Technology in Education

Early last week I was asked to write an article for an e-learning blog. I’m not sure if they used it in the end so I thought I’d publish it here:

Technology has been a staple feature in schools since around about the time I left Primary school.

Mrs Gates’ classroom had a giant BBC Micro computer that ran a adventure game called Granny’s Garden. I never got to play it because I never managed to finish my work in time to get a go but from the hastily whispered reports I overheard, Granny turned out to be some kind of witch and tasked you with collecting spell reagents and solving simple puzzles in order to help her complete some ultimate spell. Reading the Wikipedia article however suggests that either my memory is a little hazy, or my friends didn’t entirely understand what was going on!

The game was designed to broaden students’ vocabularies and improve spelling (it would only respond if you managed to spell the commands properly, mice hadn’t quite been invented yet) and allowed the exercise of basic logic skills.

Fast forward to today and we’ve come a long way with graphics, but not so far with the pedagogy - consider Professor Layton series of games for the Nintendo DS. On the one hand, the Nintendo DS has hundreds of times more processing power than the old BBC Micro but we’re still solving puzzles and learning logic skills!

As we move into the second decade of the new millennium, we’re going to see a huge increase in this kind of thing being made available in schools and outside of schools. As technology like the Nintendo DS and iPod Touch/iPhone become cheaper and more powerful we’ll see them used more and more in education.

Augmented Reality is an area that I think we’ll see a lot of interesting education applications coming from (see a demo of augmented reality). At first glance, it looks like nothing more than a fancy game; indeed, the first place I saw this technology in action was in the Eye Of Judgement game for the PS3. Players use a deck of cards in a similar way to CCG games such as Magic the Gathering only they play online using the playstation camera and when you put one of the EoJ cards beneath the camera, the system spawns the actual creature described and does battle with your opponent on your behalf.

For me this is a very exciting technology as it has the potential for huge amounts of information to be embedded in ‘meat space’. You could be walking around a castle ruin, point your ‘iphone like’ device at the main banquet hall and see an augmented reality overlay of a medieval banquet taking place. Taking this a step further and we will begin seeing technology such as VR Glasses coupled with some kind of augmented reality processor and everything we look at all day long could pour fourth a bounty of information - look at your cat on the way out and the system adds a tag reminding you to dose it with flea repellent, walking to school in the morning and you’re reminded to post a letter as the system recognises a post box as you pass, approach a restaurant for some dinner and reviews or warnings of potential food poisoning fill the doorway. The possibilities are endless. A wildly amusing application of this technology found in the book Halting State by Charles Stross sees people playing a huge game of ‘spooks’; making dead drops and following people, all prompted by their augmented reality system. It turns out that it’s not really a game and all of the players are participating in huge crowd-sourced government intelligence gathering!

Ultimately, it still remains to be seen how successfully the education industry can tame and apply these technologies to their cause, but I anticipate that the next decade will see a lot of exciting things taking off in this area.