World Wide Telescope and digital learning

Following up on Martha Joy’s helpful digest of the Twitter workshop, I feel I should make sure everyone has links to some of the amazing platforms for digital interactive education and exploration presented last Friday by Curtis Wong, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research. I was particularly taken with his early work on the Barnes Foundation collection — a CD Rom that allowed you to explore the galleries on multiple levels before visiting the museum– and his work with Project Tuva— access to annotated lectures of Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Richard P. Feynman.

These projects raise many questions about goals of data-enrichment in education. How do we use the data enrichment capabilities afforded by technology to teach more than just the skills to search for data or the sense of immediate need to find answers? How do we appreciate objects and phenomena in the presence of so much information? How do we synthesize the many pieces of content with attention to the many slants of truth?

More than simple slide shows or directed tours, Wong’s programs really seemed to be three-dimensional encyclopedias, in some cases four-dimensional (with some of the “tour” maps, you can express depth over time). The WorldWide Telescope, launched in 2008, is an amazing example.

WorldWide Telescope

When paused in the app, you are not in a single frame, but are posited within the universe and can move virtually from star to star. The blurb for Wong’s talk described the WorldWide Telescope as “a free, rich interactive virtual simulation of the visible Universe to enable kids of all ages to explore and understand the Universe.” The exploration of educational material with the multi-platform applications, Wong also showed some of his interactive TV work with PBS, seems particularly appropriate to this week’s discussion.

Fetch on PBS (kids show with multimedia web supplement).

These projects also bring up questions concerning the intersection of profit and education, and the educational philanthropy of large tech companies. Seeing the work from Wong’s perspective and learning his trajectory in the creation of these remarkable research projects showed a great dedication to the accessibility of information to anyone willing to engage, the WWT is available only on Windows (which I don’t have on my MacBook). Though I missed the beginning of the talk, because I am still incapable of finding my way around the GC, the question of tech competition seemed to bubble up beneath the altruism every once in a while.



2 thoughts on “World Wide Telescope and digital learning

  1. Elissa Myers

    This talk sounds like it was fascinating! I am really sorry I did not make it, but am glad you posted about it, Jojo! I am very interested in the fact that he created the World Wide Telescope in order to get kids interested in science. I think it is really important to show kids that math and science are not just boring lines of equations and processes that are ends in themselves; they are actually designed to help one solve whatever problems one is interested in solving. Inspiring people to feel this kind of wonder and curiosity seems like the point of education to me.

  2. Jojo Karlin (she/her/hers) Post author

    Thanks for your response! I agree that education is about inspiring wonder and curiosity. More and more I am finding DH to be about the porousness of quantitative and qualitative. In tutoring the SAT, I spend a lot of time getting students to understand that you can read numbers and you can quantify language (depending on their preferred mode of analysis). In that context, the quantitative results are surely made paramount, but perhaps this shift of perspective (treating material as determined by parameters that meet both quantitative and qualitative ends) is something of what we are trying to do.

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