The Future of the Classroom

virtual_learning2As an educator, technological innovation is a subject that comes up quite often. Not only are teachers expected to keep up with trends so they can adapt them into their teaching strategies, classrooms,and prepare children in how to use them, they are also forced to contend with how these trends are changing the very nature of education itself. If there was one thing we were told repeatedly in Teacher’s College, it was that times are changing, and we must change along with them.

And as history has repeatedly taught us, technological integration not only changes the way we do things, but the way we perceive things. As we come to be more and more dependent on digital devices, electronics and wireless communications to give us instant access to a staggering amount of technology, we have to be concerned with how this will effect and even erode traditional means of information transmission. After all, how can reading and lecture series’ be expected to keep kid’s attention when they are accustomed to lighting fast videos, flash media, and games?

envisioning-the-future-of-education

And let’s not forget this seminal infographic, “Envisioning the future of educational technology” by Envisioning Technology. As one of many think tanks dedicated to predicting tech-trends, they are just one of many voices that is predicting that in time, education will no longer require the classroom and perhaps even teachers, because modern communications have made the locale and the leader virtually obsolete.

Pointing to such trends as Massive Open Online Courses, several forecasters foresee a grand transformation in the not too distant future where all learning happens online and in virtual environments. These would be based around “microlearning”, moments where people access the desired information through any number of means (i.e. a google search) and educate themselves without the need for instruction or direction.

virtual_learning3The technical term for this future trend is Socialstructured Learning = an aggregation of microlearning experiences drawn from a rich ecology of content and driven not by grades but by social and intrinsic rewards. This trend may very well be the future, but the foundations of this kind of education lie far in the past. Leading philosophers of education–from Socrates to Plutarch, Rousseau to Dewey–talked about many of these ideals centuries ago. The only difference is that today, we have a host of tools to make their vision reality.

One such tool comes in the form of augmented reality displays, which are becoming more and more common thanks to devices like Google Glass, the EyeTap or the Yelp Monocle. Simply point at a location, and you are able to obtain information you want about various “points of interest”. Imagine then if you could do the same thing, but instead receive historic, artistic, demographic, environmental, architectural, and other kinds of information embedded in the real world?

virtual_learningThis is the reasoning behind projects like HyperCities, a project from USC and UCLA that layers historical information on actual city terrain. As you walk around with your cell phone, you can point to a site and see what it looked like a century ago, who lived there, what the environment was like. The Smithsonian also has a free app called Leafsnap, which allows people to identify specific strains of trees and botany by simply snapping photos of its leaves.

In many respects, it reminds me of the impact these sorts of developments are having on politics and industry as well. Consider how quickly blogging and open source information has been supplanting traditional media – like print news, tv and news radio. Not only are these traditional sources unable to supply up-to-the-minute information compared to Twitter, Facebook, and live video streams, they are subject to censorship and regulations the others are not.

Attractive blonde navigating futuristic interfaceIn terms of industry, programs like Kickstarter and Indiegogo – crowdsources, crowdfunding, and internet-based marketing – are making it possible to sponsor and fund research and development initiatives that would not have been possible a few years ago. Because of this, the traditional gatekeepers, aka. corporate sponsors, are no longer required to dictate the pace and advancement of commercial development.

In short, we are entering into a world that is becoming far more open, democratic, and chaotic. Many people fear that into this environment, someone new will step in to act as “Big Brother”, or the pace of change and the nature of the developments will somehow give certain monolithic entities complete control over our lives. Personally, I think this is an outmoded fear, and that the real threat comes from the chaos that such open control and sourcing could lead to.

Is humanity ready for democratic anarchy – aka. Demarchy (a subject I am semi-obsessed with)? Do we even have the means to behave ourselves in such a free social arrangement? Opinion varies, and history is not the best indication. Not only is it loaded with examples of bad behavior, previous generations didn’t exactly have the same means we currently do. So basically, we’re flying blind… Spooky!

Sources: fastcoexist.com, envisioningtech.com

Judgement Day Update: Robots for Kids

kids_robotRobots are penetrating into every aspect of life, from serving coffee and delivering books to cleaning up messes and fighting crime. In fact, the International Federation of Robotics reported that worldwide sales of robots topped $8.5 billion in 2011, totaling an estimated 166,028 robots sold. And with all the advances being made in AI and musculoskeletal robots, its only likely to get worse.

