FETC 2009 Presenter Profile: Chris Dede Talks Emerging Interactive Media

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Chris Dede knows a thing or two about emerging interactive media, immersive interfaces and the impact that both concepts are having on the educational field. Dede, who is presenting his views on both topics at the upcoming FETC 2009 conference in Florida, gives a preview of what attendees can expect from the sessions.

Dede is Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies, Harvard Graduate School of Education. He will be leading two presentations at FETC: "Emerging Interactive Media: What to Use, When, and How" and "Three Types of Immersive Interfaces: Implications for Learning and Teaching."

THE Journal: How do you define emerging interactive media?

Chris Dede: These are largely Web 2.0 types of media that are oriented towards knowledge creation, sharing, and evolution. Technologies as disparate as YouTube, broadcasting, and social justice sites, for example, are all built on the same underlying structure of community learning, despite the fact that each one's superficial characteristics look pretty different than the next. In this FETC session I'm going to sketch a few other examples like this to show that each has a common, underlying structure. If you learn to use one of them well, then you have a head start when it comes to using the others.

THE Journal: Do educators struggle with this concept?

Dede: Educators are often worried about somehow losing control, which can take different forms. For example, administrators worry that students might go to places they shouldn't be on the Web. Teachers are concerned that students will move to topics outside of the prepared curriculum, thus putting the instructor in the position of not being able to answer questions. Students can also shift the curriculum to topics that they're interested in--and that don't match the planned course topics--which can also cause concerns for the teacher.

THE Journal: How can educators use emerging interactive media to their advantage?

Dede: Part of it is acknowledging that you're in a community that creates and shares knowledge, as opposed to being in a hierarchy where an expert pours knowledge into the minds of novices. Teachers and administrators who are willing to risk moving away from that hierarchical control to having authority that's based on experience and expertise usually wind up with engaged students who learn both in and out of school. As a result, much can be accomplished in the classroom, without the teacher having to worry about how to teach his or her students how to use technology.

THE Journal: What are immersive interfaces?

Dede: Immersion is the subjective experience that finds someone engaged in a real, comprehensive experience. For example, if you were playing an interactive game online, and if someone asks you where you are, you wouldn't say, "I'm sitting in my chair." You would tell him or her where you "are" in the game itself, thus immersing yourself in the online experience. In such situations, your sense of presence and identity shift from the everyday environment to the immersive environment.

THE Journal: What are the different types of immersive interfaces?

Dede: I've been studying immersive interfaces for about 15 years now, and I've found that they range in the degree of immersion. At the FETC I'll discuss three such interfaces, one of which is the Alice in Wonderland type, which is characteristic of Internet games where you have an avatar operating in a world that you become immersed in. The second interface is even more profound and known as virtual reality. You wear either a head-mounted display or are located in a cave-like room with monitored surfaces that create a visual, digital environment. Finally, the least immersive interface is known as "augmented reality," and involves the use of a cell phone or mobile wireless device. You're in the "real world," and using the device to superimpose a virtual world that includes virtual characters and objects.

THE Journal: How can immersive interfaces be used in the educational setting?

Dede: There's a lot of curiosity in the public right now over claims that Internet games and environments like Second Life can provide a powerful alternative to traditional instruction. Also coming into play is the fact that every kid now has a cell phone, and that those devices are useful for more than just talking on the phone. These devices can take pictures and house different kinds of survey software, for example, and basically serve as little research tools. People are beginning to wonder should we be damning cell phones or should we be finding ways to use them for learning. And while virtual reality isn't part of the educational landscape right now, there are compelling reasons to believe that the entertainment industry may be moving in that direction through offerings like the Wii. These are just a few ways that kids are learning informally outside of school via various types of immersion. People are beginning to wonder if there are academic uses for such technologies.

THE Journal: What would you like educators and administrators to get out of your FETC sessions?

Dede: These sessions are designed to get participants to think outside of the box. Instead of getting attendees to realize the value of using technology to automate processes--and then showing them how to make those processes even more effective--my goal is to get them thinking about how to use technology outside of the standard, instructional format and employ it in a completely different way.

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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