Future School Day Encourages Exploration

| January 17, 2011 | 4 Comments
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A NASA photo of Olympus Mons, the tallest known mountain in the solar system, using wide-angle imagery from NASA’s Viking orbiters and the Mars Orbiter Camera.

A vision of the school day of the future from Curtis Wong, principal researcher at Microsoft focusing on interaction, media, and visualization technologies. Wong has authored more than 45 patents pending in areas such as interactive television, media browsing, visualization, search, gaming and learning. Wong worked on Project Tuva, which links the lectures of Nobel Prize winning Physicist Richard Feynman with interactive simulations and related content and the WorldWide Telescope, which essentially turns a computer into a telescope and features the largest collection of ground and space-based imagery that can be accessed online.

Whenever I think about what a school of the future would be like, I remember the first time I visited the Vivarium Project Open School in Los Angeles over 20 years ago. It was conceived by Alan Kay and was exploring some new ideas around the classroom, the role of teachers and the potential impact of networked computers among other ideas in the ecosystem of learning.

My first impression in talking to the students in the classroom was that they were responsible for their own exploration and they worked in teams. The teacher spoke with the whole class for a few minutes about the broader goals of the exploration, but most of his time was spent with each of the small teams of students that were working on researching and exploring problems in the context of the larger goals. The teacher was more of a coach and provided suggestions for areas to explore rather than giving answers to questions. Students were challenged and sought out resources to help themselves to understand and build the solutions that helped them make progress to understanding the bigger problems.

To that end I can imagine the classroom of the future being organized loosely like the Vivarium Open School, but this time having much richer online resources that provide the full spectrum of  instruction, exploration and assets and tools  to allow students to research and construct their own learning experience and synthesize their learning, which can then be shared with others for further exploration by other students.

The teacher provides some guidance on the questions to be asked but the students are responsible in small groups that use rich online resources that allow for the learning to extend far beyond the physical walls of the classroom and allows for leveraging the real benefits of actually being in a classroom: the interactions between students and with the teacher to facilitate the process of  inquiry and self discovery.

My ideas on the future school day are based on my experience. I’ve been creating educational resources that allowed for instructional learning coupled with self-directed exploration and constructive learning. I worked on interactive multimedia CD-ROMs for the Voyager Company, CD-Roms that integrated rich narrative with spatial and temporal contextual exploration in A Passion for Art” and “Leonardo da Vinci” from Corbis. I also worked on the broadband-enhanced PBS television program “Commanding Heights,” which linked a streaming video television program with resources from interactive timelines and atlases, fully searchable and indexed transcripts of the program and interviews and glossaries.

Commanding Heights allowed the teacher to deconstruct the TV show to quickly find elements for specific instruction while also enabling student exploration from those specific elements to understand the broader related context for the assignment.  The program was recognized with a British Academy Award for Online learning in 2002 and validated the ideas around mixing instructional with self directed exploration for learning.

A few years later, I led the effort to build the WorldWide Telescope, which was designed with this same information architecture allowing for expert-led guided tours about interested places in the universe (instructive learning) which could be paused at any time to allow for full interactive exploration within the richest simulation of the universe populated with the best imagery from ground and space based telescopes that are available today of they sky and deep space objects which are then coupled with deep information resources from different sources around the world.

Students can create their own tours and share them with others. I also imagine short videos being accessible on any subject that is linked to deeper information resources and simulations that are available on the web which also allows rich note taking and sharing into the video itself such as in Project Tuva that I designed as an example for online video learning and note taking.

Read more of MindShift’s School Day of the Future series.

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  • Tom

    While it’s great to have rich new resources available for learners, this approach still seems limited to the old paradigm of school, not a new paradigm of learning. It still assumes that the only learning that “matters” is what a teacher directs. It still assumes that the curriculum and standards will “belong” to teachers who then continue to pass them down to students.
    WIth the sorts of tools that Microsoft and others have developed, this doesn’t have to be the case anymore We don’t need tools that will perpetuate a culture of dependency..

    • Bram

      Constructivism is a great approach for advanced learners. Unfortunately, the U.S. has failed many students by not educating students on this method of learning. Similarly, there are many areas of science where you need to take the objectivist approach in order to jumpstart the process or the timeline will be unrealistic.

      • Curtis

        What I tried to do with WorldWide Telescope is to bring in both Social Media Objectivist content coupled with rich contextual exploration/data in an environment which has integrated authoring tools to support constructivism. I hope that future learning environments will integrate both as we always have a wide variety students who respond to different learning styles. I see the role of teachers in motivating the students with great stories and provocative questions that pique student curiosity to explore, synthesize and construct in ways that are self rewarding and recognized.

  • Bram

    The U.S. Educational system has the richest resources in the world. The problem is not whether we have resources but instead the teachers who know how to utilize them and the administration who know how to implement metrics of learning in usable areas for eventual integration of students into society as functional citizens.