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Develop a wholly integrated curriculum structured around an engaging and motivating virtual scenario.

The seemingly ubiquitous acronym STEM testifies of the recognized value of interdisciplinary and integrated education. Might it be true, then, that an entirely integrated curriculum (one that connects not just STEM related subjects, but all subjects) would be the ideal? If so, the difficult question remains: How can you unify the disparate disciplines? One way might be by creating a virtual microcosm that provides the framework for holistic student learning.

For example, you could develop a computer program that casts students as a group of people stranded on an island; in order to escape, they must build an engine-powered airplane (developing the required understandings, abilities and technologies along the way). Each student could have an avatar "on the island," and would be responsible for their individual avatar's well-being and for the collective success of the group.

This scenario would provide an engaging backdrop for education and natural motivation to learn. And because being stranded on an island is a kind of microcosm of the human experience, you could easily tie in all different subjects, allowing for an entirely integrated curriculum.

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  • May 3 2013: Glad that I'm not the only one thinking this!
    There are three powerful tools in limited use today doing some of the things you are describing here:

    1. Minecraft EDU (http://minecraftedu.com/) gives instructors the ability to teach about such diverse topics as history to logic in an engaging virtual environment. Teachers are equipped with with the ability to restrict their students' movements (if they need their attention), teleport them about from different points of interest, allow them to explore and to build, etc.

    2. SmartSparrow Adaptive Course Software (https://www.smartsparrow.com/). I once heard this touted at "online class 2.0", Smartsparrow's format is one of the most intuitive softwares I have ever experienced. The lessons are delivered mostly by video, in small, one concept at a time clips. Almost every slide is a marvel of visual simulation programming, allowing students to tweak and experiment to their heart's desire. When it came to checking your answers on each slide, the computer was programmed to recognize more than right or wrong, giving advice if you made some of the more common mistakes. One time, I continued to blunder a particular question, so the software referred me back to a previous "experiment" simulation.

    3. Virtual Reality technologies, particularly the Oculus Rift (http://www.oculusvr.com/) VR has been used since the 90's for non-entertainment applications, such as treating phobias, chronic pain, PTSD or even helping to distract during painful medical treatment.

    Now with recent advances in mobile phone technology, VR is poised to be the next game-changer, with applications stretching even farther than it's predecessor.

    If VR were implemented in the educational setting, classes could visit places, visualize concepts and create in ways that were impossible two years ago. Not only that, but using a head-mounted display (HMD) like the Oculus Rift means that the instructor has complete control over their students' focus.
    • May 4 2013: Cameron, I love your input on this. These are some great resources for teachers and individuals to use. Not to mention that technology is increasing at an amazing rate and new types of VR are coming out which will continue to build on this idea.

      Of course, it is all about how it is applied with the students as a teaching tool. My only issue with Minecraft, and it is a cool little program, is that rarely is it used in the manner which you describe. More often it is used just to play. Though, that is an issue with the instruction not the tool.

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