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Editor's Note

An Exciting Time

University Business, November 2012
Tim Goral

I recently had the opportunity to interview Richard Baraniuk for our continuing series on “Education Innovators.” Baraniuk, a professor at Rice University (Texas), is the founder of Connexions, an open education resource project, and its offshoot OpenStax College.

We discussed many things, including groundbreaking work in technologies that will one day lead to e-textbooks capable of learning their users’ preferences. That branched off into a side conversation about things like machine learning and algorithms, topics that appeal to my, shall we say, “geeky” side. It was a thought-provoking conversation, and I told him so.

Baraniuk said I was in an enviable position. “Education is exciting. It’s the hottest thing around right now,” he said. “There is so much opportunity out there. It must be fun for you to come to work every day.”

It is, and it’s true. To me, educational technology is an endlessly fascinating area and, while it may not be readily apparent from the 30,000-foot view, there is an undercurrent of change taking place every day. Some things start out promising but don’t take off as their creators envisioned they would. (SecondLife anyone?) Others hang on, evolving as the technology changes, and may ultimately define a new paradigm in education.

Hearing about these technology advances and talking to the people driving them is one reason I went into journalism—for the opportunity to always learn new things and pass them on to readers.

Some things start out promising but don't take off as their creators envisioned they would.

Here at UB, we sometimes get a sneak peek at these products and technologies in their early stages. We know that they won’t all be successful, but we also know many of them contain the building blocks of what future generations will one day take for granted.

For example, although tablet PCs have been around for many years, they were heavy, bulky, and prohibitively expensive contraptions. It wasn’t until the introduction of the lightweight, easy to use, and comparatively cheap iPad two years ago that they began to find a place in the classroom.

Outside the classroom, we are witnessing dramatic advances in things like immersive video and gaming technology, facial scanners that can estimate your mood as you pass by, and cars that respond and adapt to our personal driving habits.

Is it that far of a leap to get to a textbook that learns about you as you learn from it?

Some of these advances may appear to be more style than substance, but perhaps we just haven’t figured out the best way to use them yet. As Baraniuk says, “Just imagine applying those same ideas to learning.”