printer, one specifically for children? The 3D printer should really be a must-have in classrooms. Instead of being restricted to what they can play with, pupils in the classroom of the future can print out 3D models for various purposes, including show-and-tell.
Engineering students and teachers are prime examples of who could directly benefit from 3D printing technology. In Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in Minneapolis, the school’s Dimension BST 3D printer lets students create design prototypes.
The 3D printer produces working mini-models to test out engineering design principles, so students can perfect their design before making an actual prototype. Together with CAD (computer-aided design) modeling software, 3D printing allows these students to experiment freely with their designs without expending considerable costs and time.
Abstract Thought, Real-Life Models
As it will be for many other subjects that require some form of visualization, the decreasing cost of 3D printers means that more teachers will be able to reconstruct complex concept models to teach theoretical concepts. For instance, the concept of molecular structures and configurations may be hard to grasp, but by printing out physical versions of these structures, this can help students put a form on abstract thought, and aid in better understanding.
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3. Cloud Computing
"My dog ate my homework" just won’t cut it with teachers in the near future. Cloud computing is buzzing these days and will most likely continue to change many aspects of our society, particularly education. In a bid to modernize education in China, the city of Zhuji in Zhejiang has installed more than 6,000 cloud computing terminal devices in 118 schools.
In the future classroom, students may just need an electronic device to access all their homework and all other learning resources in the Cloud. This means no more lugging heavy textbooks to school, and having constant access to your reading materials as long as you have an Internet connection.
Such convenience will provide students the freedom to work on their projects or homework anytime and anywhere. The digital library is accessible even when the campus library is not. In fact you can skip hitching a ride there, or to the bookstore or even to class (but being sick may no longer be an acceptable excuse to skip "attending" class from your bedroom).
An Online Learning Opportunity
Cloud computing seeks to virtualize the classroom. Schools can now leverage on cloud technology and set up online learning platforms for students to log on and attend classes in a virtual environment.
Take for example, the concept of cloud-based virtual learning environment (VLE), which allows students to access learning content and participate in discussions in forums. Assignments or even tests can also be easily disseminated to the class, minimizing the need for students to be physically present, but to encourage interaction and discussion, educators require another channel.
4. Online Social Networking
Numerous universities have already registered themselves with the online virtual world, Second Life to provide students with an online platform to socialize with each other. As a big part of the cloud platform, such social networks allows students to share their ideas freely, while teachers moderate.
This is a very empowering notion because it will imbue learners with a new perception – that learning is a personal responsibility and not that of the teacher’s.
For Homework… Discuss
Furthermore, this many-to-many interactive learning where ideas are allowed to flow freely will be more aligned with real-world scenarios where collaboration is usually the norm. Social networking tools can be incorporated to enhance collaboration and team-building initiatives.
Still, if there is a need, teachers, lecturers and professors can lend some guidance in the form of responses to forum queries or by uploading useful information to the cloud community instantaneously. Another benefit is that It also serves as a great feedback tool, to help improve the courseware. A social-based approach to education will seem more than relevant to students of the future.
5. Flexible Displays
Note-taking on memo pads is still very much alive during lectures although there may be a shift from paper to laptops, netbooks or tablets. As educational settings become more digitalized, how will the future classroom reconcile the differences between pen and paper versus keyboard and screen?
The answer might just be flexible OLED-based displays. Just like regular paper, these displays will be lightweight, flexible and extremely thin. This means we can roll them up into tubes or fold them like newspapers.
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Unlike regular paper however, these plastic e-papers are not only durable ("unbreakable" is the correct term), but also provides interactivity. With swipes, taps and pinching (maybe), these flexible paper-thin displays can take over paper-centric industries.
Feast your eyes on this paper-thin, A4-sized digital paper prototype by Sony which weighs only a mere 63g. Laptops and even smartphones can’t hold a candle to that kind of portability.
6. Biometrics: Eye Tracking
One technology that’s been gaining recognition is biometrics. Conventionally biometrics are associated with the security industry, as it uses what is unique to each one of us to authenticate our identity: fingerprints, facial recognition, iris patterns, voice. In terms of education, some schools are only using fingerprinting to prevent truancy and for borrowing books from their school library.
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However, eye-tracking can be helpful for instance, in providing invaluable feedback for teachers to understand how students absorb and understand the learning content. As a matter of fact, advertising research have been using eye-tracking technology to see how consumers respond to their ads and to determine what captures their attention.
