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Advances in Technology

Donald G. Perrin

In the 1990s, I taught distance learning courses using Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS) at the San Jose State University. The studio classroom had multiple remote controlled cameras and a complement of audiovisual and computer displays. Each receive site had a telephone for questions and feedback. The world-Wide-Web provided additional resources.

I developed a satellite video teleconference series for the California Department of Education. These required preplanning to get satellite frequencies, truck for origination, and data to correctly orient the origin and receive dishes. Participants could phone-in questions. In this millennium, these expensive technologies are rendered unnecessary by broadband internet. Internet lessons can be produced on any PC, and they can be accessed anywhere and at anytime.

Initially, internet video was limited by bandwidth. I worked with the Ohana Foundation on a technology to seamlessly integrate video from DVD with web learning. An inexpensive set-top-box enabled interactive lessons to be presented on TV in any home or classroom. It is still marketed in South-East Asia.

For children in regions where there is no electricity, Nicholas Negroponte of MIT developed an inexpensive laptop powered by a retractable pull-handle. These laptops come with a basic set of learning programs. Solar-powered wireless networks enable access centralized resources and the Internet! Over a million of these laptops are used in third world countries.

For the rest of the world, global fiber networks support video and interactive multimedia on a trillion computers. Learning Management Systems control registration, access, responses, and testing. Diagnostic-prescriptive tools customize the learning experience using learning objects.

There is increasing tension between privatized and open source content and management systems. Moodle parallels the capabilities of commercial systems and is leader in some areas. Both systems provide an array of opportunities that serve different institutions. Skype is excellent for interactive audio. I used it to plan and manage an international disaster relief website with persons in China, India and Canada. So long as communication is from computer-to-computer, it is free! This reliable and flexible resource is greatly under-used by education.

Wimba adds live interactive video where students have broadband access. Wimba provides excellent two-way video for synchronous classes, dialog, tutoring and counseling. It enables a full range of audiovisual displays including applications on the computer screen, PowerPoint, video, and web. Students can share their videos and computer based presentations. It is possible to switch control of the screen and keyboard from or to any class member. A possible limitation is the bandwidth for students to “up” link video to the internet where broadband is not available.

An explosion of mobile devices replicate computer, web and telephone functions. Books, CDs and videos can be purchased, downloaded from the internet, and stored on Kindle, Nook, i-Pad, and similar devices. Laptops have integrated webcams and internet connectivity; Netbooks are smaller and lower in cost. Smart phones such as Blackberry, i-Phone and Droid, are communication centers with two-way wireless and 3G broadband to connect the internet. Amazing improvements in hardware, software, processing, storage, and user interface have commanded an equally amazing public response. They are owned by an increasing percentage of students, who use them for social networking and “surfing” the web. In the hands of creative teachers, these flexible mobile devices should become powerful tools for learning.


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