Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A challenge around the roll out of Ultra-fast broadband to schools: How agile are education systems?

A fellow community member recently posted a comment about the roll out of ultra-fast broadband to schools throughout New Zealand. He suggested that while "cheaper access to international data is important and useful" there is vast potential around fostering collaboration between learners, teachers, parents, schools, and communities. As such, he poses the question: "Most schools are digital islands because we haven't had the technology in place that will allow us to connect with each other. What could we do (beyond video conferencing) if we had 100mb/1gb/10gb connections with a network of NZ schools?".

It just happened that after reading his post and question I came across the following video and article: "'Virtual human' Milo comes out to play at TED in Oxford" - The 'avatar' (and I use the word loosely, because Milo, as he is known, is way more advanced than other avatars I've seen) is designed to be interacted with via gestures and can decode tone of voice as well as non-verbal semiotics. Milo is in the cloud, and so learns from all of his experiences with all of the interactions he has with users there; this means that "as millions of people use it, Milo will get smarter".

Milo is currently used with the Microsoft's hands-free Xbox 360 motion controller called Kinect, but I could see that it won't be long until this form of interaction could be ubiquitous and readily available online. Imagine the potential...for learners to collaborate - build, create, share, co-construct, and 'teach' each other and Milo, while Milo also shares his own learning. The students could also 'experience' simulations, scenarios and environments that would otherwise not be possible.

For teachers, professional development and collaboration could take a whole new texture...!!! Just imagine the amazing learning that could be fostered - authentic, rich, and not tied to VC or webcams, mice and keyboards.

Is the education system agile enough to make the changes to embrace the potential offered - given some engrained beliefs around how students 'learn', and current assessment practices, as well as teacher, learner, parent/community expectations of their roles within the existing education system? This, for me, is the key question...unfortunately, I don't foresee it as a 'build it and they will come' situation.

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