Education on The Holodeck

David D. Thornburg, PhD and Renato Santos

Thornburg Center for Space Exploration and Água-Marinha, Ltd.


Holodeck (fiction): An empty room that can become anything through the use of a specialized computer system.

Educational Holodeck (real): An almost empty room that can become almost anything through the use of a specialized computer system.

For too many children, school is disliked. This has nothing to do with today's generation – school has always been a problem for too many learners. Even paintings of school from the Middle Ages show students sleeping in class as the teacher drones on. Part of the problem comes from the physical structure of classrooms with the teachers facing the front of the room with the teacher being the performer on stage. This is especially true in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

This presentation describes a project that breaks this mold, engages students, advances their curricular knowledge, and does all this in a new environment called the Educational Holodeck.

The “Holodeck” of science fiction fame has now been made real. With special computer installations, this “empty white room” can be transformed into a space ship – or a time machine – or a microscopic vessel taking students through the human body – or become just about anything else you can imagine. During the student-controlled voyage, they encounter challenges that have to be addressed – challenges that reflect those that might present themselves during a real voyage!

The Holodeck becomes a theater without audiences – a fully immersive and interactive space where learning is supported in new ways. It is an example of an "epistemic game," in that participants are engaged in the content, skills, identity, values and thinking styles of people working in the topic area of the mission.

This presentation shows the problems with normal classrooms, describes the Educational Holodeck, places it in the context of modern educational theory, and illustrates all of this with information about the first one in the world built in Recife, Brazil. We also demonstrate part of a voyage students might take, and connect the mission to existing curricular areas.

Topic...................... SRadical school change using technology in new ways
Audience................ Educational leaders and middle-school and high-school teachers
Duration................. 1 hour to multi-day workshop
Handouts................ Online

Dr. Thornburg will gladly tailor any presentation to your specific needs.