It's no game

Part of a gamepad Alan Oxley looks at the teaching methods of the future.

The streaming of video and audio, via the web, has potential for use in practical lessons and classes where events need to be recorded.

At present, in more hands-on subjects, teacher gather students around to show them a technique. In the future, 15-30 second video streams could be made available to students, on demand, before, during, and after a session.

With video, there is no need for the instructor to repeat a live demonstration, students can view it whenever they want to. As far as the recording of events is concerned, live lectures could be viewed remotely (especially if they are given by noted speakers), at any time. A recorded lecture could be made up of a composite of video and PowerPoint slides.

The lecture could have bookmarks so that it can be re-run starting at one of several points. Another example of where a recorded event could be beneficial is for arts students who regularly hold shows.

Student fashion shows and other arts-based shows could be recorded and viewed on the web. Other future uses of video and sound include: facilitating group work between students of different institutions and enabling students to create video diaries.

All students are used to interacting with video games. There are a large number of games in the marketplace and the complexity of them, nowadays, is less limited by the technological constraints than by the imagination of designers.

One might not be comfortable imagining a university instructor contemplating using games in the classroom. However, this is exactly what is now happening. Instructors are conversant with computers, and appreciate the use of the web as a learning aid.

Instructors are only just coming to terms with looking at the potential for using games for learning. Obviously, the choice of game is important. It is best if the game has been designed by educators for students to learn. Advantages to the use of games include: having fun, getting engrossed in the game, and progressing through the game at one's own pace.

The use of e-learning will grow. Care must be taken so that the quality of learning is as good as 'bricks and mortar' learning. In order to have confidence in reaching this level, learning providers must aim for an even higher level. That is, they must set out to make e-learning superior to classroom learning.

Focusing on quality will obviously be beneficial to students but will reap rewards for learning providers as the numbers of students will increase. E-learning is also known as 'online learning'. When the learner is remote from the instructor, if indeed there is an instructor, then it is a kind of 'distance learning'.

An advantage of e-learning is that it makes it easier for students to access education. One is not restricted by time and location, as is the case with traditional classes. There is a hybrid type of learning called 'blended learning' where the student spends a small amount of time in the classroom but the bulk of time online and away from the classroom.

In the future, attempts will be made to deter plagiarism at 'the coal face', i.e. at the PC that the student is using. I have a lot of experience in giving students coursework that is to be done in essay format. In the past, I have had to spend a great deal of time checking whether or not work is original.

Recently though I have started to use the Turnitin plagiarism detection software. It is very tempting for students to copy and paste from the web. Information accessible via this medium includes documents, images, graphics and sounds.

Currently creators of e-books and .pdf files can create them so that some of the capability of the software displaying the documents is switched off. (However, with technical know-how it is possible to bypass these constraints.)

At present there are many university lectures online that are not in read-only format. Furthermore, many of those that are do not switch off the 'select text' feature. In the future educational establishments will set an example by only having online material in read-only format and switching off features to inhibit cutting and pasting.

Unfortunately, browsers do not have an option that disables cutting and pasting at installation time. A possible product for the future, then, is a browser for use in educational establishments which prevents students from cutting and pasting from the web.

In future, classrooms will be set up as laptop environments. There will be no rooms containing rows of desktop computers. There will not even be one for the lecturer, or one with the projection system. All the computers used will be laptop computers.

Already there are courses at various universities in which students are required to have some sort of computer, either a desktop or a laptop. It is particularly important for those students studying IT to purchase a computer.

Because of its flexibility, a laptop is the superior choice. At some point in the future, though, campus management could consider requiring non-IT students to purchase them. After all, laptop usage is becoming widespread.

Further reading:

In summary

  • Over recent years, the quality of IP-based network media technology and video production tools has increased greatly. Content production can be done quickly and inexpensively. Some universities are instructing lecturers to make videos where the quality is not important, and there is no need for the lecturer to have technical skills.
  • A person often learns by playing. This is not restricted to child's play.  If one plays Scrabble then one’s dexterity with words is increased. In modern times, one play activity of youth is video games. These have potential uses in education.
  • The amount of e-learning will increase. Of paramount concern is its quality. If e-learning is to survive and prosper then learning providers must focus on quality. Quality must be on a par with that of traditional classes.
  • In the future, plagiarism will be deterred at the coal face. You may be tempted to ask the question 'why can't we just stop students from copying and pasting?' It is possible to implement technology that acts as a major deterrent to the plagiariser, at least whilst they are on campus.
  • In the future, there will be a major drive to introduce laptops into the classroom. There are many educational establishments throughout the world, especially in the USA, that are looking into the wholesale introduction of laptops. Students can either buy one or lease one.  Having a readily available laptop is especially useful to students of IT.

Alan Oxley CEng MBCS CITP is vice president, Information Technology Services at
American InterContinental University.

May 2007