Education and cutting-edge technologies are core to the many programs at NYC Media Lab, where we lead university-corporate partnerships, communications and events. The goal is to merge engineering and design research happening at the city’s universities with resources and opportunities from the media and technology industry—to develop new prototypes, explore applied R&D projects, launch new companies and encourage the latest thinking.
Of the many emerging technologies NYC Media Lab explores, a few in particular stand out as keys to building the classroom of the future. 5G technology and edge computing will reshape education with lightning speeds. Mobile AR, VR, and voice technologies are creating more interactive learning experiences. And AI-powered education platforms can help to improve student engagement with global culture and history.
In 2018, NYC Media Lab worked alongside researchers, technologists, entrepreneurs and executives who are building educational technologies in these areas and more. Read on for three use cases of emerging technologies in education.
In the fall of 2018, NYC Media Lab launched the Verizon 5G EdTech Challenge in partnership with the Verizon Foundation and Verizon 5G Labs. The nationwide open call for Challenge applications, which recently closed in November 2018, invited teams of university researchers and nonprofit innovators to submit a concept that could help build solutions towards a shared mission: How can we leverage emerging technologies, like 5G, to advance the quality of education for students? More specifically, how can emerging technologies take advantage of 5G to improve student readiness and engagement, STEM teacher training, and/or support students with special and/or diverse learning needs.
5G is the fifth generation of wireless technology, and promises high speed, low latency wireless technology. What 5G could enable: quicker downloads, more powerful networks, increased efficiency for businesses, and a near-immediate transfer of information. Autonomous cars, smart communities, the Internet of Things and immersive education are a few of the many high-potential industries highlighted by Verizon that 5G will transform.
What 5G will mean for the education space is still an an area of exploration. To provide a few imaginative suggestions, a 5G-enabled classroom could include: A holographic teacher who can beam in to lead discussions on specialized topics; seamless virtual reality experiences that can help students with diverse learning needs better engage; or connected devices that could help close gaps in education for international students.
The 10 Challenge winners will be announced in early 2019, with each team to receive a $100,000 grant from Verizon to work on 5G and EdTech solutions next year.
Mobile AR, Voice and Future Interfaces
In September 2018, NYC Media Lab and RLab—the first city-funded VR/AR center in the country—launched the XR Startup Bootcamp, an intensive, 12-week accelerator program with 10 early-stage startup teams. They focused on customer discovery and market validation for concepts leveraging virtual, augmented and mixed reality, voice technology, robotics, and other future interfaces.
One of the promising teams to emerge from the program was spARk, an AR and voice platform for STEAM educators and learners that formed at Columbia University. Zhi Hao (Joe) Chung, the team’s founder, worked as a STEAM educator for over 5 years and noticed a challenge seemingly specific to technical and scientific fields: lesson plans are difficult, content is sometimes unengaging, and students can tire in the learning process.
spARK built a platform that allows educators to search for and upload lesson plans, which can then be turned into interactive and multi-sensory learning experiences for students. As the students learn, the platform uses voice technology to listen in on student progress and provide comprehensive feedback for teachers, which can improve future lessons.
As an example, a slide presentation on the process of photosynthesis could, with spARK, transform into an AR game. A student interacts with a tangible block, and when activated by AR, that block becomes the sun. The student can then use the block to trigger the process of photosynthesis while visualizing the results in a headset or on a mobile device.
From artificially generated content to image recognition and smart tagging systems, AI is already shaping the future storytelling. However, AI tools are often missing global voices and cultural data, leaving large portions of the world’s population excluded from narratives. In other words, if AI-powered bots learn from people to inform their responses, then the people influencing the bots should include more diverse perspectives.
This notion inspired Davar Ardalan, a journalist who worked for NPR for over 22 years, to create the IVOW. An AI software, IVOW aims to help lower bias in algorithmic identification. To do this, it leverages a wide network of international researchers, cultural storytellers, and local residents of a particular place to train voice-enabled bots, like Apple’s Siri, Google Home, and Amazon’s Alexa, to better respond to cultural inquiries and share stories that are more authentic to cultural traditions.
Ardalan presented the IVOW demo at NYC Media Lab’s annual Machines + Media conference, hosted by Bloomberg, on May 15th, 2018. In her demo, she referenced a student writing a term paper on Latin America. When asked questions, the IVOW Google bot would share stories about Latin American heritage in the voice of someone who was raised with Hispanic traditions. So, instead of Google Home reading off a short synopsis from an online search, IVOW would instead feature a young woman speaking about a tradition, like Quinceañera. This is just one example of many in which such a tool can help students better inform their research with first-person perspectives.