Digital Classroom: Ten Trends

As part of the Digital Classroom Resource book we recently published, we identified ten digital trends that were going to have an impact on the futures of learners. These trends were a starting point for teacher-led classroom discussions, or could be used to set homework activities or projects.

3D printing

In 1986, an American inventor named Charles Hull successfully created the world’s first 3D printer in his quest for rapid prototyping. Little did he know that, many years later, 3D printing will have become so common and accessible, impacting society on a scale never before imagined.

We are printing gadgets and toys, replacement parts for our kitchen accessories, specialised parts for our vehicles, building bricks for houses, and biological components to aid in human and animal organ repairs and replacements. We are even printing food! Foodini is a machine that will print your food in any style and shape you want. Science and technology in the medical field are making great strides in the development of printing artificial organs such as liver, hearts, skin tissue and more. Houses are being printed, brick by brick. 3D printing allows us to create physical artefacts from digital files and opens up a whole new world of design realisation and tangible engineering solutions. 3D printers are becoming more affordable, faster and easier to use.

Discussion topics: What is the future of 3D printing for the average household? Will every house have their own printer and print whatever they need? What things will we print? Where will the materials come from that we use to print? What will be the impact on jobs and job creation – will some jobs be replaced and new ones created?

AI and the workplace

The future is not something about to happen; it is happening right now! Artificial Intelligence (AI) keeps growing as machine learning embraces big data and companies ask themselves ‘What’s next?’ The unfounded fear of machines becoming ‘self-aware’ still pervades the minds of the uneducated and the movie-goers. Will robots take over the world? Will a computer replace me at work? Whereas some aspects of our work may very well be replaced by computers, others will not be.

According to the World Economic Forum, by 2022, 37% of companies will be using stationary robots, 23% will be using humanoid robots, and 33% will be using non-humanoid land robots. Gerd Leonhard, a prominent futurist, states that whatever cannot be automated will become very valuable.

The workplace is changing fast and we humans need to be able to adapt to use technology wisely and efficiently and, more importantly, so as not to be replaced! AI has become a vital tool in training and teaching, in recognising patterns and creating algorithms to solve problems we were not able to. As much as we call it ‘disruptive’ technology, we should also recognise the incredible potential it can unearth in everyday life and invest in that to make the world a truly better place.

Discussion topics: What jobs will not exist ten years from now? What can you do now to make sure you will be able to earn an income in the future? What skills do you think cannot be replaced by machines?

Commercial space travel

Also referred to as space tourism, commercial space travel could very well be a common sight a lot sooner than we think. Elon Musk (Tesla) already has his company called SpaceX delivering supplies to the International Space Station. He is also planning on creating regular trips between popular international cities, for example London to New York in 29 minutes! Richard Branson (Virgin) has the VSS Unity ready to take passengers to the outer atmosphere. Jeff Bezos (Amazon) has Origin Blue looking at commercial space flights and perhaps even settling on the moon!

Who is to say we will not be seeing space hotels orbiting the earth? Campsites on the moon? Greater and faster international trade between countries via space routes? Once these become commonplace, the possibilities are limited only by our imagination and available technology.

Discussion topics: What would change about the way people take vacations if space travel was affordable to everyone? What sort of technology would you take with you if you were to live on the moon? How would we get Internet access in space? How do you think space travel would affect the way that countries trade goods? What effect, if any, would space travel have on our immediate and external environment? Can space be colonised and how would this impact on the power relations between countries?

Digital education and online learning

Think about what it must be like to learn whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you are. Technology allows us this awesome privilege and there is no telling where this trend of digital online learning will go. Hundreds of universities around the world have online courses online (many for free). Khan Academy, Udemy, Lynda, Alison, Coursera, Udacity and other resources are testament to the incredible demand there is for learning and gaining knowledge online.

Schools and teachers are being replaced! Well, maybe not entirely. However, the advantages of being able to learn online far outweigh any negative arguments. People can learn about the things they are interested in, at their own pace, and in their own environment. Such learning requires discipline and self-control on the part of the learner. Another advantage of learning online is that it allows the person to create digital artefacts of their work; a portfolio of their learning to showcase to potential employers, for example. More importantly, though, it is much more affordable and cost-effective than physically attending a university or other educational institution.

