Exploring the Future of Learning at ThinkQuest Live!
By ThinkQuest Student Journalists* • Library Media Specialist, Lakeview High School, Battle Creek, MI
MultiMedia Schools • October 2002 
Editor's Note: 
In essence, the future of learning is about tomorrow's students, but we can envision that future more appropriately and more effectively if we listen to today's. Characteristic of their age, they have a moral imperative to improve the world. They have a great deal of insight to share, as evidenced by their contributions to every aspect of the ThinkQuest Live event, including the majority of the text in this article.
— Janet Murray, Associate Editor, MMS

Not knowing what a word means, you peek through the lenses of a hand-held lightweight display and magically see three-dimensional objects, which virtually jump out of the page. The Magic Book is just one of the many fascinating exhibits that will possibly change the way we learn. At the University of Washington campus on a sunny July weekend, leading technologists, researchers, educators, and students from all over the world had one goal: to explore the future of learning. Hosted and sponsored by a cooperative of leaders in educational technology (see sidebar), "Exploring the Future of Learning" looked, at first glance, like the vendors' area at a typical computer conference—except that there were no straight corridors or square cubicles! Angles and circles divided the Husky Union Ballroom into Pavilions—thematically organized demonstration areas and activity centers.

In his opening remarks, Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates chair in Computer Science at the University of Washington, challenged educators to "prepare our students for a future we can't even imagine." Although technological advances such as radio, television, and even computers have consistently fallen "wildly short of expectations" in how each impacts the landscape of learning, Lazowska cited two compelling reasons for raising our expectations—again! Lazowska predicted that recent advances in understanding how people learn and a focus on teaching and learning rather than technology will finally lead us to use current and future tools effectively in education.

Participants spent a day and a half exploring curriculum, student and teacher leadership, emerging technologies, and new models for schools in hands-on activities that displayed both current and future collaborative and interactive applications of technology in education. Then the participants came together in small groups to share their thoughts. The closing plenary "Understanding the Past, Challenging the Present, and Creating the Future" featured reflections presented by both students and educators.

Imagining the Future

"Technology is, at the center, pulling people together to solve the problems that we care about," says Margaret Riel, senior researcher, SRI International, and Pavilion leader of Emerging Technologies. According to Dr. Riel, in order to broaden the horizons of this generation, the way we learn will have to be revolutionized. It will evolve into an interactive and exciting curriculum. The instructional learning atmosphere will establish an opening via the information gateway, which will be developed by the teachers for the students. A teacher will not simply teach with the approaches of lectures, note-taking, analyzing, and such, but will incorporate learning with technology, developing a community that builds new knowledge. With the scalability and accessibility of the Internet and new software, teachers and students will both teach and learn at the same time. This enriching learning and teaching experience will focus interests to improve education by enhancing the talents and assets of others to their full potential. Considering the fact that everyone learns differently, we must transform our beliefs about teaching and learning with technology into reality. Incorporating instructional technology and the excitement of learning is the key to understanding our potential to change learning and extend new educational opportunities to everyone.

A presentation led by Dr. Amela Sadagic and five students participating in the "Imagining the Future" project from Moanalua High School, Hawaii, particularly emphasized that "technology is always a tool, never a goal." Using advanced technology as tools, students and educators from six schools attempted to "imagine and prototype learning systems."

Jaron Lanier, technology consultant to Steven Spielberg on the production of the film The Minority Report, pointed out that students are the target demographic group of discretionary consumers for popular media. He asked students what was "missing" in movies, television, music, and video games. They responded that "you don't see kids building positive things on computers," "The omnipresence of the Internet is not reflected in popular music," and, "Programmers never get chicks." The students wanted more simulations of new social issues and current world problems rather than the typical avatar-fighting that pervades most video games.

