We all know or have seen (I hope) how Kinect enables the user to control their Xbox or PC and become part of engaging virtual environments with gestures, movement and voice commands. But beyond gaming, what exactly can this mean for education. In February 2012 the NMC Horizon Report - 2012 Higher Education Edition report was released and predicts gesture based technologies to be in the third wave of technologies to impact learning in four to five years time. However, gesture based technologies or Natural User Interface devices are in some of our classrooms today.minority-report

Gesture-based technologies have the potential to be transformative technology because they have the potential to be used beyond just a medium for learning. They don't just replace one form of passive learning with another, i.e. the text book with an eBook but create endless possibilities as to how to engage the learner in a multitude of resource types and scenarios.

Immersing a user in a virtual world, or gesture based browsing has the potential to change our attitudes concerning how we interact with computers in class, and promote active learning methods. We are no doubt in the midst of or the beginnings of a shift towards less passive learning techniques and styles. More active, student-centered approaches to classroom learning are becoming more common.

According to Charlie Osboune on ZDNet,

"What makes gesture-based technology unique in this respect is that it has the potential to allow collaborative efforts on a broader scale — more than setting up a classroom blog, or using PowerPoint to create a presentation, and can be used to further promote content engagement."

The traditional classroom is no longer has to be the focal point of learning where we no longer rely on traditional passive learning techniques. In these classrooms it is more common for students to be actively participating in activities; whether through project work, media, presentations or team objectives. Gesture recognition technology is far more than using a an Xbox 360 Kinect to exercise – game environments can, and are being developed, to promote activities that improve social skills, involves team work, and allows users to solve problems through collaboration. Check out how Kinect is being used to engage these children with autism. No longer is the teacher the centre of attention (or not as the case may have been!).

There is a world of difference between the options available. Microsoft’s Kinect technology and the humble VHS player are examples worthy of note. A VHS player is a tool in which to facilitate learning whereas Kinect can be a way of learning in itself. You don't just watch and listen, you explore, make decisions and ask questions to complete a lesson.

Nobody doubts that every child has unique skill set and the expansion of the mediums, modes and technologies though which student can interact and engage in lessons and classrooms can only benefit teachers and learners.

Now for a really nerdy bit……..

What if you didn't even need the Kinect device? The Microsoft Research team in Redmond have developed just that. In a project that "uses sound to see," as they put it, they have enabled normal laptop or PC devices to be controlled by gesture and sound by utilising the existing speakers and microphone in the device.

Using a very simple concept in physics (the Doppler Effect), developers have enabled run of the mill devices to interpret gestures to browse and explore the laptop.

With no need for hardware such as a Kinect or a Microsoft Surface to use gesture based technologies. This shows that there is  potential to allow greater access to this immersive experience and in your classroom soon. Four to five years before gesture based technologies are prolific in education……perhaps not.

To read more about this and a similar research project click here.