The Key to Digital Learning? Bring It Into the Real World

[The combination of real and virtual can have a magical response by young learners. Here’s a great example from the New York Hall of Science where virtual technology using Kinect systems are combined with physical activities, such as kids collaboratively moving foam logs to transport water.]


Connected Worlds, an installation at the New York Hall of Science, teaches kids about environmental science by immersing them in it. DESIGN I/O

IF YOU WANT to teach your kid about ecology, sustainability, or the future of interactive education, take them to the New York Hall of Science and head for the giant virtual waterfall.

The massive digital faucet feeds the ecosystems of Connected Worlds, a cutting-edge installation that aims to teach youngsters about environmental science by immersing them in it. It’s an interactive simulation big enough to walk around inside—virtual reality that’s not piped into a headset but projected onto a real physical space.

Kids can shape the environment through a clever combination of physical and digital interaction. The waterfall sits between two walls, which stretch out into the museum’s cavernous Great Hall like a giant’s arms moving in for a hug. Projected on the walls, and on the floor between them, is a lush virtual world comprising different ecosystems, all dependent on water from the towering falls. When a kid standing in a particular ecosystem puts her hand to the wall, a Kinect mounted above the space triggers a projector, which makes a digital seed materialize above the youngster’s palm. She can opt to grow a small plant, which doesn’t require much water, or a large tree, which does. To make sure the ecosystem is getting the resources it needs, she must route water from the falls and other sources by arranging giant foam logs on the floor. As kids elsewhere plant their own flora, the water demands of the different areas change dynamically.

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Do You Really Need a Video?

[Here’s an article from  Edsurge that looks at MOOCs. I think the author’s comments also fit into the conversation about Flipped Learning. Do you need to create your videos in order to have a successful learning experience with a MOOC or Flipped Classroom?]
Lorena A. Barba
May 11, 2015

The participants of #NumericalMOOC will have noticed that we made only one video for the course. I thought that maybe I would do a handful more. But in the end I didn’t, and I don’t think it matters too much.

Why didn’t we have more videos? The short answer is budget and time: Making good-quality videos is expensive, and making simple yet effective educational videos is time consuming, if not necessarily costly. #NumericalMOOC was created on-the-fly, with little budget. But here’s my point: expensive, high-production-value videos are not necessary to achieve a quality learning experience.

The fixation with videos in MOOCs, online courses and blended learning is worrisome. At the edX Global Forum (November 2014), it was often mentioned that producing a MOOC is a high-cost operation, with an estimated average expense of $100,000 per course. This is probably a somewhat overindulgent price for appearance, rather than substance. There is no evidence justifying the “production value” from a learning perspective. In fact, as far back as 1971, Donald Bligh concluded that “there is not much difference in the effectiveness of methods to present information.” In this sense, a video—however nicely produced—is not better than a lecture.

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Personalizing Student Learning


Eleven-year-old gymnast Danielle Norris is practicing a roundoff back tuck dismount for her balance beam routine. She has a meet coming up soon, and later this month she’s competing in the state championship. Danielle’s mom, Karen Norris, says she practices about 22 hours a week.

“When Danielle was first invited to join the team and they told us the amount of hours that were involved, we were a little taken aback by that,” Norris said. “That was fourth grade.”

Danielle said that made for some very long days.

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