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Chris Dede

Christopher Dede had his first experience with computers in 1967 when he took a course on punch cards. He remembers repeatedly trying to submit a deck of 100 cards and having it crash on card three. While that first experience was frustrating, when he had the opportunity to work with an Apple I, he started to see the potential of technology. Dede began his career as a science teacher who used technology, but became a teacher who saw how technology could advance teaching and learning grounded in science.

Dede was part of the 2010 National Education Technology planning group. Although it was labeled as a national educational technology plan, it was actually a national education plan powered by technology, said Dede. He and the other participants tried to present what a 21st-century education system might look like, “using technology to innovate rather than automate,” he said. “The technology isn’t the innovation, it’s the catalyst.”

Now his research at Harvard University focuses on emerging technologies, specifically immersion media. “With immersion, your mind is somewhere different than where your body is. For instance, you go to the movies to see Harry Potter and five minutes after it starts, your body is still in the movie theater, but your mind is at Hogwarts,” said Dede. “Classrooms are often barren places, but through immersion media, virtual reality, we can make students’ minds be somewhere different and much more interesting.”

Dede recently participated in a program at Harvard on how teachers can use education technology to scale up new teaching methodologies.

“We have many of the solutions we need, we’re just not applying them,” he said. “Social media provides very powerful ways people can share things, co-design things; those are all important for scaling.”

Besides teaching educators, Dede and some colleagues published a book, Teacher Learning in the Digital Age, about professional development and teacher learning. His advice for how to use virtual reality in the classroom? “Think about where your students are struggling to learn something. Could VR be a motivation or give them insights that they’re not getting through other kinds of strategies? Virtual reality is like fire,” he said. “Fire is a terrific technology because you feel the heat just by standing near it.” —Jennifer Snelling