A Brave New (Interactive) World

It’s hard to believe that summer vacation is almost over and students will soon be returning to the classroom. For me, the summer has been filled with traveling to conferences and trade shows to find out more about what is on the horizon for education. After a few years of seeing the “same old, same old,” I’m pleased to say that there were some new and exciting things to see.

When we talk technology, the words “interactivity” and “telepresence” topped my list. Whiteboard technology has matured over the years, and more and more applications are being developed for them to engage and excite students. This year, interactive projectors (and devices that could make your existing projector interactive) were also unveiled. By using these projectors and an infrared pen, students and teachers can turn any wall into an interactive classroom collaboration tool.

Another impressive development was in the area of distance learning and video conferencing. Until now, my vision of a videoconference was through Skype, or software where the participants showed up in little boxes — somewhat like the Brady Bunch. The new space, this year, was a telepresence room. The setup was designed to look like a standard conference room, but the two sides of the table could be on opposite sides of the world. The large format displays actually gave you the feel of the other people being in the same space, rather than being trapped in your computer monitor. As this technology evolves and the price point comes down, its applications for business, professional development and distance learning will increase.

After years of talking about the importance of collaboration and varied teaching and learning styles, furniture manufacturers are really getting it. The idea of passive, teacher-centered learning has morphed into active, student-centered furniture design. The new furniture being introduced is ergonomic, flexible, highly mobile and built to accommodate today’s technology. As smart phones, netbooks and laptops become a tool that every student will have in the classroom, some furniture manufacturers are even building in wireless power technology that will charge electronic devices without a cord.

I guess the days of blackboards, inkwells and wooden desks bolted to the floor are finally gone!