2010...a new decade, and with it must come a new round of predictions, right? It's a particularly interesting time to be a pundit, though. Not only is technology emerging at a blistering pace, but education itself is undergoing some serious transformations as we look towards global competition.
I won't even try to predict how Ed Tech will look in 2020. Ubiquitous WiFi was barely conceivable in 2000; we were just happy that we finally got to party like it was 1999. I can take a pretty good stab at the next couple of years though. Let me know what you think once you've read my musings.
Prediction #1: My kid will do it with Ubuntu There he is, kid #4: his t-shirt says it all. By way of disclosure, I got that t-shirt for free from the good folks at Canonical. I don't, however, think he will end up using Ubuntu because they gave me a free t-shirt. I think he'll use Ubuntu because he already does. I also think that Ubuntu use will continue to spread beyond the kids of the sorts of people to whom Canonical sends t-shirts. Ubuntu is not just for geeks anymore.
A teacher saw an Ubuntu sticker on my computer the other day and asked what I thought of it. He's a relatively savvy user, but hardly a geek. However, he told me that he had just installed Ubuntu on his wife's computer, much to her chagrin (he had already switched his own). She didn't care for Vista (already installed) and he couldn't bring himself to pay for an upgrade to Windows 7, so she got Ubuntu. She was completely surprised to find out that not only was it free, but she liked it.
This is the sort of mainstream acceptance (whether from ease of use, Vista loathing, Win 7 sticker shock, or whatever) that will make Ubuntu really viable in schools. I keep referring to Ubuntu, by the way, instead of Linux because it simply is Linux to those relatively mainstream users to whom I'm referring.
Schools continue to roll out netbooks in droves because of their affordability. Windows 7, outside of the Starter Edition, makes those netbooks less affordable, while the Ubuntu Netbook Remix is a robust, mature, snappy OS that looks great on a netbook screen.
One other factor in more widespread adoption of Ubuntu? Remember how your grandparents would wash plastic forks or reuse paper plates? They lived through the Depression and have a drastically different sense of frugality than younger generations. Although the recession from which we're slowly emerging was hardly the equivalent of the Great Depression, it was certainly enough to alter our thinking on the way we spend money. Free, great software or great software for which you need to pay (yes, I just called Windows 7 great; it's actually a very nice OS)? Definitely a question that should give us pause as we struggle, as always, to do more with less.
Prediction #2: My kid will also do it with Windows 7, Chrome OS, Windows Vista, OS X, and Android. OK, so maybe the headline was a dirty trick. But we should all know this by now: the underlying platform is irrelevant as long as our students can get online and access important applications (and, in many cases, the only important applications are a web browser and a music player).
It's the cloud, folks. The Internet, for most of our students at least, has essentially replaced every other application our kids might have used. The 7-year old pictured above doesn't care which computer he's using in the house (and we have everything from Ubuntu to Win 7). He just wants to get online. His older brothers are no different. I haven't been able to pin his little sister down on the issue, but I imagine she feels the same.
Prediction #3: Like it or not, social media will come to education In many ways, it already has. We have plenty of classes using Ning, Twitter, Edmodo, and the like. Most, however, are not, leaving students to chat the night away on Facebook and be utterly disconnected while they're in school. Social media will become an ubiquitous tool, connecting teachers to students and to each other and enabling collaboration among students in unprecedented ways.
There will be two major struggles with this. The first, though big, is relatively easy to overcome. Getting mid- and late-career teachers who haven't already embraced Facebook as a means of communication to come on board will require training, and a lot of it. It will require coaching and modeling. It will also require the very smart integration of social media style tools with core educational systems like our student information systems, Moodle, and Blackboard.
The second major struggle? How do we keep kids focused on the learning rather than the communication? Obviously the communication is important to learning and vital to these little social animals, but we'll need to build in tools to aid in classroom management and student safety.
I'm not suggesting that Facebook will take off in the classroom. Maybe it will be Google Wave, or something like it. Maybe it will be interactive and social approaches to reading, or new platforms allowing students to respond to complete assignments in interesting ways with video and multimedia. Any way it goes, student-student, student-teacher, teacher-teacher, and teacher-parent interactions will increasingly have a social online component. Not only will this be necessary to hone skills for the workplace (where social media are also emerging as platforms for serious work), but it will be necessary to interact with kids in a way that they natively understand.
Prediction #4: Labs of traditional desktop PCs will not survive They're inefficient, hot, noisy, and bulky. Their functionality can largely be replaced by virtualized desktops delivered to thin clients or cloud-based services delivered to nettops. Rolling labs of laptops will still be around in various forms, but even these are simply too expensive to justify when virtualization and terminal services are so easy to deploy.
Even the multimedia labs that require some horsepower probably will end up being mobile. Why tie students to a desktop when Core i7 laptops at the 6 pound mark can be had for $1000? Let them take their video equipment and go.
Recent studies show that traditional student computing facilities are underutilized; then get rid of them and spend the money on something that will be fully and efficiently used.
Prediction #5: 1:1 will be a reality, but not the way you think The next generation of smartphones are going to make this possible. Students may have netbooks or laptops. Schools may have thin clients in every room for every student. But when push comes to shove, there is so much functionality being built into the average Android smartphone (and the iPhone, for that matter), that individual student "PCs" just won't be necessary.
What is the one thing that most adults must carry with them? A phone, of course. My phone ties me 24/7 to the office and the users I support. It also connects me to most of the Internet resources I need, allowing me to create and access content whenever I need to. If we can give this functionality to students cost-effectively, 1:1 will be here to stay.
Student data will be widely accessible, integrated with all critical systems, and interchangeable among institutions Not quite the zany off-the-wall prediction you were expecting? Guess what? This is going to be brutally difficult to make happen, but if we really want to use data to drive instruction, want to end data concurrency issues from multiple disparate systems, want increasingly transient student populations to be well-served wherever they are, and want those social systems I mentioned above to work, then we need to standardize data.
We're already seeing large data warehouses emerge at the state level. SIF has already defined a specification for key data elements that enable data integration and No Child Left Behind has, if nothing else, given us the impetus to collect and report extraordinary amounts of data on every public school student.
Wouldn't it make sense for the SIS in one district to speak to the SIS in another district? Or better yet, have a single Lord of the Rings style SIS (One SIS to rule them all and in the darkness bind them) that simply interfaces with a big state data warehouse in the cloud. Then, vendors of other systems (automated calling systems, point of sale systems, security systems, email, etc.) need only program a single interface to leverage these same student data.
It can work and it should work. The question is will it work and, if so, when?