When you’re eight years old, there’s nothing more persuasive than a dinosaur.
Whether they’re the old-fashioned purple variety that teaches nursery rhymes and the art of hugging, or the really old-fashioned type that chases down tourists in Hollywood movies, dinosaurs are good at getting the point across.
That’s why we need more of them in our classrooms. At least, digital ones that conform with a lesson plan. Edutainment in the classroom is a relatively new approach to teaching that leverages digital technologies such as video conferencing and augmented reality to deliver lessons that resonate more strongly with young learners than mere text.
And dinosaurs are just one of the wonders available to make a point.
How Does Edutainment in the Classroom Work?
Edutainment is to young students what infotainment is to adult news consumers. It’s a genre-blending approach that presents information in an entertaining and attention-grabbing manner. Just as the graphics, musical stings, and rapid editing make your nightly news and current affairs broadcast more palatable, edutainment in the classroom is an attempt to make the average curriculum as exciting as a dinosaur movie. The idea is that this extra attention leads to better retention.
It is believed the memory works better when it has a visual to associate with new information.
Research suggests that 65% of people are what has become termed visual learners. These people–and chances are you’re one of them–better retain the information they absorb through visual stimuli, such as graphs, charts, maps, and, of course, moving pictures. It is believed the memory works better when it has a visual to associate with new information.
Edutainment seeks to exploit this learning preference through digital technologies, although we’ve now progressed beyond charts and maps. Today, students are more likely to be taught by astronauts and animated avatars–and video conferencing often plays a role.
Edutainment in the Video Conferencing Classroom
Edutainment also includes low-tech visual stimuli such as board games, puzzles, and building blocks. Those clearly have their place, but we’re more interested in the digital versions–call it a Millennial bias.
Hearing first-hand accounts from experts gives classroom lessons a level of authenticity.
This is the version of edutainment practiced at Nevada charter school Pinecrest Academy St. Rose. At this school, students get to learn about technology from Martin Cooper, one of the inventors of the mobile phone. The wireless communications pioneer visited students via a video conferencing link. It’s a digital path that has been walked by many other virtual guests, including astronauts, Vietnam veterans, and September 11 heroes.
Hearing first-hand accounts from such experts gives classroom lessons a level of authenticity to match the entertainment factor. Delivery over a digital video conference just maximizes the exchange. Cooper, for instance, could visit half a dozen schools in a day without ever leaving his home if he travels by webcam. In return, students of a range of ages and abilities can get a true-to-life account of where the smartphones that dominate their lives originated. Things can get even more interactive and spectacular when video conferencing is combined with the new visual mediums of virtual and augmented reality.
Dinosaurs in the Classroom
The green screen technology that allows superheroes to wage wars in space across the cinema screen is now available to the average person live streaming or making a video call. Background removal and digital special effects come built into some webcams or can be downloaded in apps such as YouCam 8. With these technologies, you can merge the real and computer-generated to add Hollywood firepower to a virtual guest appearance or even a field trip–and by the way, virtual field trips are a great resource saver for schools that can afford a broadband connection but not a bus trip to cow country.
It will be possible to transport an entire classroom to any location you can name or imagine.
With a green screen projection behind them, an expert like Cooper can travel deep into the digital 0s and 1s of the internet to explain modern communications. Likewise, a NASA astronaut could take students on a guided walking tour of the moon. In fact, NASA already offers a similar service using basic virtual reality technology.
Such attractions just scratch the surface of edutainment’s possibilities. With deeper integration of immersive and interactive technologies like virtual reality, it will be possible to transport an entire classroom to any location you can name or imagine.
A Visual Learner’s Paradise
At Jurassic Park in Universal Studios, Orlando, children get to walk with dinosaurs. It’s an augmented reality “ride” made possible by projecting digital images onto special glasses. The technology presents a reality visible only to the wearer, but it is convincing enough to cause an emotional reaction in those experiencing the technology–as you can see in the video below:
Imagine those dinosaurs walking between the desks of your classroom. That’s edutainment you are not likely to forget, even if digital miracles like it become commonplace in the near future. Edutainment at its inspirational best transforms the classroom into an interactive, deep new world of exploration–and it can be applied to any lesson in the curriculum. Students could wade the frozen waters of the Antarctic, scale the walls of an ancient castle, eavesdrop on the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or fly over the primordial creation of life. With video conferencing and the next generation of visual media, there’s no limit to the whats, wheres, and whens of education.