ClassTech—linking classrooms to virtually any place in the cosmos
New technologies are reshaping education with eye-popping innovation and exemplary outcomes
Education is becoming an exciting space. After decades of stagnation, it is witnessing changes led by new demands from society, employment markets and student needs. Technology is playing a pivotal role in meeting these demands.
In a series of four blogs, starting with this one on the transformation from class-based education to cognitive education, let’s try and examine the wide range of changes blowing across schools, universities and colleges. The next three blogs will cover optimizing student experiences, empowering educators using technology to drive lifelong learning and successful careers and the transformation opportunities and specific methods available for institutions to become future ready.
We’ll start by examining an interesting, forward-thinking, program launched last year by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design where students could borrow Microsoft's ‘HoloLens' (AR) system, or HTC Vive or Oculus Rift (VR) headsets to explore immersive design environments made possible by Augmented and Virtual reality (AR/ VR) [i]. Harvard has already moved ahead of the experimental program with an AR/VR studio at its Innovation Labs. The lab believes that “the AR/VR space, as it is currently constituted, is ready for education and entertainment to be more tightly entwined.”[ii] At Harvard, students don’t leave their classrooms when exploring ocean floors, trying their hand at hockey or getting into race cars[iii]. They are using Mixed Reality (MR), a combination of AR and VR, to literally move to the next dimension in education—which is spatial and cognitive learning. AR, VR & MR powered by data, analytics and cloud infrastructure are driving new experiments in the delivery of education.
In the past few years, classrooms have begun to witness dramatic change across the spectrum - from primary education to higher education. They are being overhauled to include a vast array of new and sophisticated hardware ranging from digital smart boards to digital projectors, tablets, smart phones, display headgear and high-speed Wi-Fi. In parallel, an increasing amount of software applications and supporting cloud platforms are being deployed with the potential to bring in virtual chemical labs, digital operating theaters and even entire simulated symphony orchestras into classrooms and placing them at the disposal of students.
There are some obvious advantages to MR in education. Harvard, for example, doesn’t have to make real human patients available to medical students to operate on. Students can walk around a completely realistic computer model, manipulate it in any manner they please, within a real operation theatre. Computers effortlessly combine the real and the virtual, simulating and plotting and displaying data on the ‘patient’s’ body vitals on real monitors. So, MR isn’t only about firing the imagination of students in class, improving engagement or providing new models of learning. It is about convenience (hey, hold that field trip to the Arctic), making practically any resource available (John, today you will conduct the London Symphony Orchestra) and reducing costs (use as much ammonia borane as you wish and see if you can decompose it into hydrogen fuel). Since everything is virtual, anything is possible.
On the faculty side, the possibilities are just as staggering. Teaching Faculty are not constrained by location. Students could be in Boston while the teacher is in Adelaide, half way across the world. This means classrooms need not be shackled to the availability of teachers in their city, opening doors to talent that universities could only dream of.
Higher education has perhaps never seen disruption on this scale or with this intensity. Higher education is also an area that is in urgent need of innovation, given the changing demands by industry and the growing crisis in employment markets. As the number of educators and technologists come together, newer innovations and more meaningful solutions will spring up. This is only the dizzy beginning as higher education undergoes a complete makeover.
Harvard Business School (HBX)[iv] makes an excellent example of quality education made accessible to students regardless of where they are located. It’s learning opportunities, targeted at early and mid-career professionals, uses the case study method to deliver Small Online Private Courses (SPOCs). As the name suggests, SPOCs have fewer students (as compared to MOOCs), resulting in private and personal student attention. Courses have asynchronous self-paced modules and real-time modules. The latter allow students to have live discussions with faculty. Similarly, Stanford Online delivers business and medical education to professionals[v]. Stanford’s LEAD Certificate in Corporate Innovation is based on a unique, global, social and collaborative virtual learning environment, allowing learners to gain from a wide variety of diverse perspectives from coaches, course facilitators, program teams and students themselves.[vi] These courses are meant for executives and professionals who have busy work and travel schedules and can be completed by them without the need to be present in a physical class.
While these are the kind of capabilities that make eyeballs roll and create media headlines, technology can be harnessed to drive outcomes that universities and research institutes have found impossible until now. Curriculum Management Software (CMS) already exists. As universities begin to generate and capture student performance data, the CMS can be tweaked using an underlying layer of analytics to deliver customized, adaptive and contextual learning suited to the needs of individual students[vii]. This ability – to personalize and contextualize learning at scale – for a class of 40 or 50 students is beyond human possibility.
