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Technology has changed education rapidly in the last few decades as computers and interactive digital whiteboards such as Sharp’s BIG PAD have made learning a more visually engaging experience for students.
Digital technology is also allowing us to learn remotely. The rise of MOOCs, (massive open online courses) is giving students around the world free access to courses at established universities such as Harvard and Berkeley.
Futurist Rob Furman believes that remote or virtual learning will overcome the issues of making it to school in adverse conditions.
“I am predicting that within the next 5 years, schools will be having class via technology during hazardous weather conditions.”
Sadly – for the pupil at least – those rare but glorious days when snow put paid to school are numbered!
Furman continues, “Consider the virtual classroom for a moment. You have an avatar as a student and one as a teacher. You can have teacher directed lessons and student responses.”
But there is another side to virtual learning, not just that of allowing students to learn remotely, but also as a means of transporting them to places they couldn’t normally go. The arrival of equipment such as the Oculus Rift, while it has been created mainly with gaming in mind, shows that the technology is already there to bring education to life in the classroom.
Writing in Big Think Jason Hreha says, “The rise of verbal and book-based education has distanced us from the subjects at hand – reducing our understanding and our motivation to learn.”
He continues, “But, with the rise of new virtual reality (VR) technologies, we now have a chance of bringing embodied learning back to everyday life.”
A verbal description of, say, Middle Ages architecture, is not the simplest way of getting students to learn about it.
Hreha says, “Building mental imagery is a hard business and words are ill-suited for communicating complex scenes and structures. With VR technologies, you’ll be able to see and experience these objects by exploring and interacting with three dimensional representations of the subjects at hand.
He continues, “In addition, you’ll be able to hear the sounds of the environment and maybe even feel the stone and sand beneath your feet…you’ll be able to get a real sense of what the Egyptian priesthood experienced when they walked into the pyramids, or what it felt like to live in an early 19th century tenement in New York City.”
Scientists at Sharp Labs are in agreement with Hreha, believing that in 100 years’ time virtual reality will be the norm in education. They imagined a time, “where all the kids, either through a big multiviewer 3D TV, or through a headset, could be transported to North Wales or Norway and actually see some of the things that have been described in class…that would actually benefit their learning enormously.”