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Time Travel and Virtual Reality in Education

July 6, 2009

Ok, this is what I want to see.

1.  Virtual Teachers: I want the people over at Microsoft to use their new Project Natal system for the education industry.  If you haven’t seen their introduction of the new “invisible” gaming system check out the video:

Now, if Milo can “read” my body language or pick up a “paper” from me, why can we create a virtual teacher who can teach a lesson, answer my questions and look at my work?  Is this too much to ask?    It could start as a great tutoring tool for straightforward elementary subjects and grow from there.   Could Milo teach basic math or reading skills?  Can he check my handwriting or teach me how to draw Chinese characters?    Can we link Milo or the equivalent character to an actual teacher and have them “team teach” in a classroom?  Come on, Microsoft, you can do it.

Now I know the teacher’s unions will hate it. According to Moe and Chubb in Liberating Learning, the unions are likely to try to block ANY type of online or virtual learning system. ( More on this book later…) With cool products like Project Natal, however,  parents and kids would pull through the product and the school establishment will be hard pressed to block it.

2. Time Travel – I want SIMS to create a game that is historically correct which would allow students to put themselves or their avatar in another time period.  They could be say, a confederate officer or a member of parliment or Galileo’s assistant.  Couldn’t we do this?  Wouldn’t that be a cool way of learning about a time period in history.  For that matter, it might be a cool way of learning about the lives of people in different parts of the world or in different professions.  Yeah, I realize that you could get into some tricky “politically correct” issues regarding current topics, but it ought to be feasible for  historical subjects.  If I were a history teacher, I’d use it in my class.  Talk about making history come alive —  this would be fun!

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Hello world!

June 21, 2009

Most of my days are spent in the education of children – my own and other people’s.  I’m either teaching kids, preparing to teach kids,  or worrying about kids.  Today in particular, I’m worried about the kids in Iran and in other parts of the world where conditions are threatening and dangerous.  I worry for their health and safety and I wonder how I can help.  While I may have influenced some of the student’s I’ve worked with, how can I help students I’ve never met and never will meet? It seems clear that some of the salient lessons from the current crisis in Iran are that education matters, the freedom of ideas matters, social networks and the technology that produces them matters and that individuals can and do influence the understanding and education of others on a global scale and in real time.  With these lessons in mind, perhaps I can help by expressing thoughts here which might stimulate the ideas and actions of others who hope to improve the world through education.

The lessons of today’s crisis in Iran seem closely tied to the  questions I’ve had lately about how students in the US and around the world will be educated and how they will educate themselves in the coming future.  Freedom of choice and economics, key issues in Iran today, will be the key issues driving change in the education system of the future.

In the US we pride ourselves on having  freedom of choice, but if you ask students in most high schools today, I doubt that they feel much freedom when it comes to their education.   Limited resources and limited imagination hinder such freedom.  A student or parent seeking to customize the education experience are likely to hear a raft of excuses both real and imagined.  They might hear:

“It doesn’t fit into the schedule”

“We don’t have the teacher/facility/interest”

“You don’t have the prerequisites”

“It doesn’t satisfied the requirements”

“It’s not in the budget”

etc..

This is about to change in ways that are both exciting and terrifying.  We are about to be liberated from an old model of education centered around passing on skills and information to a new model of creative understanding.  Technology has opened the door to previously unimagined possibilities in education and economics will push us through.  I wonder what it will look like on the other side.