Tricorders–The Next Tool for Geographic Learning?
by Daniel C. Edelson
Vice President for Education
National Geographic Society
If you’re of a certain age, you probably find yourself looking around and remarking on how much today’s world looks like the world that Gene Roddenberry imagined in the original Star Trek series. OK, we don’t have transporters or warp drives. But we do have computers you can talk to, two-way video communications, and devices that work like communicators and tricorders.
There is a lot of discussion these days about what impact these Star Trek technologies might have on education. In just the last couple months, I attended a one-day summit on the promise of wireless technologies for education and a two-day workshop on the use of mobile devices for citizen science.
For geoliteracy, I think these devices offer amazing opportunities to move learning outside the school building, and we’ve been designing software at National Geographic that students will be able to take into the world on handhelds that will enable them to record observations, combine them with observations of others, and analyze them for geospatial patterns. However, an inescapable challenge of learning in the real world is that the real world is complex and unpredictable. Sometimes it is too complex and unpredictable to enable you to be sure that you can teach specific relationships or skills through real-world experiences.
One solution to this problem is to create virtual worlds that
eliminate the messiness of the real world. For example, you can create
a simulated world that students interact with on a computer screen
where all the water quality probes are properly calibrated and the
relationship between water quality and ecosystem health follows
predictable patterns. Unfortunately, these simulations sacrifice the
experience of moving around and using actual devices for the benefits
However, in recent years, I’ve been hearing about some very clever
people who have been designing what they call “augmented reality”
environments to get the best of both worlds. Here’s an example:
Read the conclusion of Tricorders–The Next Tool for Geo-Literacy? in the winter edition of ESRI’s ArcNews Online.