Similarly, the same form of analysis can be conducted to ascertain course effectiveness or individual learning styles. Mirametrix is using its S2 Eye Tracker to assess how students learn by getting details of where they look during online learning sessions.
Cheaper alternatives are turning up in the form of Eye Tribe for Windows and Android, so it’s only a matter of time before this data is attainable by educators.
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The data may then be integrated with interactive adaptive learning systems in a manner that adjusts the content to best suit each student’s learning style. Alternatively, the eye movement patterns may also guide the delivery of the content, taking into account concepts students might have trouble understanding evident in the longer time they spend gazing at that particular section.
7. Multi-Touch LCD Screens
Over the past few decades, we’ve seen the transition from blackboard to whiteboard, to overhead projector and to video projector for computers in schools. If you’re guessing that the next in line will be something that is akin to our smartphones and tablets, you may be right. Specifically speaking, the next "board" is likely to be a giant touchscreen LCD screen which allows a greater amount of interactivity.
After all, we’re talking about a screen that will be attached to a computer capable of generating infinite combinations of images, sounds and videos, just like our smartphones. The major difference with this new "board" and our smart devices is that it will be capable of detecting multiple touch inputs from many students simultaneously.
LCD Touch boards
Instead of the traditional big board in front of the classroom, it will probably be just like the Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface, a giant tablet with its LCD screen lying flat atop a table-like structure. Students will sit around the table tablet, swipe on the board to manipulate and drag images around the screen, or type notes with their onscreen keyboards.
Think of the possibilities if every pupil gets one of these desks. Along with the social networking feature, these multi-touch surfaces will also allow students to collaborate live with peers around the world by manipulating virtual objects in real-time. The Multi-touch project by SynergyNet in Durham University is a great existing example of how such technology can be used by school children.
8. Game-Based Learning
Growing up at a time when the world is connected by the internet, kids today seems to have very short attention spans. This is unsurprising, since their childhood revolves around YouTube, Facebook and smartphones that provide them with on-the-go 24-hours updates and the answers to all their queries through Google and Wikipedia.
To cater to such a fast-paced generation, schools will eventually abandon traditional teaching methods of rote learning to align themselves with the times. One great way to achieve that is to use what had always been considered as a major distraction to learning – video games.
Gaming For Grades
KinectEDucation provides a one-stop online community for interested educators and students who want to use Microsoft Kinect for learning purposes. As can be seen from their video, some of the best suggestions on how educators and students can benefit from the motion-sensing technology include enabling students to learn sign language and how to play the guitar by detecting their hand movements.
In another example, a professor from the University of Washington Bothell teaches mathematics to her class by giving them the first-hand experience of learning through their motions which are captured by Kinect. Along with successful devices like Wii Remote and PlayStation Move, the motion-sensing technology is believed to be able to provide the necessary level of interactivity for students to feel more engaged with learning.
Learning To Design Games
Another concept adopted by educators does not focus on the gameplay or interactivity; rather, it emphasizes on how learning the game design process can educate students. In Gamestar Mechanic, the idea is to impart students with basic game designing skills (without the complexity of programming) to create their own games and consequently help them develop broad skill sets such as language, systematic thinking, problem-solving (through simulation, trial-and-errors, etc), storytelling, art and many more.
School children from fourth to ninth grade learn how to design one by playing a game itself where they assume the role of a young aspiring game designer who’ll go through quests, missions, etc to be awarded with various Sprites to use in their Toolbox (an area for them to design their own games). This is not unlike the role-playing video games we see in today’s market.
This illustrates how educators are moving away from traditional classroom teaching to that of letting students have fun and learn while they play interactive games. It’s inevitable that students in the future who grow up with such technology will require much higher levels of fun and excitement before they see education as appealing and captivating.
Education Beyond the Classroom
In the future, education will no longer be restricted to formalized institutes like schools and classes. Using AR, cloud computing, online social networking and adaptive learning systems utilizing eye tracking technology, learning can take place outside the tradtional classroom.
Experimentations and mistakes will also be encouraged as simulations are made possible through 3D printing and game-based learning without actually incurring real-world consequences or costs. Chief among all, students will soon be imparted with the wisdom of seeing learning as not a chore, but as a critical and gratifying part of their life which requires their proactive involvement.