After four days of running around the conference,1 I only have the mental space for a few quick thoughts.
Three readings worth your time this week.
Following visits to elementary schools in Finland, the 2016 Kentucky teacher of the year wonders “What If High School Were More Like Kindergarten?”. The absolute best idea is the observation of a Finish business owner: “education is important, but learning matters more.” So why can’t we apply the “playful curiosity” approach to learning inherent in most young children to high school? (about 6 minutes)
I’ve playing with and watching the concept of virtual reality over the past few years and see a lot of potential for learning in the technology. However, there is also a lot of hype (some of which is on display in the Google announcements from this week). This article from the BBC offers some good examples of how VR might be used to help people understand places and experiences foreign to them, and maybe tell stories in new ways. (about 16 minutes)
A writer, comedian and “former Googler”1 asks Do You Take Yourself Seriously? Read this piece; then turn it around and apply the concept to your students. How many of them take themselves (and their ideas) seriously? What are you doing to help them change that attitude? Or possibly, maybe unintentionally, to reinforce it? (about 4 minutes)
Two audio tracks for your commute.
One distinctive feature of the societies pictured in Star Trek and other science fiction is the lack of money. But some countries here on Earth in 2016 are moving quickly towards a cashless life. Freakonomics Radio takes an interesting look at some of these efforts and asks Why Are We Still Using Cash? Personally I love Apple Pay and think it would be great if every business would stop taking my money. (45:59)
Much of the political discussion about immigration is framed in very stark black and white. But there are many, many different pieces, including the issue of guest worker programs that shouldn’t be included at all. The DecodeDC podcast offers an interesting look at the problems US farmers are having in finding workers to pick their crops, and how Congress is getting in the way with their simplistic fights. (34:01)
One video to watch when you have a few minutes.
Why are most middle and high school students in US schools sent down a math path that begins with Algebra and aims straight towards Calculus? Especially since “[a]t most, 5 percent of people really use math, advanced math, in their work.”, according to the author of The Math Myth. In this segment from PBS Newshour he discusses why students need mathematical literacy far more than that the formal structure of our current curriculum. As a former math teacher and member of NCTM, I can’t support the president of that organization interviewed in the video. (7:03)
Ok, the one question most people ask me every year when I get back from ISTE is: what was hot? What new technology was everyone talking about? Where did the crowds gather?
And the answer for 2016, of course, was VR; virtual reality.
During the conference, I heard more than a few people declared that virtual reality was going to revolutionize education (including the Sunday keynote speaker). Many vendors were offering VR “solutions”, even if it was just their old products with a VR component grafted onto the side.
And around the convention hall there were multiple scenes like this one (at the Google booth) with people staring into cardboard boxes and plastic Viewmasters, tilting their heads to get a better view. Of something.
Of course the current reality in VR is that the technology is not even close to the threshold of revolutionary when it comes to education.
First, let’s face it: our profession is evolutionary at best, and it’s a pretty slow change at that. But more to the point in this case is that the technology to produce VR of the quality that would make a “revolutionary” impact for learning currently looks more like this:
A big non-portable machine, fast CPU, powerful graphics processor (re: expensive), with a headset and software costing about half that of the computer to run it.
However, I’m not disparaging the push for virtual reality on display at ISTE. It’s only the beginning for this medium, and I’m actually very optimistic that VR will become an important tool for student learning in the very near future.
However, just not as the new, “exciting” (re: very profitable) content delivery system that Pearson and other companies at ISTE are hoping for.
In just the past few years, the tools for creating virtual reality experiences have become both easier to use and much less expensive. I believe that VR, both still images and 360 video, could become a wonderful creative tool for students (and teachers) to tell stories and present ideas.
It happened over the past ten years or so for 2D video, as the availability of good cameras packaged in relatively inexpensive mobile devices and powerful editing programs made the technology accessible to many kids. Not to mention the rise of YouTube and other online channels for easy, ubiquitous distribution.
Something similar is going to happen for VR. I’m already doing sessions that show teachers and others an easy process to take and publish basic immersive images with their smartphones (and why they’d want to). And the tools are getting better all the time.
Good quality dedicated VR cameras are already well under $1000. Which sounds expensive but not considering the cost of getting lower quality images just a few years ago. Or what we had to go through in the late 90’s when I first started playing with this technology (anyone remember QuickTime VR?).
Now I’m not going to tell you that every student should study virtual reality (like STEM, coding, and whatever comes next). Students deserve some choice in what they study. VR is a creative tool with great potential, one of many, digital and not, students should have the option to explore and use while they are in our K12 classrooms.
But I’m betting there are kids somewhere already working on a presentation that includes immersive images they created. And I’m excited to see the first fictional story told using VR video. I know it’s coming very soon.