Modern Education … and Frustration

A new school semester has dawned and once again I find myself scuttering about to prepare for what’s ahead. It’s funny, nevermind the fact that it happens every year, surprise never fails to rear its horns when I suddenly realize it’s almost winter again. Jump started by the usual strong cup of coffee and inhalation of deadly nicotine, my day is now full of people with bad English accents pimping out Powerpoint slides. And I’m sitting there thinking how the learning process could be different.

I need stimuli, I need interaction, I need my dose of artificial. Where are the damn simulations and the virtual reality gear?! Where are the virtual teachers that shape the curriculum to your taste instead of the other way around? Most of the time I sit back in amazement over the progress we’ve made in computer science over the past 50 years and feel grateful living in such an important period in the history of mankind. Then there are times when I curse having not been born 100 years later than I did.

This is where I pat myself on the back for studying artificial intelligence, because it means my work may one day contribute to better means of teaching and learning. Let’s face it, slides and books aren’t a perfect medium for learning. They’re good in many ways, absolutely, maybe even the best medium possible for some people — but I’m definitely not one of those people. Similarly, sitting silently in a classroom, my ass getting numb, watching a slideshow from a projector whose bulb is just about as bright as Mr. Bean, is not my idea of an exciting way to learn. Not when I think about what could be.

There are 4 key technologies (hard- and software) that I envision potentially improving the learning experience to a great extent in the near future:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Immersive 3D virtual worlds
  • Augmented reality
  • Electronic paper

Most of these points have obvious and direct benefits to learning. Artificial intelligence is, and will continue to aid the overall learning experience. Through better means of finding and organizing information (special mention: semantic web) and through applications that we’ve yet to invent. Intelligent artificial teachers within 3D worlds is one of those, even though they exist, they’ve not reached mainstream and are limited in many regards. Virtual- and augmented reality glasses are still too expensive, and as such there’s not much interest to develop mainstream games or learning applications for them. Electronic paper seems to pop up regularly in the news, but still hasn’t found its way into our homes. A whole new universe of better learning seems to be just around the corner, only held back by the few years of research needed to properly implement the technologies involved. Right about now that gap in research feels like a big, fat bully that doesn’t want to give me back my glasses.

And here I am, forced to read through pages and pages of black and white, static texts and graphs, instead of being immersed in virtual reality, surfing down a parabola at 300mph in the company of an artificial teacher whose avatar looks like Angelina Jolie.

Angelina Jolie holding a hot looking triangle

There might be less updates than usual on Think Artificial while I’m getting comfy at school (read: getting over my contemporary frustration).

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7 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. I know exactly how you feel. Actually, when I was in college I had to actively seek out those classes that had to do (or at least used) computers. But that was the early nineties and not much was happening. But even now, the commute from and to work is the most frustrating to me because it’s hard to stay connected. Good luck converting the masses this term ;-)

  2. Hrafn

    Hehe, yeah. Recently, when in disconnected places, I’ve increasingly been catching myself thinking ‘Ah, I’d definitely use an iPhone now if I had it‘.

    The technology craving just grows with every year that passes ;)

  3. Yes, an iPhone would do nicely. A few more months, although I’m not sure I could convince my boss I, um, ‘need’ one.

  4. Vignir

    I do actually believe that we aren’t a long way from a new way of teaching students. As I have learned in my own research, interactive tutors seem to be at a very advanced stage and are already helping students all over the world.

    When the problem of interacting with the students (by interacting, I mean being able to hold a dialogue with the student, no matter how boring it is) is “solved” more and more emphasis will be put on making this dialogue and communication more interesting for the user. There are some people that are already focusing on this, for instance here at CADIA but when we got more people behind the idea that tutoring and teaching is more than just reciting text we will get something a lot cooler.

  5. Hrafn

    I do actually believe that we aren’t a long way from a new way of teaching students. As I have learned in my own research, interactive tutors seem to be at a very advanced stage and are already helping students all over the world.

    We’re definitely getting closer. Hannes‘ work is a great example of useful AI tutoring programs. The latest AAAI magazine also has some interesting articles on human/computer collaboration, dubbed Mixed Initiative Assistants. Not exactly tutors, but similar tech.

    Got any links to other interesting interactive tutors?

    When the problem of interacting with the students (by interacting, I mean being able to hold a dialogue with the student, no matter how boring it is) is “solved” more and more emphasis will be put on making this dialogue and communication more interesting for the user.

    Definitely!

  6. You’re definitely right here. Slides aren’t very useful at all, then I’d prefer books. But Interaction is much better, if you do something yourself you have to understand it. Some schools/teachers are already quite good at using new forms of teaching, actually.

    I fancy artificial.

  7. Dante

    I admit, a lot less of this front-page ‘the Future is here!’ rubbish and a little more ‘SALE on Augmented Reailty glasses! would do everyone good.

    Yes, I feel much the same, though thinking on our current rate of “Out of the labs and into the hands” I’d say 500 years would be perfect instead of 100.

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