Monday, November 30, 2015

The Cutting Edge of Tech

If you heard yelps, giggles and gasps emanating from the Ramer Great Hall on Monday, you'll have to forgive the people vocalizing. In all fairness, they were in the midst of being wheeled through a scary hospital, walking around on stage with the band U-2 or interacting with a baby inside a womb. Virtual reality (VR) was on display, along with other emerging technologies, as part of a demonstration by Tennessee Board of Regents tech tester Dr. Robbie Melton. She's traveling the state showing faculty, staff and students the latest technology.

"Any time something new comes out, we get our hands on it, so faculty and staff can see how it could be used for teaching," Melton said to the crowd. Dr. Melton is looking for input as much as inspiration. So, how could a smart Barbie doll be used in the classroom? IT students could learn about hacking such a device, or even better, how to prevent the hacking of a smart Barbie. That's something that parents would certainly appreciate.

"We want faculty to tell us: are these tools, toys or junk?" said Melton.

The students in the audience are eager to try out the virtual reality headsets. There are several different manufacturers and a number of different demonstrations available. The students learn to twist their heads around- because they can see behind, below and above. This makes it possible to spin around to see that U-2 guitar player the Edge is right behind you and he's looking serious. Maybe he's upset that you're standing on his stage?

The big question is how this fun could be used for learning. Melton points out that criminal investigators are starting to use virtual reality for crime scene recording. It will allow them to revisit a crime scene with a depth and clarity that no normal video could provide. VR could provide a virtual a chemistry lab with advanced equipment, too expensive for a college to purchase, giving students experience that they may not otherwise be able to get, and perhaps a safer experience in some instances.

Dr. Melton showed off programmable robots, interactive clothing, many new computer designs. What will pass the tool over toy test is yet to be seen. It's clear that all involved will have a grand time finding out.

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