What if a Computer Could Be a Teacher?


Blackboard image copyright Picsfive

In December, I made some forecasts for 2013 — many of them looking at the future of collaboration solutions and the implications for enterprises. After a recent fireside chat I took part in at Avaya Evolutions in New York City, it seems to me that the future of video and mobile collaboration has arrived.

Videoconferencing has truly become a part of our daily lives. Technologies such as Apple’s FaceTime or Google Hangouts are easy to set up and use, and are affordable at the consumer level — so much so that video calling is now part of the daily norm for a rapidly growing number of people. It’s this kind of simplicity that explains how and why video has found its way not only into everyday life but also areas like business and education.

Cost and cumbersome requirements are no longer barriers. Today, it seems as if every company I talk to already has, or is starting to, use videoconferencing — making the question not if, but what, video solution a company will implement. When making that choice, simplicity is and will continue to be the key for those companies.

Organizations are looking to implement solutions that are two things: Intuitive and obvious. Which is why, looking back to the fireside chat, I appreciate systems like the one from Avaya that can be launched with a single click from any device with a Web browser, or by simply dragging and dropping participants into a conference. Ease of use is paramount. Location has become irrelevant. Now we can include people on a discussion via their smartphones with minimal difficulty. That is the difference.

Of course there are still challenges, but ultimately the technology is finally here, and bridging numerous gaps in the collaboration needs for enterprises.

What’s still missing?

All too often, technology does not cater to the everyday user. Owner’s manuals are too complex; my guess is that most people simply do not use them. The result is that people hardly know how to use their own technology.

I bought a garage door recently. The manuals were difficult to follow, so I finally went online and found a nice video that taught me how to program it. Things like this show how video instruction can be extremely helpful and a great supplement to traditional methods.

Technology for the masses, and the classes

People need better education, and technology should help with that. This is an absolute passion of mine, and one that I have paid close attention to for many years. I always believed computers were going to be able to do great things for learning — and they have, but there’s more to come and still farther to go.

Today, schools with BYOD programs or solutions for providing devices to students are encouraging collaboration with students, teachers, and even professionals — right in the classroom. It’s a real-time, dynamic educational environment, enabled by technology. This instant exchange and feedback model is much more invigorating and conducive to true education and understanding of the world. What a change from the traditional, deskbound, blanket curriculum that forces every student into the same mold.

I have always also wondered: What if a computer could be a teacher? The ability to have one-on-one interaction with dynamically aware computers could completely revolutionize the way we learn. We may not be there yet. Computers still can’t actively engage and recognize emotions and facial expressions, which would be key. However, collaborative and video technologies in the classroom are allowing students to receive individualized attention and learn at their own pace while being actually engaged.

In the modern mobile world, dreams can quickly become realities, due to our ability to instantly connect with other people and their ideas. That spontaneity is due to the availability and growth of collaboration technologies in everyday life, in the classroom and in the workplace. That is where the future of video and mobile collaboration has arrived.

Steve Wozniak co-founded Apple Computer Inc. with Steve Jobs in 1976. After leaving Apple in 1985, Wozniak was involved in various business and philanthropic ventures, focusing primarily on computer capabilities in schools and stressing hands-on learning and encouraging creativity for students. Making significant investments of both his time and resources in education, he “adopted” the Los Gatos School District, providing students and teachers with hands-on teaching and donations of state-of-the-art technology equipment. He founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and was the founding sponsor of the Tech Museum, Silicon Valley Ballet and Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. Wozniak currently serves as chief scientist for Fusion-io.

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