Two inventions and how they might impact the classroom

Last week MIT and the University of Kentucky shared two exciting stories:

  1. “MIT Teaches Wireless Routers to Know How You’re Feeling”
  2. “Modern Technology Unlocks Secrets of a Damaged Biblical Scroll”

Now, it’s only a matter of time before each is applied to the classroom. Here’s how I think it will happen.

First, here’s the opening paragraph from Dian Schaffhauser’s article in Campus Technology:

A team of researchers at MIT believe they’ve created a way to recognize basic emotions with signals transmitted from the closest wireless router. The technique relies on measuring small changes in somebody’s breathing patterns and heartbeat and doesn’t require body sensors or facial recognition. The potential applications are far flung: The technology could be used for medical diagnosis, marketing and entertainment, or even controlling the home or office environment.

Now, in K-12 education, the classroom environment strongly influences a student’s motivation to learn, ability to concentrate, and performance on assessments. Consequently, classroom environment regularly appears on teacher evaluations. (For example, this post addressed to teachers who want to “nail” their evaluation.) Also, an new(ish) trend is schools’ efforts to build students’ grit, mindfulness, growth mindset, and/or emotional intelligence. Then, there is the “Innovative Assessment Pilot”; from iNACOL:

Once ED finalizes the rules, states would have the opportunity to apply for funding in three priority areas:

Developing innovative assessment item types and design approaches;
Improving assessment scoring and score reporting; and
Inventory of state and local assessment systems.

My question is how long before these three things: emotion-reading wireless routers, classroom environments, and innovative assessments come together?

The result could be one step away from a surveillance state, but it might also teachers identify students who need to know someone cares. [find article]

Second, computer scientists at the University of Kentucky used CT scans to read an ancient (almost 2,000 years old) scroll that is too brittle to unfurl. From The New York Times:

The writing retrieved by the computer from the digital image of the unopened scroll is amazingly clear and legible, in contrast to the scroll’s blackened and beaten-up exterior.

Methods like CT scans can pick out blobs of ink inside a charred scroll, but the jumble of letters is unreadable unless each letter can be assigned to the surface on which it is written. Dr. Seales realized that the writing surface of the scroll had first to be reconstructed and the letters then stuck back to it.

He succeeded in 2009 in working out the physical structure of the ruffled layers of papyrus in a Herculaneum scroll.

He has since developed a method, called virtual unwrapping, to model the surface of an ancient scroll in the form of a mesh of tiny triangles. Each triangle can be resized by the computer until the virtual surface makes the best fit to the internal structure of the scroll, as revealed by the scanning method. The blobs of ink are assigned to their right place on the structure, and the computer then unfolds the whole 3-D structure into a 2-D sheet.

The suite of software programs, called Volume Cartography, will become open source when Dr. Seales’s current government grant ends, he said.

Not only is it possible to read a text without opening it, but the software will become open source when the grant ends.

Now, right now, it might be unthinkable to apply this level of technology to the classroom, but what if…

What if plagiarism sites, like TurnItIn, that already offer automatic grading develop a device or app using this software. Imagine how many teachers will sign up to test an app that lets you scan a stack of essays and grade them. Imagine how such an app might work with the local school’s LMS, so teachers do not even need to record grades themselves.

Yes, most schools are moving to digital essays and skipping paper altogether, but perhaps there will still be an instance where schools have one foot in the 1900s and the other in the 21st century.

What future ed-tech application do you see with these stories in mind?

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