The more connected we become via various technologies, the easier and greater our access to knowledge and information becomes. Digital education and online learning is here to stay!

Discussion topics: What is the place, if any, for schools in today’s world? What is gained or lost if human teachers were replaced by technology or dispensed with altogether? To what extent can digital education/online learning co-exist with physical schooling? How can digital/online education benefit those who might be unable to go to school? What are your thoughts on the future of education?

Driverless cars

As technology becomes integrated into our everyday devices, the advent of autonomous vehicles has never been too far behind. Cars that can drive themselves with no human intervention are no longer a fantasy but are gradually becoming a reality. Companies like Google, Tesla, Nissan and Uber are investing in technologies to enable complete self-driving vehicles to become commercially viable.

The self-driving car is a thing of technological beauty: hundreds of sensors, lasers, cameras and advanced predictive algorithmic software all working in harmony to guide a vehicle without human intervention. Cars may begin to communicate with one another and use that data to provide researchers and engineers with valuable information in transportation infrastructure.

Many people, though, would agree that we are still not fully ready for a completely autonomous vehicle simply because there are far too many factors that affect the safety and reliability of driverless cars. But, technology continues on its forward path and we may see cars without steering wheels and no one doing the driving!

Discussion topics: Why or why not do you see driverless cars becoming a reality in South Africa or any other country on the African continent? What effect would a country’s transport infrastructure have on the quality and reliability of self-driving vehicles? What is the likelihood that someone could hack your car?

Implantable technologies

Placing technology inside of the human body is no longer fiction. In fact, it has been around for quite some time. The pacemaker, a device designed to electronically stimulate the muscles around the heart, was successfully implanted into a human in 1958 at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Fast forward to today, we have Swedes having microchips implanted into their hands.

The microchips allow for identification, authentication, tracking, making purchases and more. In Switzerland, a blood-testing device is being tested that, once inserted under the skin, can monitor the various substances in your blood and transmit the information via Bluetooth to a device. A variety of ‘bio-hacks’ are gaining traction such as biomagnets, near field communication (NFC) and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags under the skin, and bioluminescence.

People are beginning to use implantable technology for a variety of things. The health industry is carefully treading into this market, using technology to enhance the quality of life. Security agencies are using microchips for identification and authentication. It may be a while before we regard the use of this technology as normal, but you cannot deny the advantages of having everything stored on a single chip that is very difficult to hijack or duplicate.

Discussion topics: What are your thoughts on implanting technological devices into the human body? If having a microchip under your skin meant you might be able to live longer, why would you do it or not do it? What enhancements would you think about if you could ‘hack’ your body?

Taking augmented reality (AR) to the next level

Where virtual reality (VR) offers a fully immersive experience of digitally created environments consisting of audio and visual effects, augmented reality (AR) is the crossover we call mixed reality. Augmented reality is the enhancing of the real world with virtual overlays that take into account visual metrics, sound data, accelerometer and gyroscopic tools coupled with advanced artificial intelligence (AI).

A great example of this technology is the HoloLens 2 (holographic lens) developed by Microsoft. It is an advanced headset consisting of lasers that oscillate at 54 000 cycles per second to project holograms onto a glass display in front of the wearer’s face. Sensors track eye movement, and hand gestures allow a user to interact seamlessly between the real world and the projected augmented one.

The implementation of this technology is truly ground breaking. Favoured uses include training, gaming, engineering, scientific experimentation, product showcase interactions and much more. Students can learn about the human body in almost any way they desire with 3D enhancements, layers of information guiding them as they move over the various parts.

Technicians can be trained with information guiding them in an augmented environment as they learn about systems and components.

Learn to play the piano in mid-air. Bring up screens of information around you and control each one with simple gestures. Collaborate with other people on a physical project, even if they are not in the room with you. The world of holographic, augmented reality opens up amazing new opportunities to learn and connect.

