The Future is Now

The high-tech educational landscape of tomorrow is being plotted today in Rider’s School of Education.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011

You likely recall scenes where, not so long ago, exasperated children would roll their eyes while they showed their parents, yet again, how to program the family’s VCR. Obsolescence may have long since claimed the VCR, but the imagery remains the same: adults cowed by the very technology their children eagerly embrace.

It makes for an amusing anecdote, but not so much when the adult in question is a teacher with 20th century skills in a 21st-century technological world. At Rider, the School of Education is determined to equip its graduates to use digital technology as an educational tool.

Teacher candidates – those students in the process of earning their degree and certification to teach – are gaining experience in both information technology and digital technology, according to Dr. Sharon Sherman, dean of the School of Education. She says that acquainting the candidates with these tools marks merely the first step in effective usage.

“They go far beyond that, learning to select and make choices based on research and experience in order to help all students learn,” said Sherman, who was named dean of the School in August 2009. “Not only do our candidates advance student learning, but they promote and enhance creativity, innovative thinking and inventiveness.” 

By using these innovative digital tools, these teacher candidates engage their students, encouraging them to explore real-world issues and problem-solve through the aid of these resources. One such advance is augmented reality, which provides a view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements have been bolstered by computer-generated sensory input, such as sound or graphics.

In certain applications, augmented reality is already becoming common. The yellow “first-down” marker viewers see on a televised football game are one example, as are many of the advertisements that show up on the wall behind home plate during certain networks’ coverage of baseball. But augmented reality is now showing up in elementary school classrooms as a teaching tool, and Rider’s teacher candidates are getting well-acquainted with the technology.

The School of Education recently welcomed Craig Kapp, a computer scientist, researcher and visiting professor at New York University, who spoke to Teacher Education students about using digital technology as a learning tool. Kapp, an expert in augmented reality and programming virtual worlds, is also the creator of ZooBurst.com, which provides teachers free access to the site for writing virtual pop-up books. ZooBurst currently boasts more than 10,000 three-dimensional books posted to the site, written by children and teachers across the globe. 

“Students are able to ‘show what they know’ as they integrate subjects such as science, math, history, music and art,” said Sherman, a staunch advocate for using interactive technology to stimulate imagination in children. “There are a number of collaborative writing projects posted, such as one in which children living in different parts of Russia are sharing knowledge of their local geography with one another.”

Sherman said that these pop-up books, with their three-dimensional imagery and cartoon-style word balloons, are also effective in cultivating children’s narrative skills by encouraging them to conceive a linear story line and dialogue to make the plot move. Students can even record their own voices to have their characters “speak” when clicked.

Teacher candidates from various academic disciplines are also preparing to use this digital technology once they graduate. Sherman explained how one, who intends to teach secondary math, was inspired by one of the tools Kapp shared, and asked him for assistance in bringing the x, y and z axes to life in his classroom using augmented reality.

“He thought this sort of visualization would help those students who were having difficulty understanding this idea,” explained Sherman, who added that Special Education majors are also interested in the assistive technology tools created for students with disabilities. 

“Using augmented reality, many of these once-expensive tools are available at virtually no cost,” Sherman said. “Now, children and adolescents can gain experience collaborating with one another, both locally and globally. They are given experiences that help them develop understanding of concepts as they think, plan, and create. This provides our teacher candidates with opportunities to address the needs of all learners in today’s diverse classrooms. We’re really giving our students high value for their tuition dollar.”

A version of this story will appear in the spring 2011 issue of Rider magazine.

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In a screen capture, Senior Secondary Education major Scott Phillips sees a pop-up book from ZooBurst.