On the day when my oldest son hit school, I had a moment of surprise. Gone were the neat rows of tables and chairs I had found when I was a boy myself. Today’s schools in Vienna (my hometown) were colorful, differently assembled islands of tables enabling group formation in the classroom.
I must admit that my boy goes to a somewhat special school with better resources and a mission.
But no matter how stark the contrast was between my time in elementary school about 40 years ago and now, the next 20 years are going to blow all our assumptions on school and education to smidgens.
I have written on Virtual Reality and how the Oculus Rift headset is going to change the world in ways most people don’t even imagine right now. Why should that stop from education?
Most school type education today is dispensed by one or more teachers in frontal discourse before a crowd of eager (or sometimes not so eager) pupils. It’s a story told in front of an audience with occasional questions and discussions.
So far, the classroom was the only place where this could have been done reliably and efficiently. But in the immediate future it does not be this way anymore.
A Virtual Reality headset could recreate the classroom. It would also be better as the headset could do things a classroom never could.
It would most likely start out with taped recordings from classes. That’s an easy one which is available on computer screens and smart TV today. That’s not awfully interactive and just makes things that could be read in a book a bit livelier. Interaction is totally absent.
But just imagine that the teacher is not a recorded image anymore but wears a VR headset and participates live in the session. Interactivity would be restored between the teacher and the classroom and also among pupils themselves.
But if a camera points to the teacher and to everyone else, that’s not going to make up for the classroom. Besides, looking at people wearing bulky VR gear on their heads is going to feel very odd.
What needs to be developed is an avatar like self-image. This must be a 3d rendering of the entire person which means that everyone would have to create an avatar of himself first. Powerful software will make this easy of course.
Those computer generated personas can be pretty lifelike. Just watch one of the latest computer generated movies for proof. You will still spot the difference but this will wear off as ever more powerful computers and better logarithms will make them absolutely lifelike.
Those avatars are going to serve more purposes then just education. Just imagine a business meeting between persons in Los Angeles, London and Tokyo. Their avatars will enable them to sit on one single virtual table.
But there is more. Your own self-image is also going to be inserted in your own reality setup. When you look down your body you will see your hands your waist and your legs. You will be seeing doing the things you do for real.
Sophisticated sensory equipment will make sure that our every action is translated into something in the VR room and this is going to be without special wearable equipment. Don’t believe it – then you probably have not tried out the latest x-Box.
So you will be able to take notes, record sessions, tap into speech controls and make additional information fly in and hover in front of you as you need it. Who can see more uses than just education here?
But we are still limited in such a world as there is still a teacher and classmates which means a strict schedule that has to be adhered to as everyone must come together.
This is where full Artificial Intelligence will come in. If you have not been wowed by the intelligence some web based services such as Google put on our disposal or such as SIRI does on iPhones, then you will be by what is in the offing for the next 20 years.
Teachers will go fully virtual, be always on standby for the next session and there will be nothing they would not know. They will pull in whatever resource will be available on the web and will detect hesitation and excitement grades in your speech pattern in order to give you immediate special assistance in areas where you might have problems.
Nobody will have to leave the safety and comfort of home anymore and home will take on a wholly different meaning as this development will not stop from school or the office. As AI together with Robotics and VR will take over more and more domains where humans still work, humans will have a lot of time to waste and will spend a huge amount of time at home from where they will venture out into virtual worlds for learning, enjoyment and also the pursuit of riches and scientific endeavor.
Let’s come back to the classroom.
Up until now it was argued that schools are not only here to transfer knowledge but also to foster social interaction between pupils, students, whatever.
Let’s get real on this count. How much social interaction is there between two pupils from different groups? I was raised in a school full of soccer addicts and I could not care less about this sport. I was more of a nerdy type who preferred books on space and science or technology to the pursuit of the round leather.
This made me an oddball in school and for the rest of my life I limited my social interactions to people that more or less shared my beliefs, interests and professional endeavors. So does the bulk of humanity and that’s perfectly OK.
So I rubbed more flesh with kids that did not share the classroom with me and again, so did the majority of the kids.
In reality, we hang out with those we like to hang out with and not with those the public administration puts us into a classroom with. Why should that be different in the Virtual Environment?
Social Media is already today reshaping the way we connect with others and meaningful friendships between people from different continents are not the exception anymore. Virtual classrooms and virtual life will enhance that effect so that those with very rare craves and desires will find peers, friends, a group they can live their dream with.
Virtual schools are going to be safe (no kicking by the classroom bully and no fear of amok runs), they are going to be fun and our kids won’t have breathe toxic fumes anymore on their way to school.