Besides, the class need not be “consumed” by the student at a fixed time. Most of today’s universities have a feed for their timetable with details of date, time and lecture theatre. But this need not dictate schedules or constrain the student. Using technology, such as conversational interfaces that leverage natural language processing, students can help themselves to any lecture customized to their needs practically anytime, anywhere and on any device. The possibility of self-teaching classrooms with collaborative and argumentative AI may not seem that impossible in the next decade. Students can even send their assignments for evaluation from anywhere. But better still is the fact that students can replay lectures as many times as required, re-use training material and retry tests at no additional cost.
Today’s digitally native students expect personalization and educators have the insights – using handy learning analytics[viii] -- to deliver the personalization. An entirely new world of learning, driven by new technology, is on the way. Goldman Sachs Investment Research says that the estimated market size of VR/AR applications for education by 2025 will be $700 million[ix].
The value of new technology is evenly distributed across learners, teachers and institutions. For the student, the immersive, engaging, adaptive, conversational and self-help environments will drive immeasurable convenience; for teachers the tools will present new opportunities and the ability to extend their reach into the best institutions of the world; and for institution, dropout rates will be stanched, success rates of students will go up and costs will go down. It’s a win-win-win for everyone!
However, if education is to move to the next level and realize its true potential, it will have to overcome challenges on different front. Primary among the challenges is the fact that faculty continues to use outdated methods to deliver learning. These traditional methods are difficult to scale and do not address the needs of millennials and professionals who seek lifelong learning. Often, faculty and related university teams recognize this gap in teaching methodologies but are unable to drive change. This is because of a deep-set consensus driven culture that makes decision-making slow. This cautious approach to change is also an outcome of modest financial resources that educational institutions have had to work with. Limited funds also mean that decision-makers cannot afford to take a big bang approach to change, leading to slow and guarded adoption of technology.
Can these institutions of learning afford to delay their decisions? We don’t think so. There is aggressive completion from MOOCs and the Khan Academies of the world. These are disrupting education at a rapid pace, staying aligned with the needs of industry, adjusting to student lifestyles and expectations, leveraging the latest in technology and delivering the desired outcomes. Employers have begun to recognize certificates issued by MOOCs, and encourage employees to take these online courses in a bid to keep skills updated within the organizations. Unless traditional institutions take some hard decisions now, they could be left behind.
We’d be happy to hear what you think of the ideas discussed above – and would love to discuss those that you have to make education easier, simpler and more fulfilling for students and educators. So, do leave your comments behind.
This blog is co-authored by -
Shriharsha Imrapur, Global Head of Media and Education, Mindtree
Shriharsha is helping some of the world’s premier education institutions in their transformation towards the digital future. He lives at the intersection of business and technology and speaks at industry and client forums on topics such as digital constituent experience propelled by data and cloud. He heads Mindtree’s Media and Education business globally and is based out of London.
Sriram Jayaraman, Head Digital solutions and consulting, Mindtree
Sriram comes with over 20 years of experience in designing solutions at the nexus of devices, social, mobile, analytics and cloud technology to transforms the way organizations deliver customer experience. Prior to Mindtree, His experience focuses on designing technology solutions that are aligned to create a compelling customer experience especially for education, technology, retail, travel, e-commerce, BFSI, betting and gaming industries around the world. Sriram is a frequent speaker at tech forums such as TechEd, Ignite, Microsoft user groups and ASUG.
[i] http://www.gsd.harvard.edu/computer-resources-group/augmented-virtual-reality-arvr/ [ii] https://innovationlabs.harvard.edu/about/news/ar-vr-ilab-opening-augmented-virtual-reality-studio/ [iii] http://www.universityherald.com/articles/42727/20161003/virtual-reality-dazzles-harvard-university.htm [iv] https://hbx.hbs.edu/ [v] http://online.stanford.edu/ [vi] https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/exec-ed/programs/lead-corporate-innovation [vii] Adaptive Learning Platforms are in the Slope of Enlightenment of Gartner’s Hyper Cycle for Education, 2017, or about 2 to 5 years from mainstream adoption: https://www.gartner.com/doc/3769145/hype-cycle-education- [viii] Which is at the peak of Gartner’s Hyper Cycle for Education, 2017: https://www.gartner.com/doc/3769145/hype-cycle-education- [ix] http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/pages/technology-driving-innovation-folder/virtual-and-augmented-reality/report.pdf