Multi-Touch Surface Technology Nearly Cost Me My Job

By: Jack West

For a moment I considered leaving my years of service in education behind in favor of a new career in music mixing. I can play a little guitar. I’ve picked up some piano since my son Cody, age 7, began taking lessons a year ago. But, I have no raw talent and have never been disciplined enough to have the confidence to perform for others.

No matter. When Cody and I visited the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation today, my self doubt was dwarfed by an overwhelming compulsion to mix music from different cultures into a fusion that in my mind’s eye could be the 21st century equivalent of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Earlier this year Corning released a viral video, A Day Made of Glass 2, showing the potential of multi-touch surface technology applications for home and educational use. Most of us thought it novel, but dismissed the portrait as blissfully optimistic. Today, I discovered that future is already here.

The Reactable exhibit at The Tech Museum is a multi-touch surface that interacts with translucent manipulatives, allowing the user to mix music in an organic and experimental way that is 99 parts inspiring and 11 parts addictive.

As the image below shows, the manipulatives, when placed on the multi-touch surface, become nodes of sound. Like a traditional mixing board, the manipulatives (through software) are electronically connected to speakers, which, in this case, were mounted to various points on the ceiling. The surface presents the operator with toggles for volume and tempo. Bring a control slate (flatter glass) near to a cube, and the slate moderates the sound with other variables, like wave form. Move a cube from one side of the surface to another and the sound comes from a different speaker in a quadrophonic array.

Cody was rapt for 20 minutes. I could have stayed there for the rest of my working life. To fully understand the seductive power of such a technology you must experience it. So it was for my teaching practice with iMovie, podcasts, clickers, and several other inspiring applications. Some technologies may never prove themselves with demonstrable student improvement on standardized bubble tests, but their value in lighting up both the neocortex and the endocrine system cannot be understated.

Ray Kurzweil is trying to stay alive long enough to live forever. I will settle for living long enough to retire from teaching so that I can work for Quincy Jones, or maybe a virtual Quincy Jones using the Reactable to mix music.


> Read more of Jack's posts on his personal blog, chronicling edtech in high school.


Top Thumbnail Photo By Dmitry Ersler via Bigstock; Lower Photo By Don Feria for The Tech Museum

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