Classroom Tech: The New Reality

Perspective

Beth Ritter-Guth ’93, associate dean of online learning & educational technology,

On December 13, 2018, Virgin Galactic’s USS Unity was the first spacecraft to enter “outer space” for the purposes of commercial space travel. Unlike NASA’s International Space Station or even Elon Musk’s Mars-bound spacecraft, Virgin Galactic is changing the way we think about space. Are students prepared for this future?

Technology in the classroom isn’t a new concept. When the printing press was invented in or around 1440, educators must have stroked their beards and wondered, “What do we do now?” Did the monks of old roll their eyes at the new technology and think it a passing phase?

The role of the educator has never been more important than it is today. Not only do we need to teach students how to make, fix and install these devices, but we must help them think about a range of ethical situations that surround the use and misuse of pervasive technologies.

Extended reality, a blanket term used to describe virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality, is exploding in popularity. The Pokémon Go! craze was brilliant because it “augmented” real life with virtual assets. Virtual reality places the user in a whole other world made of pixels. Internet of Things (IoT) devices collect and share data across multiple platforms. Artificial intelligence duplicates and imitates human behavior. The use of voice technologies like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri are commonplace. What are the benefits and risks?

Anything sharing data wirelessly can be hacked. Period. As our devices ask for more of our personal information and we gladly share it, more of our privacy is taken away. For example, 23&Me and Ancestry.com are amazing resources to determine heritage, but what kind of power does that give a leader with an agenda? Our laws are too slow to change, our criminal justice system is underfunded and our cultural focus is too disjointed to understand the implications of skipping the “Terms of Service” for each technology we embrace. We can’t chase down every instance of cybercrime because there are too many, and we don’t have enough trained people to do the work. The technology changes rapidly and the exploits and hacks more rapidly. How can we possibly keep up?

There is much to know about all of these technologies, and our classrooms must change to better prepare our students for the workforce of tomorrow. At Northampton, we are committed to helping students understand how to build, break and defend these technologies and how to think critically about the ethics and privacy issues surrounding them. It is already possible to go to space and take selfies in a Virgin Galactic spacecraft, but who will be the first to take a college course from space? Let’s shoot for a Spartan!

[Published in the Fall 2019 Northampton Community College Magazine.]