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How do we ensure that technological advances improve the learning experience?

Take yourself on a journey of the imagination. Pretend that you are a student traveling through the human history of ‘technology’ in education. Early on, as a young cave dweller, you might be grunted at, flashed a few hand signals, maybe taken on a hunt to witness the take down of a wooly mammoth. A generation or two later, your mind is blown with the advent of cave paintings – perhaps 15,000 BC – and your hunting education goes ‘virtual’ and no longer requires the danger of a field trip.  

You are hungry to learn – and the new technology feeds your appetite! 

Fast forward to Sumer in the 4th century BC and you enjoy written language on clay tablets in pictograms and cuneiforms – your world continues to expandA few thousand years later, in China, Cai Lun’s invention of paper changes your memorization requirements. Moving on to Ancient Greece and Rome, you now have access to incredible storytelling, myths, and legends - brought to you in books and journals written by hand by scribes. 

What is amazing about these advances in “technology” is that each one improves your learning experience by increasing your access to sensory stimulations. student – with each one expanding the size and reach of your classroom. Studying in Ancient Greece with Aristotle, you have a much richer experience than your prehistoric counterpart who only has access to cave paintings.  

You are amazed and grateful for the access you have to new technology. 

As we move forward in our thought experiment, past the magnificent texts - illuminated by monks – we can now imagine the introduction of the Magin Catacoprica  - or “magic lantern” in the mid 1600’s – an early device to project images from slides. As a student, you can now see pictures of anatomy, geography – the first virtual field trip.  Move ahead to the early 1800s when James Pillans invents the blackboard in Scotland. The early 1900’s introduces you, as a student, to the film projector, then moving pictures, and radio. With each successive invention, the walls of the classroom continue to shrink. 

While the invention of headphones, personal computers, and CDROMs all have a dramatic influence, your world as a student literally explodes with the rise of the internet. All human knowledge is now literally at your fingertips. Build on that the worlds of augmented and virtual reality to literally transform your universe. As a student in the 21st century, you can now travel the universe in your pursuit of a grand education. 

You feel so fortunate to have access to a wealth of resources… 

While you’re in the mindset, relishing in the modern advances - comparing your virtual worlds to the Paleolithic cave painting education – consider whether or not there is something missing in the human to human aspect – do the grunts and hand signals of your cave dweller teacher actually make a difference? Does the opportunity to ask a question of another human help you learn? – or is the virtual world – the world of text, tweet, or IMs – sufficient to carry your learning forward?  

Rather than being used to replace the human student-teacher experience, technology should augment it. There are dozens of examples of this – from Smartboards to Skype in the Classroom – there are examples of how technology breaks down the walls of the classroom while maintaining a human connection.  

You have unprecedented access to the worlds’ resources. 

Skype in the Classroom, for example, enables educators to invite guest speakers – scientists and authors, musicians and engineers – to join their classroom virtually to interact with students – or to use video calling technology to take students on a virtual field trip to remote museums or national parks that might not be otherwise possible. At the same time, there is a human speaker interacting with human students using a virtual technology. 

This program is a great example of leveraging technology to break down the walls of the classroom, yet retain the important human contact – so the educator can still be in charge of the curriculum, but the technology enhances the experience and brings the world into the classroom. 

How do we capture the best of Socrates, Aristotle, and Homer – along with the magic of Trinity College Library at Oxford or the Louvre – and blend it with the world of Minecraft or a VR tour of the human body?  It’s a challenge for the world ahead of us. While the learning opportunities continue to grow through broader sensory experiences and more immediate access to advances in research and discovery, programs like Skype in the Classroom bring together the virtual alongside the human and build on the best of each. 

You are here to change to world! 

We live in an unprecedented time of rapid technological advances. Across all industries, technology is changing the game. This is perhaps more true in education than any other field – and all of this is exciting for the ability of technology to enhance the learning opportunities. However, it’s critical to step back in time and learn from the great teachers of the past - and to give pause in order to understand, appreciate, and incorporate the best of the best in applying technology to the classroom experience.   

The demands of the 21st century – the fourth industrial revolution – where every company is a tech company – and jobs are being replaced by AI and automation - require a change in our approach to education. New technologies - and programs like Skype in the Classroom - that combine technology with the human touch can help prepare students for the brave new world ahead. 

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