Urban legends claim that a good way to calm your nerves before giving a speech is to imagine the audience in their underwear. But what if you could attend class in a T-shirt and underwear without anyone else ever knowing it? Well, at many colleges and universities around the world, you already can.
To understand this miracle of science, we have to examine the link between two rapidly changing technologies: distance learning and classroom connectivity. These two might seem unrelated, but in fact they are deeply intertwined.
In years past, classroom technology consisted of a chalkboard, a pull-down projection screen, and an overhead projector. Maybe the teacher even brought in a film projector on special occasions. Today, schools and universities are racing to outfit every classroom on campus with computers, projectors, DVD players, speakers, microphones, and perhaps most importantly, a control system. And unfortunately, in a lot of cases, the technology has outpaced our ability to use and understand it. In a world where many of us can’t even work the remote control for our TV, we now suddenly expect everyone to know how to operate a complicated AV system. Funny thing — that sometimes doesn’t go very well!
The Control System (in theory!) is intended to be a simple user interface, either graphical (like a touch panel) or button oriented. It is supposed to provide a quick and intuitive way to power up the system, select various sources, and in essence, make it all work. When well-executed, it allows non-technical people to operate a highly technical system. This puts educators at ease, knowing that the technology will be there for them when they need it. However, if the control system (or lack thereof) is designed poorly, it can act as a barrier between the people and the technology – thus, creating a lot of awkward moments in the classroom.
These awkward moments have to be minimized if educators are going to explore the newest frontier in education – the “Virtual Classroom.” Creating a real-time, “virtual classroom” enables remote users to watch live teaching and interact with classmates across the hall or around the globe. By adding cameras, microphones, and some electronics, we can take live events in one setting, and stream them out over the internet. If the system is designed right, computer users can “sit in” on a class at a time and place that is convenient for them. For institutions, this means the possibility of international enrollment. For students, it’s a great excuse to attend class in their underwear. Who said technology doesn’t have a positive side?