Mozilla Ignite is an open innovation challenge sponsored by the nonprofit that makes the Firefox web browser together with the the National Science Foundation. The call was to create “civic apps”–software applications for the public good–that take advantage of some experimental technologies that can run the Internet at speeds up to 250 times faster than today’s broadband. Cities are piloting these networks around the country, from Chattanooga, TN to Portland, OR.
The winners, announced today, include several ideas applicable to education that use some combination of streaming video, 3-D, big-data analytics and other bandwidth-hungry functions: realtime 3-D videoconferencing using the Kinect videogame player, say, or virtual place-based learning with screen-sharing, enabling a video guided tour of a museum or other location. An app dubbed the Rashomon Project uses time and date stamps on video and other content to stitch together a timeline of an event from multiple perspectives, which could be amazing for projects based on history or current events.
It’s all very cool stuff, but there’s a huge irony. While almost all American schools have some Internet access, many lack speed for today’s software applications, let alone the ultra-fast experimental technologies.
President Obama has just pledged to bring wireless broadband to 99 percent of schools within five years relying in part on dedicated subsidy funds from the E-Rate program, but the price tag and method of payment for executing the full pledge remains mysterious.
What’s also ironic in this round of innovations, mostly created by non-educators, is that in many cases what they seek to do is use high tech to simulate, and in some cases augment, a real face-to-face learning experience. Why not just physically take your class to a museum or a forest?