In 5th grade, my teacher presented us with the challenge to imagine the future. Pick a topic of personal interest, write a paper describing your ideal future and illustrate it. As already mentioned, I was exposed and (by this time) completely enthralled with computers and technology. As I began brainstorming on what to write about, I had the epiphany of the classroom and a gaming system merging.  I do not know if you could rightfully say mine was the original “gamer” generation, but we were blowing quarters on Pacman, Galaga, Tron, Donkey Kong, Pole Position – all jockeying for our name on the game scoreboard. What if the digital experience gave way to a new form of educational experience? Brightly lit graphics, beeps and chirps all lending hand to a fun, engaging learning experience.

Though video was not seen on the Apple IIe’s as we were playing the first version of Oregon Trail (no pictures, just text – “Johnny’s been rattlesnake bit, lose three days”) my naivety thought  – if I can see video on a television screen, I SHOULD be able to see it on a computer monitor.  The vision I had for a the school room of the future was an enclosure – much like the first sit down version of Pole Position – with a monitor, keypad, writing stylus (though I had no idea what to call this – I described something where I could write and send through the computer), video camera, and of course – speakers. My idea was that students would be connected to a teacher who would see all the pupils – but each could work their studies from home. Keep in mind, the internet was not created, video was not seen on computers. and graphics were very minimal. My paper and illustration were returned with an “A” and a comment from the teacher, “Brian, you have a VERY vivid imagination.” (That is the same thing my parents used to say, but more to their chagrin than in praise of creativity I warrant.)

Many years later, while a certified contract trainer in Adobe and Macromedia, I was contacted by the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics to teach a summer class to students across the state of North Carolina in digital technology and web development.  I taught 4 different schools from across the state – the coast, the mountains, and two in the piedmont – simultaneously through a video link.  They could see me and my computer screen – and I could see them, and even look “over the shoulders” of someone with a question.  We had about 100 students in the class – and it was fun!  Funny, I was the one stuck in a dark booth while the students were in classroom settings, but really starting to feel a lot like the future I had envisioned.

No, I am not forecasting that the future of technology in education is going to continue down this path… but it is very doable for homeschooling families.  In fact, last year my oldest son did an online video series in Math from A Beka Books – streaming pre-recorded lessons. Master teacher and an excellent curriculum – but not able to track his actual work, see where his problem areas are or help him with his personal challenges – it was limited. Two way engagement with technology as the channel – now that is the next step to this form of digital classroom.  Just as web and kiosk backend software can track the time spent on pages, determine where the user is clicking in realtime, and through something like Intel’s AIM technology – actually distinguish who is in front of the monitor and where they are looking – technology can be leveraged to work with the individual on his or her level with patience only attributable to a machine.  Imagine little Johnny struggling with Algebra I’s adding and subtracting positive and negative integers. Remember those?  (-5x)+(-6)-(-15) = 41, solve for x.  As Johnny works through the problem, when the computer sees Johnny laboring over the difference for the problem  (-6)-(-15), it could prompt with a reminder, a number line, or even a video to help Johnny visualize and understand it in context with his current problem. The problem in education is application, seeing what the information is good for and how to use it. We could revolutionize math education if the students could visualize the problem and see how to discover the answer in real-world application.

Self-service solutions in education are not limited to engagement with technology to learn math. We sell to college campuses across America, whose kiosk self-service solutions are for things like way-finding and print-on-demand (for both course papers and smart phone photo snaps). We currently have a program we initiated with our local Sandhills Community College called Design Pods.  Design Pods are comprised of select second-year students tasked with discovering a problem and building a self-service solution to that problem from concept to completion.  You can track their efforts on Facebook. The initial project is for use on college campuses and combines a number of common ailments to students in the college system.  So, where do I see technology and self-service in the education sector?  Technology employed in the many things already mentioned, but primarily in application to solving real-world issues, stepping outside of the constraints of “we never did it this way before…” and seeing potential through naive eyes and imagintion that can visualize things as they could be. Technology is a toolbox full of potential and self-service solutions in education may be a way to truly ensure that no child is left behind.