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My vision of education in the year 2020

As technology advances, its educational applications have evolved as well.  One example is the distance learning program of community colleges using a cable TV or a radio.  The distance learning program was originally designed for working students.  Students do not have to be present in class at regular hours. Instead, they can watch or listen to lectures on a cable TV or a radio during day or night at home.  This learning system has helped working men and women who want to reeducate themselves for a better job or a certification.

The tradition of the distance learning may continue in an another form with the Internet.  Students can access a class web site where each week’s class notes and assignments are posted. They also can ask questions and have discussions with teachers or peers through an electronic mail or a web board.  Apart from the traditional cable TV, the Internet enables distance-bounded students not only to learn subjects but also to interact with teachers, peers and even experts in the specific field during or after class.   The second feature of the Internet – helping people interact with each other -- makes it very powerful and popular in higher education.  For example, here at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, many graduate or undergraduate courses are using web-board or e-mail list to communicate with classmates and teachers. 

The applications of the Internet to education are not limited to a tool for communicating with classmates.  There are all kinds of information on the Internet.  You can publish your work as well as access the most recent research.  Now, some courses in the College of Education is of tele-apprenticeship in which pre-service teachers are connected to real classroom situations and they provide information to in-service teachers or students.  Some classroom teachers have their students access several web sites to get information for their work. Students create their own web pages to present what they have learned.  Sometimes, students work on a project with other students on the other parts of the world through the Internet.

These all are very interesting and fruitful educational applications.  I believe that the Internet will be used in education in various ways for many years.  Some university presidents enthusiastically presented their vision of on-line college and virtual campus; students who live in Hawaii can finish their course work at the University of Illinois without leaving their hometown. The college tuition will go down thanks to the virtual campus without significantly reducing the quality of college education.  

Even though I nod on the thought that future students might be benefited from on-line education, I think they have to go to school as a physical learning place.  If one of the roles of the school system is to help students prepare and train for their future, they need to learn how to cooperate with their partners to accomplish their assignments and how to manage work related stress with other people.  Unless every workplace is going to be “virtual” -- I don’t think a doctor can do a surgery for a real patient through on-line -- they need to go to school and learn how to manage relationships with other people face to face.
Have any of you seen the movie “The Net”?  In the movie, Sandra Bullock was a computer geek and she loved on-line things.  She did everything through her computer -- ordering a pizza, calling a FedEx, etc.  She had friends and co-workers known only through the Internet.  One day, she accidentally found some secret files and she got involved in a dangerous thing.  Some bad guys easily changed her identity because nobody had seen her for years and even her neighbors didn’t know her appearance.  She turned to one of her friends aquatinted only through the Internet, but he was the bad guy…

Of course it is an extreme example of a virtual workplace worker.  However, I think it gives a valuable lesson.  Virtual workplace or campus may sound great, but it may be dangerous.  You do not really know who your on-line friends and coworkers are because anybody can easily disguise his/her identity easily.  You may also be easily isolated from a society because you cannot trust anybody and you cannot build firsthand personal relationships.

At this point, I’d rather think about other use of technology as a vision for future education than the extreme on-line education.  While we do not have an easy access to modern technology equipment in school, students in the future will learn with cutting-edge equipment to solve problems. They may perform experiments with an electron microscope, which I have not used yet, instead of an old-fashioned optical microscope.  Or they do not have to be confused with how electrons are distributed in atoms with hard-to-understand textbook explanation – they might see the distribution of electrons with the help of sophisticated machines and computer programs. 

This is not a non-realistic dream.  There are some movements to introduce modern technology to school to help students learn science and mathematics as well as technology.  One of them is the Chickscope project at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that I’m participating now.  In the project, image-processing technology is used for teaching.  There are incubators for fertilized eggs and students can observe how the embryos are developing and which part of the embryo is going to be a heart without breaking the eggs using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or other imaging technology.  While the embryos are on the way to hatch in the classroom, students can learn about not only characteristics and functions of birds’ organs, but also the technology that let them see what is going on inside of the eggs.  Considering that some of the students may use similar technology in their future and most students should understand as well as be familiar with modern technology, I think the application of advanced technology in science education is advisable and it will be widespread in the near future.

My response to other vision