At South Korean E-Learning Conference, Interactivity Is Big (Very Big)

Seoul—Interactive whiteboards are big in South Korea—and they’re getting bigger. One new model on display this week at an e-learning conference here stood nearly two-stories tall, towering over the woman demonstrating it by writing out equations.

It was just one of the over-the-top teaching technologies shown at this week’s eLearning Week 2010 conference and trade show, which drew some 1,000 participants from elementary and secondary schools as well as higher education. The meeting was organized by four government agencies here, and it drew a sizable number of foreign attendees (conference sessions were held primarily in English and simultaneously translated into Korean and Chinese).

The whiteboards are essentially digital chalkboards with Internet access as well as the ability to write and erase. They don’t make that wince-inducing sound when you run fingernails over them, and they let professors annotate PowerPoint slides and then upload the marked-on presentation to students after class.

And just as televisions have been on a growth spurt in recent years, these devices may soon fill entire walls, at least if the tech companies have their way. (The downside, of course, is that these chalkboards can break down or become obsolete, and they’re a bit pricier than a square of green slate.)

A lot of the newest gadgets here promised interactivity—many in the form of something called “augmented reality.” One system projected an animated environment on a large flat-screen television, and—using a built-in camera—captured an image of people watching and projected them into the scene onscreen. When a teacher trying the device moved her hand through the air, an image of her arm moved on the screen, reaching for a giant animated raindrop in the virtual space. “It’s like jumping into a new world,” said a saleswoman explaining the product.

One device did more than just educate—it did windows. Well, cleaned the floors anyway.

An organization called the SY Media Robot Institute demonstrated a short, rolling robot with a screen in its chest, on which lecture videos were displayed. One of the robot’s arms had a claw to pick things up, and the other arm was a working vacuum cleaner. The feature was an afterthought, according to the salesman. But why not clean while you learn?

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