Do you know how a cell works? Sure, everyone remembers that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell – but what does that really mean? What does a mitochondria do? Or look like? In my public school biology classes, the primary form of learning about the body was reading a monstrous textbook and taking (mostly indecipherable) notes over 30-page chapters that were split into sections, each section having a variety of off-color graphs, charts, and artist depictions of the inner workings of a… whatever.
While educators today are trying a number of creative new approaches to find a way to engage kids in the more challenging-to-grasp subjects, one industry is trying to bring these subjects to an area of life that has already captivated kids and adults alike – technology.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are being experimented with to see how they can be integrated into educational and classroom settings. One of the most personally fascinating ways this technology can be utilized is in the field of medicine. We are now capable of creating digital, 3D models of organ structures based off of scans of living humans.
Imagine sitting at a table with a few other students and seeing two sets of lungs: one of a healthy adult, the other of an adult who has smoked cigarettes for 10+ years. You would be able to watch the respiratory process in action as both pairs of lungs take air in, transfer oxygen to blood cells which carry the oxygen to other parts of the body, and then watch the lungs release the collected carbon dioxide on an exhale. Instead of reading about the dangers of smoking and looking at gruesome pictures of actual lungs post-mortem, students can watch and experience the entire process right in front of them – learning on their own how drastic the effects of smoking can be. (While this specific example may not be available, zSpace does have models for exploring various organ and cell functionality in a similar fashion.) Changing how we present information can be the difference in whether students grasp and fully understand complex concepts that are hard or impossible to witness otherwise.
This new method of presentation is limited only by the creativity of the animators and organizers behind the technology. For example, YouVisit allows you to virtually experience college and university campus tours – especially useful if a student is looking at out-of-state locations that they are unable to travel to. Global Nomads’ One World, Many Stories program seeks to build a global sense of empathy by enabling viewers to experience life in different areas of the world, from rural Kansas to New York City to Amman, Jordan. This article by Edutopia briefly touches on a 5th-grade classroom that utilized CoSpaces Edu to build a virtual model of an early colonial American town, enabling the students to connect more deeply with the realities of life in that era of American history. The future of education is clearly primed and ready for drastic change – but don’t let that frighten you. Even in looking at the examples above, it is clear to see that this technology is being used to increase human connectivity, not get in the way of that connectivity.
NuMinds’ concentration in STEAM programs seeks to utilize technology when appropriate, but we also take great care in considering how that tech is used. In order to deepen our learners’ understanding and bring the material to life, we are constantly striving to integrate key concepts from the Arts and Humanities into even our most tech-heavy courses. Take one of our most popular guest Inspirators, for example: Numi, the NAO bot. As an advanced robot, she serves as a wonderful educational tool for our most advanced programming students. But beyond just the benefits of her wires and code, we present Numi to our classes as a new friend. When we encourage our learners to treat her with respect and personhood, we’re teaching the values of empathy and respect for those who appear to be different from us. At NuMinds, we’ve found that when you wrap a technology and its inherent lessons in a narrative, we humans are much more likely to form a connection to those lessons, understand them at a deeper level, and carry those lessons with us as we continue our educational journey.