Sci-fi tech coming to a classroom near you

IT'S the kind of futuristic technology familiar from sci-fi films, but touch-screen tables, robot study buddies and 3D virtual learning environments could soon feature in the classroom.

The high-tech developments were highlighted at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences at the University of Sydney, which focused on the future of learning. The new approaches could be ''revolutionising our classes and the way children learn within five years'', professor of education at the university and conference co-chairman, Peter Reimann, said.

Judy Kay, professor of computer science at the university and a principal in the Computer Human Adapted Interaction team, has been developing software for interactive tabletops and wall displays.

She described the touch-screen technology as ''more egalitarian'' than interactive whiteboards, encouraging collaborative learning as users solve problems together. Ultimately, she sees the tabletops becoming part of students' ''personal digital ecosystems'', complementing smartphones, tablets and laptops in the classroom.

Work done by PhD candidate Roberto Martinez, who demonstrated the tabletops at this month's conference, allows teachers to see at a glance what individual students have contributed to group projects.

''The tabletop is very exciting from that point of view because we can tell who does what and when,'' Professor Kay said. ''One of the things we've been pursuing is making it much easier for teachers to easily look back to see in detail what happened in their classrooms.''

With research pointing to classrooms becoming increasingly collaborative spaces, the conference attracted leading international educators examining ''more innovative and exciting and effective ways to learn'', said Michael Jacobson, professor of education and co-director of the university's centre for research on computer supported learning and cognition.

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