Issue: Volume: 31 Issue: 10 (Oct. 2008)

Editor's Note - SIGGRAPH 2008: It's a Wrap - 11/08


Karen
Moltenbrey
Chief Editor

The world is getting smaller. How many times have we heard that phrase iterated? Without question, we have become a global society, thanks to the latest technological developments that connect people and nations, and keep us connected in near real time. For the most part, we think of this technology in terms of business and politics. Yet, some of this same technology is now connecting students to their peers and to experts, whether they are in a different state or even a different country.

When I was in elementary school, the school district dabbled in an early form of “distance” learning, though on a very basic level. It involved the teacher tuning in to a TV channel dedicated to educational material produced by the state. At designated dates and times, teachers would show specific broadcasts to augment and extend concepts taught in the classroom. Of course, this only occurred about once every few months; nevertheless, it was always a treat to watch and hear someone, anyone, than the same teacher we had day in and day out for the entire year. The class was especially attentive during these special times, even the boy who otherwise seemed to get into trouble almost daily.

Today, as part of a program called the Immersive Education Initiative, students in K–12, as well as those in higher-education institutions, utilize digital technology to explore 3D environments, play interactive learning games, and virtually collaborate with others remotely. According to Aaron Walsh, founder of the Initiative, reaching children through digital media is a must in today’s society where students—even those in kindergarten—are well versed in the ways of video, audio, gaming, and other types of media. And if they aren’t up to speed, today’s classes are designed to accomplish that goal.

Just last week, my 11-year-old son had to study for a social studies quiz. Sure, he had to look over his textbook, but the crux of the material was on a series of podcasts he had to download from his teacher’s Web site. For someone who loves to play video games and listen to music on an MP3 player, this manner of study held his interest far longer than simply reading notes or skimming chapters. And it was not even interactive.

It is one thing for a teen to sit through a lecture about ancient Egypt, for instance. But it is quite another for that person to experience Virtual Egypt, using the computer to traverse a high-resolution scene containing photorealistic imagery of ancient artifacts, videos of actual archaeological excavations, text translations of hieroglyphics, information about past rulers of this ancient land, and so forth. In the latter example, the student is engaged and is exposed to far more information than can be acquired from a school textbook alone.

There are countless more examples of similar applications, some of which are detailed in the article “Taking the Initiative” on page 44. But for the experience to be truly engaging and meaningful, it must be “current” in terms of the technology and graphics. You can’t have a learning module that requires texting unless the messages can be sent, received, and processed in near real time. After all, this is the generation that IMs their siblings in the same house. Similarly, don’t expect a teen to be as receptive to a learning game if the graphics aren’t as dynamic as those in the computer game he or she plays after school. However, some form of multimedia is better than none at all. Nearly all children will learn more in an active environment, rather than a passive one.

Today’s students are growing up with multimedia. So why not take advantage of what it can offer? The rewards could be well worth it.

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