The current, common perception of education today from a student's perspective is that school is boring. It is possible that students feel school is not challenging or interactive enough. The students lose interest because the excitement is not there to motivate them to learn. A student observed, "There are two reasons why we learn: Some learning is just essentially forced upon us; the other—a comfortable, engaging experience—we simply enjoy." Student leaders drawn from the ThinkQuest finalists envisioned an adaptive curriculum (similar to the currently available computerized GRE test) that would stretch their abilities without discouraging them, allow them to progress at their own pace through compelling project-based learning activities dealing with real-world problems, and maximize the potential for global collaboration between students. This application of learning by adapting the individual's abilities and goals will activate their maximum potential for success.

Emerging Technologies

Imagine for a moment that you're a tourist in a far-away foreign land. You're lost in a remote village while looking for mountain gorillas, but you do not speak the local tongue. What will you do? There is no GPS, no satellite phones, no advanced translator with you. And you certainly don't want to do what Tom Hanks did with a soccer ball in the movie Castaway.

Enter Augmented Reality (AR). AR is basically what it says: an expansion of reality to make it better than what it already is. Let's consider our case of being lost in that remote village. Now, you probably have your glasses with you. You put them on, and suddenly, your visual scope is filled with all sorts of information: where you are, a local map, a set of instructions for moving about, a quick crash course in the native language—in short, AR can offer any information that you want. Suddenly, you're connected to the global library of knowledge no matter where you are.

"It's not a thing," says Sonny Kirkley, CEO of Information In Place, Inc., "it's a concept. It's like 1992, when the Web was going to be invented." It's in the research stage now, but the future applications are tremendous, he says. You can use AR in engaging outdoor virtual combats, military simulations, annotated museum tours, and even for safe oceanic travels. Some of the applications, Kirkley implies, are expected to take a longer time to emerge than others. For example, it might take 8 years to develop the game, while 3-4 years might be needed to develop the tours, and 3 years for education.

Janet Meizel, technology coordinator for Davis (CA) Senior High School, was most impressed by this technology's potential to transform learning. For example, it will allow students to see how statistics affect the real world. The overlay shows changes over time and displays them on a hand-held device or clear glasses. Meizel said, "It makes the essential link to answer the student's question, 'Why do I need to know this?'"

Current applications of tele-immersion are more inclined toward research. But in the future, the applications will vary from teleconferencing to virtual classrooms to anything that is real-time 3-D, according to Sandy Patterson from the GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. "An archeology teacher could present virtual artifacts for students somewhere else to pick up and examine," he speculates. It might even all go to different directions: media, games, movies. Tele-immersion, he says, perpetually drives the Internet2 for bigger bandwidth, which is good for both parties.

Will the line between the real and the virtual disappear in the future? "I think that's what we're trying to do," Sandy answers, "[create] a world where people will see both the real and the virtual. It blurs it even morewhen both come together." Tele-immersion promises not only to radically change the way we exchange information with others, but also the way we use computers and the way we teach and learn. If, in the future, telecommunications will be completely revamped and revolutionized by a whole new way of communications, it will be at least partly due to this work.

Where Do We Go from Here? The Challenge

Dr. Terence Rogers, president and CEO of Advanced Network & Services, hosted the ThinkQuest Live! event. He challenged attendees, as well as educators everywhere, to participate in creating the future of learning with this ambitious statement:

By the year 2010, children will have access to a working and cost-effective learning environment adapted to their individual learning aptitudes and goals, which is as compelling as other parts of their environment, and which helps them achieve their full potential in the world and which is capable of being adapted and used worldwide.

See how you can participate in shaping the future of learning at http://www.futureoflearning.org/efl/challenge.html.
*Student Authors:

Trishank Karthik • Penang, Malaysia

Mei Lau Seattle,Washington

Karisa Soldotna,Alaska

Serena Hong Kong

Ryan Lim Lincoln, Nebraska

Communications to the student authors may be addressed to Elaine Harrison, Project Leader, Student Journalism Center, Office of Education Technology, Kentucky Department of Education, 500 Mero Street, Frankfort, KY 40601; phone: 502/564-7168; fax: 502/564-6470; e-mail: eharrison@kde.state.ky.us.
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