Learning on The Holodeck
Theatres without audiences

David D. Thornburg, PhD


Thornburg Center for Space Exploration


Lecture-based instruction provides tremendous challenges to students and teachers alike. Material that is engaging for some learners is either too complex, or too simple, for others. As a result, many educators “teach to the middle,” and hope the rest get the help (or challenge) they need to be successful. Much current technology use in many classrooms is used in support of this failed model of education, and yet, these same technologies can be used to create new learning environments – places where students can explore topics fully engaged with their learning.

This session explores a simulation-based technology environment that achieves the same engagement that goes beyond that of most video games, but has a strong curricular focus on STEM, based on the pedagogy of inquiry and project-based learning.

A flexible virtual environment, the holodeck, was first proposed in the science fiction series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. While a “true” holodeck exceeds current technological capacity, a very functional model that meets our goals can be constructed within normal school budgets.

We explore the challenges facing instructors today, and show how a contemporary version of the fictional “holodeck” can fully engage all learners, each at his or her own level. By exploring (through demonstration) some aspects of a holodeck for STEM education, attendees will find ideas they can use in their own classrooms, and will leave with some essential insights that can point to new ways to reach every learner.

Technology directors will see how their expertise plays a central role in the construction and operation of these new learning spaces, and (for a full-day workshop) participants will experience a holodeck mission along with plenty of time to explore various technologies that can be incorporated as you build your own holodecks in your schools or districts. The workshop will be conducted in near-Earth orbit and include a trip to Mars and back.

Topic...................... STEM-based projects inside the holodeck
Audience................ Educators and educational technology leaders, especially middle-school through community college
Duration................. 1 hour to full day
Handouts................ provided and online

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