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David Thornburg

Page history last edited by Dghann 8 years ago

David Thornburg

Premier Futurist in Educaitonal Technology

Presented by Daniel Ghann


Historical Context of Work

David Thornburg has been working in technology and education consulting and writing since the 70's, when he was a part of the development of the early personal computer, so he has been present for the entirety of the evolution of education due to computer technology. His primary project in the past three years is an inquiry-based project based learning format using what he calls a holodeck. The project uses a virtual mission to Mars, using computer software and class-encompassing hardware.

Education and Influences

High School at Lane Tech, a technical/vocational school in Chicago

BS in Engineering Sciences from Northwestern

MS and PhD from University of Illinois


Dr. Thornburg's parents were a scientist (father) and an artist (mother). From this background, he developed his philosophy of education which favors a constructivist, inquiry-based, project-based, and integrated curriculum.

Impact on Best Practices

Thornburg identifies four skills needed for future workers (current students): collaboration, problem solving, relearning, and creativity. (Wiles & Bondi)


Thornburg reorganizes learned content into a hierarchy, from data and information to knowledge and finally understanding. Thornburg points out that data and information is an irrelevant goal of instruction in the age of Google and Wikipedia. In fact, this could be used as a factor in determining appropriate questions for students, if you can "Google it," why ask it? (In "Mobile Learning and the Disruption of Education"). Synthesizing information into knowledge and understanding should be the ultimate goal of education.


The holodeck classroom is part of a movement toward project based learning, inquiry based learning, and other integrated approaches to instruction. Education should reflect real life, which is usually not strictly organized by subject area.


From All American Speakers biography - "His educational philosophy is based on the idea that students learn best when they are constructors of their own knowledge. He also believes that students who are taught in ways that honor their learning styles and dominant intelligences retain the native engagement with learning with which they entered school. A central theme of his work is that we must prepare students for their future, not for our past."


Technology should advance education, allow teachers to do things that they could not do before.

Problems or Failures

Thornburg's initial vision for the holodeck has yet to be fully realized. The original design for the holodeck environment, included screens that surrounded the participants. Due to the need to accommodate an entire class, the current model uses a screen that takes up most of one wall (6m x 1m). The holodeck project has been used in a classroom in Brazil, however, and shows promise as an alternative to other classroom models, especially as more programs are developed.

Other Interesting Facts

Prior to becoming the premier educational futurist, Dr. Thornburg worked at the famed Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, where much of the technology was developed that eventually made computers useful and accessible to individuals via the personal computer.

Impact on Others

Dr. Thornburg currently splits his time between the U.S. and Brazil, where he heads several projects related to the Holodeck, and serves as a presenter and motivational speaker.


Booking information and Biography from All American Speakers <http://www.allamericanspeakers.com/celebritytalentbios/David-Thornburg

http://www.tcpd.org/http://www.edutopia.org/david-thornburg-future-classroom-video - Interview discussion on Holodeck Classroom

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/david-thornburg-open-source-textbooks - Discussion on Free Open-Sourced Textbooks (FOSS)

Dr. Thornburg's blog regularly produces good short reads about education, technology, engineering, and philosophy.

David Thornburg is on Twitter and tweets links to any new articles and resources shared on his sites.< http://twitter.com/dthornburg >

Thornburg Center for Space Exploration - Collection of articles on Thornburg's Holodeck Project in Brazil, as well as other technology and education related articles and opinion pieces:

Thornburg TEDx - video presentation on the holodeck classroom (2010).< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZbK0JTveQQ

Thornburg, D. D. (2001)Pencils down! How decontextualized standardized testing can destroy education. Multimedia schools, 10750479, May/Jun2001 (8: 9). accessed @ < http://web.ebscohost.com.proxygsu-ecor.galileo.usg.edu/ehost/detail?sid=7e32180e-e8f4-44ab-ba34-87638ce76dbf%40sessionmgr13&vid=2&hid=10&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d > on 7/19/2012.

Interview and brief discussion of the future of education. <http://creativeeducator.tech4learning.com/v06/articles/Interview_David_Thornburg>

Incomplete biography of David Thornburg (it was difficult to locate details of his education history) http://iae-pedia.org/David_Thornburg

Thornburg, D. (2002) The new basics: Education and the future of work in the telematic age. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Thornburg, D. (2005) The meaning of technology. Address to Florida Educational Technology Conference, Orlando, FL.

Wiles, J.W. & Bondi, J.C. (2011) Curriculum development: A guide to practice. Boston: Pearson - This text references Thornburg's ideas regularly in Chapter 10: Technology, Curriculum and the Future.

Xerox PARC information - http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9186198/Xerox_PARC_turns_40_Marking_four_decades_of_tech_innovations 

The Art of Helping Students Ask Good Questions < www.tcpdpodcast.org/briefings/inquiry.pdf >

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