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Opinion

Up-and-coming technology predicted to include 3-D, high-tech features

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May 3, 2007

Column Written by Guest Columnist, Brad Caskey

For the final column in this series on the changing nature of education, I have been asked to look into my crystal ball and predict the types of technological advances that are likely to be found on the college campus in the near future. Interestingly, the first thing my crystal ball has shown me is that in the near future crystal balls will actually be made of cubic zirconium.

On a more semi-serious note, the seer in me believes that two interesting types of technology I expect to be used by the UW-River Falls incoming class of 2050 will involve “the book” and “the link.” Concerning “the book,” I believe that one of the most dramatic technological advances will involve the development of truly interactive e-text. I know that some of you are saying that electronic versions of textbooks already exist and you are correct. However, the e-text I envision is something significantly more sophisticated. Rather than a set of static words surrounded by the occasional static photograph I see the textbook of tomorrow as amazingly dynamic. I expect the visual images in the textbook of the future with be both amazingly detailed and interactive. Holographic technology will allow a student studying the geographic structure of the San Andreas Fault to not only view a full 3-D color topographical image, but that image will also be able to be put into motion and you will witness the aftermath of seismic shifts of varying magnitudes, including the one that sends southern California into the Pacific Ocean and makes Las Vegas into a beach community. Psychology students will be able to not only view a 3-D brain, but will also be able to use a tool to stimulate some specific area and view the reaction such stimulation would have on the actions of a person. Stimulate the motor cortex and watch as your anime-subject flaps his arms wildly.

I also believe that rather than buying a new edition of an e-text, you will simply pay a fee and the words and images will be automatically updated! Is Pluto a “real planet” or a “dwarf planet?” Who cares? One week it is in the planet chapter, the next it is in the unit on dwarfs. The second major advantage of such a text is the ability to insert very recent events immediately rather than waiting two to three years for the next edition. Students in a course on discrimination in the workplace can be treated to the legal transcripts from yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling barring Vikings fans from holding public office. For the sciences, these updates would include research findings approved for publication just the previous day (talk about cutting-edge data). Who wants to have to wait a year to find out that single-malt Scotch and hot fudge actually cause you to live longer and healthier? Certainly not I. A final advantage is that if a student purchases an e-text, they can sell it back at virtually the same cost, as it will never be out of date.

“The link.” I do not wish to end on a too Orwellian note, but I do believe one of the more dramatic changes that will take place concerning technology on campus will involve the implantation of an electronic student UWRF ID chip on the first day of orientation. This chip will contain specific information on the individual (e.g., name, current schedule), take the place of a credit card (being automatically scanned as students exit the food court with lunch or the bookstore with their e-text), and will also serve as a means of campus electronic communication. Students will no longer be able to say they did not receive an update from a faculty member as teachers will have the ability to send messages directly to these implants and this information will be downloadable in auditory or printed form. This chip will be useful as an attendance tracker with each entry to a classroom being logged into some central database. Finally, the chip will be seen as a major advance in security as the movements and location of all students can be known in an instant. Will some complain that this is an invasion of personal privacy? Yes, but I believe that it will be successfully argued that the benefits out weigh the drawbacks. Who would have thought that when “Big Brother” is watching, that brother will be Freddy Falcon?

Brad Caskey is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. A 1980 UWRF alumnus, Caskey has received numerous awards including UWRF Distinguished Teacher (1997), UWRF Advisor of the Year (2004), and the Regents Award for Teaching Excellence for the UW System (2005).