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It was only a matter of time. Years back, WordLens showed the world a camera app that could be pointed towards any text & instantly translate it. Google bought it & includes it now in their Translate app. Then PhotoMath & MathPix entered the scene & allowed students to take a photo of a math problem & get not only an answer to the problem, but a step by step guide of how the problem was solved.

Though this sentence is all jargon, these apps showed the future of Optical Character Recognition (OCR), combined with the mobile device expansion & the open internet.

Let’s De-jargon-ify that.

We all have learned that the internet is the greatest source of information (and misinformation) the world has ever known. Want to know where to eat, check Yelp. Want to know what movies someone has been in, check IMDB. Want to learn the differences between the many creatures in Lord of the Rings, I’m sure there’s a nerd site out there to answer that question before you go to CareerBuilder to find a new job that doesn’t give you so much free-time to be concerned about LotR creatures. Seriously, do something more important – there are real problems out there besides Tolkien trivia.

We have also learned that mobile devices are as powerful as top of the line computers from just a few years ago, and far more ubiquitous. This power unleashes the possibilities for pervasive computing, but because of the many sensors in a mobile device, it means that we harness powerful computing connected to cameras, accelerometers, GPS information & so much more. We’re only just beginning to see these advances.

Lastly, there’s OCR, which PhotoMath & MathPix first leveraged for the classroom, rendering traditional math homework & quizzes virtually optional. A mobile computer with a camera & math syntax can solve any problem put in front of it. No internet even required.

Notice that we haven’t talked about the open internet though.

Enter Socratic (to be fair, it’s version 3.5 of the app, and has been around for a while, but Apple is currently promoting it, so I’m a bit late to the party), an app that really aspires to its name. How Socratic ups the ante is by curating open web content along with creating educational content to answer any educational question that has a definitive answer. Take a picture of a test or homework question & Socratic will provide you with a vetted answer.

Let that sink in.

Scared? Or excited?

Personally, I find it exciting in the grander scheme of higher education. Let’s consider last year’s Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum. Now, I know some will hear that name & think I’m about to go down the path of Job-Preparedness Training. But, trust me, I’m not. Actually, what they state are the top ten skills needed for adults in 2020 are:

  • Complex Problem Solving
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity
  • People Management
  • Coordinating with Others
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Judgement & Decision Making
  • Service Orientation
  • Negotiation
  • Cognitive Flexibility

As we consider these skills, it seems to me that they align, fairly well, with the ideals of liberal arts education at its most inspired, while also being skills that in no way could be acquired by quickly locating an answer to a quiz question.

So, where Socratic may very easily make all of your traditional quizzes and homework optional in so far as a student can find every answer to every question instantaneously, it can’t address problems that would actually build the skills that our culture requires in this fourth industrial revolution. Tools like Socratic provide a reminder that our disciplines are not necessarily special because of the answers they have arrived at (their content), but rather because of the process by which they developed those answers (their methods & unique perspective).

So, when answers are just a click away, how will your educational method adapt to help your students see beyond the answer to the process by which answers are derived? (while you think of that, try running that question through Socratic and see what you get)