Is ‘Immersion’ Inevitable?

Learning futurist Chris Dede takes on the millennium, and education may never be the same.

Few aspects of technology in education are more fascinating right now than is the gargantuan question (the elephant in the room) of whether learning is being irrevocably altered by the advent of the technologically “virtual” and the world of cyberspace. Of course, there have been no end of predictions on this subject since the Internet and distance learning first intersected, and since students first began to multitask across myriad devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, cell phone, smart phone, PDA, iPod, game device). Young people also have discovered information sharing with multiple, faceless strangers across cyberspace, and have come to expect that—just as on their MP3 players— information can be customized, shuffled, or repackaged to their individual needs, in an instant.

All of these factors have contributed to a student mindset that is nearly alien to many educators: Where generations of instructors have sought to focus learners—help them peel away distractions and experience the joy of single- subject engagement—the current generation of educators must face the challenge of connecting with learners whose minds are used to simultaneously compartmentalized information absorption (homework, music, cell phone conversation, and Internet IMing, all at the same time), and whose ability to engage may only be aroused by an enveloping physical (or virtually physical) immersion experience: Think IMAX, or, more recently, Purdue University’s (IN) experiments in immersive learning, which through the wonders of technology can, for instance, transport a student back to a garden in 18thcentury China [see “Inside Purdue’s Envision Center,” June 2005].

This leaves us to marvel at the latest advances in immersive learning technologies, and the most current higher ed and K-12 models for their application. But it also leaves educators to ask: How do we get up to speed on a new model of educating, in a millennium that already has been moving too fast for many of us? Where will the dollars and resources come from for the professional development required to get there? What are the chances of finding those resources in time to keep up with our students, when we’ve already failed to find them for vastly more basic technology training for educators?

It may take Harvard (MA) learning technology futurist Chris Dede to help us sort all of this out. On August 1, Dede will address Campus Technology 2006 conference attendees in a keynote that will take us all on a journey through Internet2, “Alice-in-Wonderland” multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) interfaces, and interfaces for ubiquitous computing. Dede will detail the technology, physical plant, and resource/professional development investments that must be embraced, if educators and institutions are to meet the—yes, inevitable—challenges of immersive learning. To ignore this roadmap to the future may mean a great deal more than just falling behind; it may mean falling out, and that may not be an option.

Katherine Grayson, Editor-In-Chief
What have you seen and heard? Send to: kgrayson@101com.com.

comments powered by Disqus