Today, where I go to school in Fairfax County, Virginia, when students walk into their classrooms on the first day of school, they are handed syllabi from their teachers. Each syllabus contains about three to four pages that outline the course’s schedule for the year, the grading system, and late work policies. Teachers will project the syllabus onto the SMART Board. From that moment forward, the incredible advancement of technology and engineering in the classroom is indisputable. Teachers will write their contact information, and they will point out that email is always the best way to reach them. They will also explain the online education website, even though they know their students have the information imbedded into their brains. Often times, teachers do not include a supplies list, because they understand that every student has an individual way that they like to stay organized and to learn. Engineering in classroom technology has made this entire scenario possible, from the work of electrical engineers in the development of projectors and SMART Boards to the work of computer engineers on the computers.
Fifty years ago, the technologies we take for granted in classrooms today were unfathomable possibilities. Classroom computers were scarce, and only used for basic programming at the college level if used at all. Texas Instruments, the most well known brand in advanced math classes today, had only just created the first calculator in 1967. Until the first Scantron, or, multiple-choice test grader, was invented in 1973, teachers were forced to grade multiple-choice tests by hand. Personal computers for the home were not available until 1974 (1). There were continual advancements in computer technology. In the early 1980s, there was a student to computer ratio of 92 to 1, but by 1988, Apple and Microsoft had both joined the industry, the laptop had been invented, and computers had been integrated into standard classroom learning. In the 1960s, the white board had only just been invented (1). In 1991, David Martin released his invention that combined the white board with the popularizing projector, to create an intelligent white board, or, a “SMART Board.” While it did not gain popularity as quickly as Martin would have hoped, it did eventually become a standard part of the educational system, and he hopes to continue with that innovation (2).
The astonishing advancements in engineering over time have brought us to the present day, where about 99% of American public schools have Internet access, 1.5 million iPads are used in schools, and 90% of students have access to mobile devices (1). When students miss lectures or assignments in class, they can simply go online and find videos of the lectures and PDF files of the assignments. Any answer can be found on the Internet. Also, a student often times cannot use the excuse that they simply forgot about an assignment, because they are well aware of the fact that they can easily go online to obtain the assignment.
Coinciding with the amazing advancements in technology are advancements in communication. The Internet brought state and national standards of learning. Although the uniform education has made some of America’s students stronger through the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 instated by George W. Bush, many students are left with an impersonalized way of learning. The future will bring us an educational system that is not only chalked full of technology, but also one that will pinpoint each student’s learning style, and create an optimal learning environment accordingly.
Imagine sitting in a classroom with a large touchscreen on every desktop. They would be large enough that up to three pages could be open at once. Whatever the teacher writes on the board would appear on the your desk, and you could hold as much or as little information on the desk at one time in order to take notes at your own pace: worrying that the teacher would move onto the next topic before you are done would not be an issue. You would take these notes on a tablet that is linked to your teacher’s desk. She could then learn your writing and note-taking styles without having to take your notebook overnight.
These desks would stimulate not only visual learners by allowing for an ease of photos and graphs, but kinesthetic learners as well. Students would have the ability to try different types of problems on the desks, and if they did not understand, the desks would be their tutors. For example, if a student is factoring an equation, and they get stuck at a certain point, they could press a button, at which the desk could process the student’s writing, and based on its knowledge of the student’s learning style, could write an explanation to the problem instantaneously.
Another major improvement that will be made with this technology is a truly level playing field. Computers will be able to grade assignments with no bias on a topic or student’s personality at all. Teachers will be able to input the specifications of the assignment, and once the computers process the information, they will be able to grade even an essay or a project in a matter of seconds. Not only will the student receive the grade instantaneously, but also they will receive feedback alongside it. That type of learning will improve students’ capabilities tremendously, because the feedback will be given when the information is still fresh in students’ minds. This way, students will be able to look back at what they did and have the information still be relevant to their current focus in class. Students could even ask questions to the software in the desks if they need further help.
One of the most important advancements, of course, is the advancement that would take place in engineering classes. Using computer aided design software would be made simple. Studying the way materials act under force would literally be as easy as putting a force on the tabletop. Rendering even the most amazing videos will only take a few minutes. It is even possible to see the way a mechanical system will work in 3D with a hologram projected from the desk. The possibilities are endless, and with each innovation, another will follow.
Even art classes will be transformed as styles are innovated with the new desks. The desks will allow for “tactical renderings,” or, textures in touchscreen technology. This innovation has already been put to use by engineers at Disney, who plan for it to be meshed with smartphone and tablet technology (3). Artist programs such as Art Rage 3 will be completely revolutionized as the paintings come to life. Virtual paint will feel wet to the touch, and will react accordingly. With the desks, however, a smudge in the paint will not be a big deal at all: any accident can be undone with the push of a button.
With the technology to allow a computer to understand students’ personal needs in their educations, standards of learning will also dissipate. Classes will be engineered to address each student’s individual interests, strengths, weaknesses, and even potential careers. This type of learning will allow schools to keep track of their students’ progress without using a grading scale: a term that will be unfamiliar in the future. Without the grading scales that are so inscribed in today’s society, students will no longer stress over a certain grade in a class they do not care about, but will be truly excited about learning. They will be introduced to real-world applications in industry from a much younger age.
In the past fifty years, we have come extremely far in the engineering that excels our educational system. With new resources, software, and technologies becoming available every day to make learning easier for each person, one can only imagine what will be available fifty years from now. The next stem in reforming our education system is to teach students based on their own learning styles and interests, which would be made easier by having interactive desks in classrooms, with intelligent capabilities. When it comes to engineering and education, even the sky is not a limit.