Written on 12 Dec 2018.
Holograms, once a thing of science fiction, are set to become commonplace on business-school campuses. In 2018, Imperial College London became the first university to host live lectures via hologram, ‘beaming’ life-size 3D images of speakers in New York and Los Angeles onto a stage at the university’s business school.
Holographic presence technology, as it is known, is very much in tune with the thinking of those at the forefront of innovation in business education. Through the Future of Management Education Alliance, prestigious business schools – Imperial College Business School, France’s EDHEC Business School, Ivey Business School in Canada, ESMT Berlin, BI Norwegian Business School and Singapore Management University’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business – have linked up to advance innovative teaching methods.
The Alliance is keen to explore the use of technological alternatives to classroom-based programmes. “This initiative reflects our commitment to be at the forefront of innovation, not only to provide students with a better learning experience but to make them succeed in a fast-changing world,” Emmanuel Métais, Dean of EDHEC Business School, recently told the Financial Times. “At EDHEC, we believe that excellence and innovation are the two pillars on which our people build their own personalities and careers to make an impact on the world.”
These technologies are only part of EDHEC’s approach to drive educational excellence. Students in its Master of Science, Business Management programmes, for example, started the academic year with a symposium on artificial intelligence (AI), a cross-curriculum learning initiative aimed at connecting students with industry experts and cultivating critical thinking about this burgeoning technology. Its MSc in Data Analytics & Artificial Intelligence programme combines AI with training for a new generation of ‘big data’ experts and analysts to fill some of the 4.4 million new ‘big data’ jobs that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts by 2024.
What’s more, holographic telepresence technology, is cost effective. Guest lecturers and university staff can appear simultaneously in several locations, reducing travel costs and doing away with scheduling conflicts. Ahrt Media, the technology’s Canadian creator, says holographic telepresence “transcends time and geography”, making the “best of the best” available to all.
So how does holographic lecturing work? Well, in very basic terms, speakers are recorded using special capturing equipment in a studio that can be set up anywhere. The live images are then projected onto a screen that is hidden from the audience (or multiple audiences), creating a photo-realistic image. The technology gives depth and field to what are essentially 2D images without 3D glasses, just as the brain converts the 2D images it receives from the eye into the 3D images we perceive.
Of course, technologies of this kind have a ‘wow factor’ that should ensure they quickly become mainstream. Only in September, Vodafone demonstrated how the super-speedy connections of 5G mobile technology have the potential to host live holographic calls in the not-too-distant future. And in March 2017, the late Professor Stephen Hawking travelled to Hong Kong ‘by hologram’ to hold a 90-minute talk and take questions from the audience, just as if he were in the room.
EDHEC believes it is important to emphasise, however, that while such technologies will complement and potentially change classroom teaching, they will not replace it. What drives true learning, it believes, are a teacher’s ‘soft skills’ – their social and emotional intelligence.
Learning, though, will drive innovation and propel students to be the best they can be. As the inventor of the hologram, Nobel Laureate Dennis Gabor, said in 1963, “the future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented”.