10/28/2014 04:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Futurist Prediction for Virtual Education

When you read the latest news in education, you may stumble upon the notion of students having school at home during winter blizzards in the north. You may have also heard of professional development days being done online with teachers from various locations also from their house. As a futurist, I chuckle. We were discussing this concept 5 to 10 years ago. That is what a futurist does. We try to consider what the future will be like in 5 to 10 or more years. I have a new prediction for you. I am predicting that within the next 5 years, schools will be having class via technology during hazardous weather conditions.

As schools are starting to take seriously the concept of virtual class days during those blizzards and other days off of school, I believe they will need a more modern version of accountability. The standard concern that I hear when discussing these "Blizzard Days" is how we make sure the students have done enough work and learned enough content to be able to mark it as a successful 8 hour day of school. I think that answer is-- you can't--and actually you shouldn't. Truly, it is near impossible to judge the amount of time a student needs to spend on an assignment. Time varies with individual students. We need to think in terms of accountability not time.

Enter Virtual Worlds. This is where the electronic "Blizzard Days" and a source of accountability becomes a marriage of technology. Consider the virtual classroom for a moment. You have an avatar as a student and one as a teacher. You can have teacher directed lessons and student responses. The teacher can create ahead of time a journey through the virtual worlds where students can experience all sorts of things, from history to physics and from art to math. High School students can go to Second Life where they can visit Deadwood in 1876, and then go to vehicle Sims where they can test their science skills in creating new vehicles. Middle School students could go to World of Warcraft where they can use the innovative teaching strategy of quest-based learning. And for the elementary students, we have Minecraft. Students can work on simple math problems using the blocks in Minecraft or have their own version of quest-based learning.


When I started to work on this prediction, I wanted to take that hard look at accountability. I believe that this is why the virtual worlds will be the platform for these "EDays." The accountability is virtually built in. We know that teachers know their students better than anyone. We have seen teachers without even turning around, know which student is out of his/her desk and bothering other students. We have watched teachers know who completed the paper without a name on it or any other identifying factors. The teacher has always been the school's best weapon in the fight for accountability. With Virtual Worlds, the teacher is still "in the room" with the students. The teacher still sees the students, in avatar form. The teacher still hears the student's responses, be it in chat or live voice. And with the teachers knowing their students as well as they do, they will be able to evaluate the student's work. This virtual world experience becomes a true electronic school day with full accountability.