The New School
It seems like everything, from people to technology, is getting smarter. Our phones, cars, computers, devices and appliances are now interwoven with very advanced technology, thought to be Science Fiction only a few years ago. This is a technology that communicates not only with us, but with other people and devices across wireless networks. Sensors now monitor where we go and what we’re looking at—and with more and more sensors installed in more and more locations, that trend isn’t likely to change. As this technology trend rapidly expands and improves, we find ourselves asking, Where are we headed? Luckily, innovators are finding new solutions all the time.
The university setting is a major player in this evolving world of technology. Blazing a path not yet seen, universities across the nation are experimenting with how to best integrate wireless communication technology across each campus. This unification of technology and communication is creating a new environment known as the techno-spatially enabled campus. By offering wireless Internet across the entire university environment through an interconnected fully-wired built infrastructure, the techno-spatially enabled campus provides endless opportunities for students, faculty and administration never before thought possible.
The Techno-Spatially Enabled Environment
Consider the university setting: multiple buildings located in a small area, usually condensed within a few city blocks. As our current technology evolves, sensors of all types are installed all over these heavily trafficked environments, each with the ability to communicate across a wireless network that connects everyone (and everything) together. This network can be monitored and adapted rapidly to changing or unexpected events, while providing new opportunities to change and enhance the educational process.
A wireless network on this scale suddenly makes education customizable in a way that can meet students’ needs like never before. Techno-spatially enabled campuses allow students to attend classes outside of the classroom: in computer labs, dormitories, on-campus coffee shops, and other common areas. From those with special needs (such as those with a physical or learning disability) to people uncomfortable in large-scale classrooms (or even those who are just running late), all students now have an opportunity to learn in a more comfortable and accommodating atmosphere.
Some will oppose the benefits of this innovative use of technology, nervous about the “Big Brother” factor of it all. While this is a valid concern, this argument pales in comparison to the benefits everyone will gain from advancing this technology. If we can vastly improve the educational environment to better suit the needs of everyone, we begin to change our culture. The United States continues to fall behind compared to the rest of the developed world. Ignorance is best fought with education; remaining behind because of a few potential fears is a position we can no longer afford in today’s global economy.
Techno Roots: Geo-fencing
A wireless, fully integrated network has been a long time coming. Understanding the foundational roots of technology connectivity allows us to predict and shape the future of this evolving technology environment. Geo-fencing is this foundation.
Put simply, geo-fencing involves setting up a network of sensors that create a virtual border (or “fence”) around a particular area, or series of areas. Geo-fencing was first used in geo-spatially large environments that saw a lot of foot traffic. Using a network of sensors within a building, paired with hand-held devices or mobile phones, people could be tracked and monitored. Retail outlets and museums started to integrate these sensors to help understand where people were going, how long they stayed there, and what they were doing. Geo-fencing allows us to understand people’s wants, needs and patterns, making it easier for businesses, organizations, points of interest (even cities or neighborhoods with a lot of foot traffic) to pinpoint how to best accommodate visitors. Museums have been using geo-fencing technology for a number of years to provide visitors with more information and specific facts about particular attractions, and also to keep them progressing through the exhibit without straying outside its borders.
Think about the potential that lies within that gathered data: for example, if you know how people behave as they traverse an art exhibit, you could use that information to influence future exhibit design and implementation. This data collection could help analysts understand why people view art in a particular order. Understanding the time visitors spend at each exhibit, how long they stayed at each piece, and monitoring where they went is valuable information. It offers insight into things like artistic preference, the effect of one painting vs. another, and visitor reactions to the relationships between pieces chosen for an exhibition.
Geo-fencing technology is not limited to just university and museum settings. Spatially large areas with heavy foot traffic can all benefit from this, and in turn help to benefit people by offering more, relevant information when they need it. Cities and small, high density neighborhoods such as our own Walker’s Point or downtown Wauwatosa could put this technology to relevant and practical use. Stores, merchants, and other services for the public could begin to attract their target audiences in a way never before seen by analyzing and better responding to the information gathered using geo-fencing technology.
Evolving Education: The Future is Connected
While geo-fencing allows us to track where and what people are doing, a techno-spatially enabled environment takes this concept much further: it allows people within the network to connect and directly interact with not only the sensors, but with each other. The techno-spatially enabled environment allows devices, computers, cameras, mobile phones, etc. to all be connected on an interactive level. At a university, this can help monitor the safety and security of students, create virtual classrooms anywhere on campus and unbound by physical restrictions, and provide everyone with vital and important information—immediately.
Today, there’s more and more talk of education reform. The old methods of teaching are starting to give way to the ever-evolving technology of the day. Right now, free online courses from top universities are available to anyone interested. Professors are able to reach thousands of people, reinforcing our need to keep up with the rest of the world’s educational standards. And while this is a huge leap forward in education, it’s nothing compared to what a techno-spatially enabled campus/environment is capable of creating for our current and future students.
Technology is evolving to allow for real and meaningful interactions anywhere; it’s not just a pre-recorded floating head on a screen or a disembodied voice during a chat anymore. Employing new technologies allows for a single instructor to reach many more students in more meaningful and impactful ways, because each student’s specific needs can be identified, then addressed, to maximize each pupil’s learning potential. Students will still have assigned tasks, projects and other “traditional” learning elements, yet will be able to learn in a safe, boundary-free learning environment that is still very much a classroom/educational setting.
This techno-spatially enabled environment is the likely future of both learning and working spaces. Our society loves technology and adaptation continues to grow. By embracing the educational opportunities offered by this technology, we’ll ramp up and turn out more educated people over time. Smarter people means a better society and a better society is what the world needs. A techno-spatially enabled environment is one way to improve the world for everyone by first helping each individual succeed.