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Emerging Interactive Media: CT 2009 Keynote Preview

The 21st century seems quite different than the 20th in the capabilities people need for work, citizenship, and self-actualization. In response, higher education must transform its objectives, curricula, pedagogies, and assessments to help all students attain the sophisticated outcomes requisite for a prosperous, attractive lifestyle based on effective contributions in work and citizenship. If we were to redesign colleges and universities not to make historic models of schooling more efficient, but instead to prepare students for the 21st century--simultaneously transforming teaching in light of our current knowledge about the mind--what types of learning environments might sophisticated information and communication technologies enable us to create?

As part of a graduate course this past fall on emerging educational technologies, my students and I studied ten forms of Web 2.0 tools in terms of their potential to enhance learning by promoting creativity, collaboration, and sharing. Retrospectively, I categorized these media in three groups:


 - Communal Bookmarking
 - Photo/Video Sharing
 - Social Networking 
 - Writers' Workshops/Fanfiction


 - Blogs 
 - Podcasts 
 - Online Discussion Forums


 - Wikis/Collaborative File Creation
 - Mashups/Collective Media Creation
 - Collaborative Social Change Communities

Together, these free, readily available tools, which many college students have already mastered for personal reasons, offer very powerful ways that higher education can blend its current model of presentational/assimilative instruction with various forms of guided, collaborative learning-by-doing.

In 21st century work, knowledge is grounded in a setting and distributed across a community, rather than abstract and isolated within individuals. Problem finding (the front-end of the inquiry process: making observations and inferences, developing hypotheses, and conducting experiments to test alternative interpretations of the situation) is crucial to reaching a point where the work team can do problem solving. Individual and collective metacognitive strategies for making meaning out of complexity (such as making judgments about the value of alternative problem formulations) are vital.

Each person involved in this interrelated suite of 21st century skills has strong strategies both in effective pattern matching based on detailed knowledge and in judging when to give up on a particular problem solving strategy to instead try another approach. Individuals on the work team are adept at manipulating sophisticated ICT applications and representations utilized within the complementary perspectives they bring to bear (e.g., using a spreadsheet to examine financial hypotheticals). They also are skilled in expressing core insights from their knowledge to others who have different backgrounds and experiences. Richly interactive complex communication among team members is not limited to face-to-face dialogue, but frequently relies on mediated interaction across distance in which the team co-constructs and negotiates shared interpretive understandings and a problem resolution strategy.

For students to attain these capabilities, they need "situated" learning, which requires authentic contexts, activities, and assessment coupled with guidance from expert modeling, mentoring, and legitimate peripheral participation. Two types of immersive interfaces are now enabling virtually situated learning, without students having to leave campus:

Emerging multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) interfaces offer students an engaging "Alice in Wonderland" experience in which their digital emissaries in a graphical virtual context actively engage in experiences with the avatars of other participants and with computerized agents. MUVEs provide rich environments in which participants interact with digital objects and tools, such as historical photographs or virtual microscopes. Moreover, this interface facilitates novel forms of communication among avatars, using media such as text chat and virtual gestures. This type of "mediated immersion" (pervasive experiences within a digitally enhanced context), intermediate in complexity between the real world and paint-by-numbers exercises in K-12 classrooms, allows instructional designers to construct shared simulated experiences otherwise impossible in school settings. Researchers are exploring the affordances of such models for learning in K-12 education.

Augmented reality (AR) interfaces enable "ubiquitous computing" models. Students carrying mobile wireless devices through real world contexts engage with virtual information superimposed on physical landscapes (such as a tree describing its botanical characteristics or an historic photograph offering a contrast with the present scene). This type of mediated immersion infuses digital resources throughout the real world, augmenting students' experiences and interactions. Researchers are starting to study how these models for learning aid students' engagement and understanding.

MUVEs empower creating contexts inaccessible in the real world, while AR enables the infusion of virtual contexts within physical locations.

At this point in history, the primary barriers to altering curricular, pedagogical, and assessment practices towards the transformative vision of learning technologies in higher education I am advocating are not conceptual, technical or economic, but instead psychological, political, and cultural. We now have all the means necessary to implement alternative models of education that truly prepare all students for a future very different from the immediate past. Whether we have the professional commitment and societal will to actualize such a vision remains to be seen.

About the Author

Chris Dede is the Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.

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