I have often heard the stories about how our society will eventually be controlled and dictated by technology. “One day everyone will own driver-less cars,” my dad and brother would say. I may hear these remarks and chuckle quietly at the absurdity, but deep inside a small voice chokes, “I sure hope that doesn’t happen.”
I watched the introduction video for SMALLab Learning, a company which sells “room-sized embodied learning environments,” which look like something out of a science fiction film. These installations are quite fantastical: flashing lights, colorful animated pictures, and kids with mesmerized grins walking on a what looks like a movie screen. The video includes testimony from middle school science teachers, principals, and even young students, all of whom boast of the product’s effectiveness in teaching and explaining tough concepts. My reaction to this was rather two sided. First of all, the product is very cool, to say the least. As a middle schooler, I would certainly have a great deal of fun learning about sound waves from one of these virtual environments than from sitting in a chair listening to a lecture. Actually, as a student at any age, the idea of learning and interacting in this way is greatly appealing. Why? I think it is because humans like the idea of learning by doing. Such “hands-on” learning is effective because it requires the learner to use more than just their vision, and SMALLab products do an excellent job of encouraging full body engagement in the learning process. However, my opinion of this virtual environment turns more cynical when I look more closely at the relationship between the technology, the student and the human educator. I think the interaction between student and virtual world can be affective, afterall we live in a world of digital interaction. However, it begins to scare me when that connection becomes greater than or even replaces the connection between student and teacher. If schools were to install one of these learning platforms in every classroom, is there any need to hire teachers? That is something to think about.
I did a little more research on interactive classrooms, wanting to find other ways that technology is used in schools. I found Echo360, a site which offers a platform for teachers to upload their presentations and then is given access to all kinds of tools and activities to virtually connect with their students as they are teaching a lesson. While exploring the site’s homepage, I was surprised to read this statement: “Students want digital interaction. Echo360 turns the devices they use from distractions into learning assets.” I cannot quite explain why I found this odd, perhaps it is because when I think of what I want as a student, I don’t immediately think of “digital interaction.” Anyway, this company is taking a less extreme approach to interactive learning, because the teacher or professor is still leading the class and building the lesson plan.
Comparing this approach to the SMALLab learning environments, I find Echo360 more favorable. With the former, technology has completely taken over, and while it may result in children who are more excited to go to school, we also have to examine the true goal here: to learn or to interact? SMALLab products clearly brand themselves to be learning tools, however interactivity is more powerfully at play. This is not to say that interactivity and learning are exclusive, for certainly learning can occur through interactions. However, in my opinion, SMALLab installations are more interested in testing and exploring the boundaries of digital potential, and I find the installations interesting but too futuristic. Yet, I think that Echo360 has found the balance between interacting with technology and traditional learning, finding an effective way to utilize technological advances for the benefit of education.
- from smallablearning.com