Vision For A Future Technology-based Learning Environment
A Girl And Her Slate
by Gary Dunn
Mary arrives at school at 7:45. She does not see her best friend Etsuko at the usual spot, so she decides to find her.
She pulls what appears to be a thin textbook from her backpack.
The cover opens all the way, until it lays flat against the back like a spiral bound notebook, revealing what looks like a laptop computer screen. Mary touches a button, and in a few seconds the screen is filled with colorful icons and windows.
She pulls what looks like a ball point pen from the side of the book and taps it several times on the screen. She smiles, says something, then walks away. She meets Sue by the office. Sue is also carrying something that looks like a book, only it looks entirely different than Mary's.
At 8:00, both slates pop up reminders that first period class begins in fifteen minutes. This information did not come from a typical calendar, such as you would find in a PDA. Each girl's appointment calendar interacts with the school's. They subscribe to the school bell schedule service, so variations in the bell schedule are accommodated automatically. Not only can it remind every student that class is about to begin, it tells them what class it is and what room it is in. It can even draw them a map how to get there from wherever they happen to be.
First period for Mary and Etsuko is science. They each take a seat. There is nothing unusual about the furniture. No tables crammed with computers. No wires strung across the floor or hanging down from the ceiling. Every student in the room has a slate like Mary's, except no two look exactly alike. There seems to be one in every color, and several that are a multitude of colors. Many are decorated with decals from surf shops, rock bands, or cartoon shows. One of the guys has one made of oiled koa, while one of the girl's is covered entirely in faux leopard skin.
A pair of projectors are displaying the day's agenda on wall mounted screens. Mary taps on her slate to open a window showing the same view. It is a local copy, and she can scribble notes on the image. The instructor can also mark up the display, and those scribbles will be added to Mary's copy.
During the class the instructor plays a video. Bandwidth limitations prevent the same video from being transmitted live to twenty slates, but a small, compressed version adequate for review can be streamed from the school web site on demand.
After the video the instructor divides the class into small groups and assigns each a topic for discussion. Each group will make a thirty second status report at the end of class, and present a three minute oral summary the following day.
This is not a virtual classroom. The students really do get up, find their team mates, and move chairs into clusters. What is different is that each group also creates an ad hoc virtual group on the network. All of their scribbling and brainstorming notes -- most of it handwritten -- is captured there.
Later, the same virtual group can meet on-line, whether or not they invade someone's den or the local Starbuck's. There they can build on the work begun that morning, and evolve to a web page for the next day's presentation. The assignment is automatically handed in and made available to the rest of the class.
Two students assigned to Mary's group were absent. One was out due to a bad ankle sprain, and was able to view the classroom display and to participate in the discussion group. The other was too sick with the flu to participate, but will be able to review most of what went on at school when he feels better.
When the last status report had been given there were still ten minutes of class time, and Mary chose to use the time to continue working through a coral reef simulation game. It is a program similar to Sim City blended with Tamagotchi virtual pets, only the setting is a reef and the activity is as close to reality as possible. Currently she is acting in the role of a young kupipi (damsel fish), hiding in tidal pools and eating algae. Most of the life forms in the simulation are computer controlled, but some are other players. The master game engine is on a central site, and silently merges everyone's activity into a single game. She often suspects that the big Grouper that keeps following her kupipi is Billy Jeffers, but there is no way to find out.
By lunchtime Mary has five mail messages from students at other schools -- some in other states, some in other countries. They are all members of a collaborative study team. They spent a lot of their time socializing, but they really do spend some time helping each other with their school projects. She is planning a trip to France to meet some of the European members.
The one thing Mary is never pleased with anymore is the appearance of her slate. She does not want to appear extravagant, like girls who have three different slate-mods to go with whatever look was in that week. Hers was the same old slate she had chosen at the start of freshman year, a pretty but simple translucent sapphire. It was worn, especially the buggy bumper on the corner where she had dropped it in the parking lot. It was functional, but she wanted more that that.
She wanted something that made a statement. Like Etsuko's. A work of art. The problem there was that Stan, the slate-modder who had designed Etsuko's, was now so famous she could not afford him even if he had time to accept the commission. Her mother wanted her to take the slate-mod course in summer school, but that would mean skipping France. Even then she could not hope to make anything as nice as Etsuko's. Boys actually stopped to talk to Etsuko about it, while hers never got the slightest attention.
Her slate beeped. She looked down to see a small pop-up window.
Janice was looking for a ride home. She looked up and saw Janice not ten feet from her, facing the other way. She called out to her friend and the deal was done.
by Gary Dunn
Open Slate scenario
To find out more about Mary's technology please read the next review:
"A Solution To Problems Facings Schools And Universities Today:
The New Approach To The Development and Distribution Of Quality Educational Learning Content With Distributed New Media Technology."
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