An emerging technology strategist, Michell Zappa is the founder of Envisioning Technology, an international firm specializing in where technology is heading in the near future, publishing their research as visualizations, keynotes and custom reports. “Envisioning Technology is an extension and concretization of my personal interest in technology forecasting,” says Michell, a self-labeled geek with tremendous interest in gadgets. “I often caught myself speculating about where technology was going, and decided to put my money where my mouth is,” he laughs. He left his day-job as a web designer and began working at Envisioning Technology full time, publishing a series of free visualizations, producing plenty of custom research for companies looking original insights and starting to speak about technology at seminars around the world. “The project resembles a network more than a corporation,” he explains. “It is centered around my own research, but I rely on an amazing set of collaborators depending on the requirements of each particular project — such as TFE Research for the education map.
Victor: What does the name mean?
Michell: The name is literal, stemming from my skills in explaining a vision for the future in visual terms.
Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?
Michell: We publish a lot of content freely on envisioningtech.com. There is sector-specific research, predictions and a lot of visualizations. Along with the multitude of free options, I’m a frequent keynote speaker about the future of technology at seminars around the world.
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for?
Michell: We’ve produced a series of research projects for both the private and public sector. We look at every area of business and predict how technology is likely to make an impact in the near future.
Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating envisioningtech?
Michell: I went through some fairly distinct phases in my schooling: having studied at both public and private schools in Stockholm, Sweden, completing an international high school education in São Paulo, Brazil, and ultimately pursuing a degree in advertising at a local Brazilian university. Having gone through such different experiences, my takeaway was always the same: I’m awful at rote learning, memorization and being told how to do things. On the other hand, I always excelled at self-education of all sorts, and guaranteed high grades in self-directed projects. Most of my professional skills derive from opting for learning things on my own rather than relying on academic recognition or formal processes.
Victor: How does Envisioning Technology address some of your concerns about education?
The education visualization attempts to show the multitude of technological advances on the horizon that will directly influence the essence of teaching and learning. Technology is no longer a silo, to be taught in the computer lab for an hour after lunch on Tuesdays. Technology is pervasive and the driving force behind the majority of the global economy. Understanding how we relate to it will become more important in the future, not less. Preparing kids for said scenario is fundamental, but can only happen once the teachers themselves are up to speed with prevailing paradigm shifts in literacy, privacy, multimedia, programming, attention, interfaces, etc.
Victor: On your infographic under disintermediation, you mention AI handling personalization – How would this occur and could you provide an example?
Michell: We’re scratching the surface of what a properly granular “knowledge tree” can offer. Quantifying the potential skill set expected from students all the way through high school across the many dozen classes outlined in any curriculum is a massive task, but a reducible one. Once you have that tree mapped out (with thousands of nodes) and tracked thousands of students on their way through it, you should be able to model a very reliable algorithm that identifies correlations between topics certain students excel at or struggle with. Once you have the tree and algorithm, an “AI” should be able to accurately determine a lesson plan for each student, playing to their strengths as well as helping them with their difficulties.
Victor: Many people talked about the Flipped Classroom (i.e., where teachers are facilitators in the classroom and outside the classroom students use technology to get the main body of the content such as in a lecture format on a tablet or something along these lines). How does this fit into the disintermediation model?
Michell: They go hand in hand. Teachers have a fundamental and irreplaceable role in the foreseeable future of education, and finding methods of optimizing their responsibility is crucial. Flipping the classroom is evidently in vogue despite being very tricky to pull off (as it requires considerable infrastructure changes), but the scenario where students come to expect the acquisition of content at home and resolution of problems in the classroom is a very likely one.
Victor: In your infographic on education technology, you approach the area with a triptych of Classroom, Studio, and Virtual. What other ways are there to break it down? Why didn’t you use those or add a fourth?
Michell: If anything, you could further simplify it into a gradient from Classroom to Virtual, as those represent the extremes of online vs. offline. We added Studio environments as an intermediary step because we believe it to represent an intermediary step before going fully online.
Victor: Is there anything not on the infographic that you could add or elaborate on if you were to do an updated version of it?
Michell: The education infographic is actually comprehensive enough (for right now, evidently). We went through a series of iterations to ensure no particular technology would be missing.
Victor: Could you share a quirky or funny anecdote (around the office, or dealing with customers, or at a tradeshow or in a school, or a book you read, or something you saw online, in a conversation, etc.) that our readers would find interesting?
Michell: The only thing that comes to mind is how the project is an entirely self-funded-and-motivated venture. I left my previous job in April 2012 to bet on 100 percent on this venture — and haven’t regretted it for a second since!
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of envisioningtech? What makes you say that?
Michell: Technology moves in very rapid cycles, while education doesn’t. We are used to education requiring breathing room, pause, contemplation and a certain degree of distance between the topics studied → the formulated content → information reaching the student. That model inevitably needs to be reconsidered if schools intend to remain relevant. As technological change speeds up, the challenge for educators to comprehend students’ perspectives, culture and necessity invariably grows. The best way to keep up is anticipating changes and taking a leap of faith towards likely futures.
Victor: Alright, thank you very much, Michell!
Michell: Thank you, Victor!