Little wonder then why efforts are being made to ensure that robots can effectively integrate into society. On the one hand, there’s the RoboEarth Cloud Engine, known as Rapyuta, that will make information sharing possible between machines to help them make sense of the world. On the other, there’s items like this little gem. It’s called the Romo, and its purpose is to teach your kids about robotics in a friendly, smiling way.

romo2Scared yet? Well don’t be just yet. While some might think this little dude is putting a happy face on the coming robocalypse, the creators have stated that real purpose behind it is to inspire a new, younger generation of engineers and programmers who can help solve some of the world’s technical problems in areas like health care and disaster relief.

Created by Las Vegas-based startup Romotive, this little machine uses the computing power of iOS devices as his brain. Basically, this means that you can remotely control the bot with your smartphone. Simply plug it in to the robot’s body and activate the app, and you get his blue, smiling face. Designed for use by kids, its program comes down to a simple series of if-then dependencies.

romo1In short, Romo can be programmed to recognize faces and respond to visual or auditory clues. The most common reaction is a smile, but the Romo can also looked surprised and doe-eyed. And with regular app and software updates, the Romo is predicted to get smarter and more sophisticated with time.

To realize their goal of creating a child-friendly robot, the company launched a campaign on Kickstarter back in October of 2011 with a goal of raising the $32,000 they would. After less than two years, they have received a total of 1,152 donations totaling some $114,796. Available in stores, at $149 a pop (smartphone not included), the makers hope that Romo will become the first truly personal robot.

Still, never too soon to start your Judgement Day planning. Stock up on EMPs and ammo, it’s going to be a rough Robopocalypse! And be sure to check out the company website by clicking here.

terminator1Source: fastcoexist.com, kickstarter.com

The Future is Here: The 3D-printed Robotic Hand

robotic_handThe field of robotic has been advancing by leaps and bounds in recent years, especially where robotic limbs and prosthetics are concerned. But until recently, cost has remained an issue. With top of the line bionic limbs – like the BeBionic which costs up to $35,000 = most amputees simply can’t afford them. Little surprise then why there are many efforts to create robotic limbs that are both cheaper and more accessible.

Last month, DARPA announced the creation of a robotic hand that could perform complex tasks, and which was made using cheap electronic components. And then there’s Robohand, the online group that creates 3D-printed robotic hands for children with a free, open-source 3D-printing pattern available on Thingiverse for people who wish to make their own.

robotic_hand2

And now, Christopher Chappell of the U.K. wants to do take things a step further with his “Anthromod”. Using Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website, he has started a campaign for a 3D-printed robotic hand that is a little bit more sophisticated than the Robohand, but would cost around $450. In short, the proposed design offers the ambulatory ability of a bionic limb, but at a cost that is far more affordable.

To break it down, the arm uses a tendon system of elastic bands with the movement being provided by five Hobby Servos, which are in turn built out of off-the-shelf electronics. Wearers will be able to move all four of the units fingers, thumb and wrist, once the sensors have been calibrated, and the software to control the hand and EEG sensors is available online for free. This all adds up to a unit that is not only more affordable, but easy to assemble, repair and maintain.

robotic_hand3On their Kickstarter page, Chappell describes his campaign and their long-term goals:

Our Kickstarter campaign is to develop a humanoid robotic hand and arm that is of far lower cost than any other available. We believe that this will open up robotics to a far wider market of makers and researchers than has ever been possible. This should then trigger an explosion of creativity in the areas of robotics, telepresence and ultimately prosthetics.

Much like the InMoov, a 3D printed android with limited function, the Anthromod represents an age of robotics that are accessible to the public. And with time, its not hard to imagine an entire line of enhancements and robotics, such as household servants and cybernetic components, that could be manufactured in-house, provided you’re willing to shell out the money for a industrial-sized 3D printer!

To check out the Anthromod website, click here. And be sure to check out the video below of their hand in action.

Note: As of this article’s writing, Chappell and his colleagues passed their goal of £10,000 and reached a whopping total of £12,086 (18,808 dollars US). Congratulations folks!


Sources:
news.cnet.com, kickstarter.com