On Tuesday, October 9, 2007, the Council on Science and Technology at Princeton University sponsored a talk by Professor Chris Dede, the Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard University.
With a team at Harvard, MIT and the University of Wisconsin, Dede is exploring how emerging interactive media are opening up intriguing new methods of teaching. Without doubt, he emphasizes, we live in an interesting time. Computers and telecommunication are changing the kinds of knowledge and skills that society wants from our graduates. Indeed, many of our students will work with knowledge and careers that do not yet exist. IT is changing the ways we teach and learn, and it is changing the characteristics of students at every age who habitually use advanced media outside of academic settings in their lives for communication, for entertainment, and for personal expression. These devices and forms of interaction and expression are building learning strengths and preferences that are different from those of prior generations; this offers interesting opportunities for educators.
If the world is changing fundamentally, what are the “new basics” that students need to know and understand? Dede cites the work of Levy and Murnane The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market (Princeton University Press, 2004) who conclude there are only two intellectual skills that people will still do better than machines a generation from now: Expert Decision Making (What your mechanic does when all the diagnostics say the car is fine) and Complex Communications (What we do in teaching, making complicated subjects intelligible to different audiences).
Accepting these skills as fundamental to the learning process, Dede and his team have constructed two types of emerging media that the present generation of students already uses heavily: Multi-User Virtual Environments and Ubiquitous Computing environments. Within these new environments, groups of students collaboratively tackle complex problems that would beyond the capabilities of any one person to solve. Together, the groups, often operating across a distance and using sophisticated tools, must come together to understand the nature of the problem. The effort involves recognizing and matching patterns, judging the value of alternative formations, and communicating to others with differing perspectives. Even if students don’t progress to careers in STEM, the goal is to help students to develop into sophisticated workers and citizens.
Multi-User Virtual Environments (such as Second Life) immerse participants within virtual contexts that include digital artifacts and avatar-based identities. Dede’s team has designed and studied a situated learning environment called the River City Project that challenges students to determine the causes of a health emergency within the virtual world. Students become actively engaged, collaborate effectively, assemble varied strategies for their inquiries, and score higher on subject tests. The environment provides teachers with useful assessment data and gives students a chance to compare their performance with the work of expert teams.
In the Handheld Augmented Reality Project (HARP), middle school students learn math and science literary skills within the context of a Ubiquitous Computing environment.
The game is played on a Dell Axim handheld computer and uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to correlate the students’ real world location to their virtual location in the game’s digital world. Within this “augmented reality,” as the students move around a physical location, such as their school playground or on the streets of their community, a map on their handheld displays digital objects and virtual people who exist in a virtual superimposed on real space. Dede emphasizes that this capability parallels the new means of information gathering, communication, and expression made possible by emerging interactive media (such as Web-enabled, GPS equipped cell phones with text messaging, video, and camera features). While this study is in an early stage, preliminary findings are positive in terms of students’ engagement and learning.
Posted by Lorene Lavora