Discussion topics: How could holographic technology change the way we learn about the world around us? What careers could benefit from the use of the HoloLens 2 from Microsoft? What sort of lesson would you enjoy in school if the whole class wore HoloLens headsets?

Teenagers and innovation in the 21st century

As technology becomes more a part of our lives than ever before, its impact on the youth cannot be underestimated. Combined with skills such as creativity, a problem-solving mindset and collaboration, the youth of the 21st century are beginning to create the most amazing inventions to solve real problems in our world.

  • Remya Jose, 15 years old, invented a human-powered machine that will wash clothes while the user pedals as on an exercise bike. This invention saves time and encourages physical health. It is also incredibly useful in areas that do not have electricity.
  • Shubham Banerjee was 13 years old when he created a Braille printer at an incredibly low price. He made use of a LEGO MINDSTORMS kit and various bits and pieces he got at his local hardware store
  • When she was 18, Eesha Khare invented an energy storage device that could charge a cell phone from empty to full in 20 seconds!
  • Hannah Herbst was 15 years old when she created BEACON (Bringing Electricity Access to Countries through Ocean Energy) which works as a hydroelectric generator. The turbines are affected by the movement of water and convert the motion into usable energy.

Never underestimate what you are capable of!

Discussion topics: Identify problems around you that need solutions: what could you do to try to solve those problems? What is stopping you from solving those problems and how do you think you could get around that?

The classrooms of the future

Have you ever wondered if your classroom would ever change? What does the future of technology mean for classrooms, teachers and students? Perhaps we will have holographic teachers based on artificial intelligence (AI) technology giving students their own individual learner-centred path of education. Maybe students would not even be at school much anymore as they could log in from anywhere, access their class materials, and submit their work online.

It may well be that students become the ones who decide what they want to learn, how they want to learn it, and when. There are already schools who are adapting to the notion of ’future learning’ and trying out different approaches to physical and digital setups. Some schools have taken the approach of increasing the ease of movement and flexibility of students by providing study pods, couches, bean bags, standing tables to accommodate different needs of learners. Buildings are being designed that are eco-friendly, Wi-Fi-friendly, and powered by solar and wind energy.

Virtual reality, augmented reality, interactive projectors and more will be a standard daily experience of the future learner with classes being connected to other learners across the world in real-time for collaborative projects, discussions or engagement with holograms or other 3D-dominant projections and interactions.

The classrooms of the future will adapt to the learner and be a place of wonder and discovery with very little interference from a teacher standing up at the front and lecturing from a book.

Teachers’ roles may change entirely as they become facilitators and guides, assisting students on their academic journeys.

Discussion topics: Imagine anything was possible with technology, what would you immediately change about your current school? If technology enables you to learn anything, anywhere and at any time what, if any, need is there for schools? Come up with some ideas on the ultimate technology-based classroom of the future.

The connected home and IoT

Imagine as you walk into your house – opening your door with just your fingerprint, authenticated by your server in the study – a voice greets you and the lights switch on to just the right amount of brightness. The air conditioner begins to run to get the temperature at the perfect level for you. As you walk into the kitchen, your fridge notifies you that you are about to run out of milk but also mentions that you should not worry as it has already placed an order at your local supermarket. The milk will be delivered first thing tomorrow morning and you will receive a notification on your smartwatch as soon as it arrives. You walk to the living room to check the window damaged by a soccer ball from next door that your house contacted you about when it happened. As you drink a glass of water from the tap, you are happy to know – thanks to the sensor scanning your water every hour and sending a report to the home maintenance system running on your computer – that the levels of calcium hydroxide and chlorine are still safe for human consumption.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and the Smart Home are not too far off from being realised. More and more devices that used to be ‘dead’ are now coming ‘alive’ with sensors, tools and connectivity to interact with other devices in and around the home. How we live at home, communicate with and use devices and make decisions is becoming increasingly more inter-connected as the IoT makes our homes smarter.

Discussion topics: If you could completely automate your house, what things would you want it to be able to do? What are the security risks of having your house and home devices connected to the Internet? What happens if the network is down? Will we have inter-connected communities in society when our houses become connected? What happens if your house doesn’t recognise you anymore?

From the Digital Classroom Resource

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