Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Dream Gadget for the Classroom

After a series of new gadget announcements by various manufacturers, I was inclined to dream of a gadget made for the teacher. I suppose most of the technologies involved are already available, but they haven't been thought of as meant for a teacher. Probably, the marketing world has not realized the potential of this vast untapped user community. So, here goes my idea of the gadget, and I thought of naming it as The ClassPad.

ClassPad is roughly the size of an A5 size paper, that is, about 8 x 6 inches and about a cm thick, though thinner and lighter, the better. Lets put in the usual stuff like Wi-fi, 3G, Bluetooth, two cameras, LAN, USB etc. A good audio output is critical, though I suppose we could use one of the fancy bluetooth speakers for higher volume. Now, for the most important feature- a projector to enable a 5 feet wide projection on a wall. Some of the mobile phones come with such a projector, and it should be fairly easy to integrate into ClassPad too. For ease of use, the ClassPad should be able to "stand on its own" with a stand like the ones they have on photo frames. The camera on the other side will be able to capture the class video in an online collaboration situation with other classrooms elsewhere.

The ClassPad should come built in with a hardware that can connect with 50-odd simultaneous connections with wi-fi or bluetooth mice and/or keyboards for special applications. Microsoft Mouse application already has this feature, though I am yet to use it. A teacher will be able to administer quizzes and tests and record the results with a web-based software. I am sure there will be enough interested people who can develop some of these apps using open source software like Moodle.

Since I am focusing on the hardware for now, I will skip the apps that can go with the ClassPad. Lets look at the connectors needed in the gadget. I have always felt that a classroom must be able to connect to television streams and hence the ClassPad should have a connector for a Cable connection (it would have been better if all such streams could be terminated into a USB port, but it is probably a Utopian thought!) With these physical connectors, there will be a need to have a telescopic camera and projector to make it really useful for a classroom- something that can take these fixed accessories out of the gadget frame. The other possibility is to have them detached and use standalone within a "bluetooth-able" distance.

If I were to "dream" of the right display for the ClassPad, I would have to pick the toughest scratch-proof material. But till that happens, I will settle for the usual LCD/ Plasma screens. The problem with these delicate technologies is that it somehow restricts their usage in a classroom. One should think of a classroom, especially one with pre-teens in it, akin to a war field! And then build gadgets that can withstand such environs. For the time being, I will settle for a shield that protects the LCD from scratches and rough use.

I would hate to use an external drive, if I had a choice. So, the ClassPad must come with the largest possible disk space, but should also have a high speed connectivity (to work deep inside a class) to make use of the cloud. I still haven't figured out the best possible solution for a wi-fi connectivity that reaches upto every corner of every classroom in a school.

Could we also build in motion sensors used in gaming devices, so that, coupled with projectors, teachers could do really cool experiments in the class without the actual instruments too? The projection on the wall should be made interactive with a digitizer pen that slides into the back of the ClassPad otherwise.

With my imagination flying, and the recent exposure to the 3D movies like Avatar, I suppose it wouldn't be too much to imagine the 3D projection technology to come into the ClassPad too in a decade. Imagine the children wearing the headgear to experience the walk into the 3D model of an Egyptian Pyramid! In fact, like some of the TV companies claim today, maybe we wouldn't need to wear the ugly glasses anymore!

I will wait for some more imagination to get into the ClassPad, but I would rather get some ideas from others on this. I know for sure that product development always follows imagination, and who can imagine better than a teacher or a former student!