Six trends for 2007 and the 21st century

From social networking to service-oriented architecture and telepresence, innovations in the technology world may transform education sooner than you think.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

eSchoolNews editor Gregg Downey offers six prognostications for the coming year.

#1. Web 2.0.

YouTube is just the latest and most spectacular example of how the democratization of the internet is about to change everything. For education, it seems to me, the populism inherent in the internet means one key thing: Call it student-centered learning, project-based education, constructivist pedagogy--all these related education philosophies and movements finally have a medium to give them genuine momentum.

YouTube also illustrates the leveling affect the internet is having on technology and business. This has big implications for schools and colleges as they seek to prepare their students for life and work in the 21st century. It's notable, too, that Google figures into this rags-to-riches tale, because Google is a central player in another emerging trend affecting education.

#2. Cloud computing


"We call it 'cloud computing,'" Eric Schmidt, formerly of Sun, now of Google, proclaims. "The servers should be in a cloud somewhere. And if you have the right kind of browser or the right kind of access, it doesn't matter whether you have a PC or a Mac or a mobile telephone or a Blackberry--or new devices still to be developed--you can get access to the cloud."

# 3: Service-oriented architecture

In a general sense, service-oriented architecture--or SOA--is a software solution intended to enable the enterprise to organize and marshal multiple processes. With SOA, software applications no longer are massive bundles of functions and processes. Instead, applications are composed by assembling modular services. A service, remember, is a single software function--such as cancel school bus route. It can be executed on demand by any system, without regard to its operating system, platform, programming language, or geographic location.

What's revolutionary about SOA is not the concept itself, which has been around for a while, but the fact that it now can be implemented via the World Wide Web. Just as web pages load on any platform, web services work the same regardless of platform, provided they are built using universal standards.

#4: The gathering SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model)

SCORM is a collection of standards and specifications adapted from multiple sources to allow for the interoperability, accessibility, and reusability of digital learning materials: everything from a video clip illustrating how cells divide to a PowerPoint explication of a sonnet.

Though SCORM might sound complicated, its desired outcome is quite simple--to facilitate the sharing and reusability of digital learning materials among educators. Educators hope the untethering of content from its method of delivery will be a big outcome of SCORM.

Toward that end, educators should consider building SCORM compliance into their specifications when evaluating and purchasing online content and delivery systems. Virtually all of the major LMS solutions used by schools today comply with the standard. Blackboard, Desire2Learn, and Pathlore, for instance, all have been certified as SCORM-compliant, and the open-source system called Moodle is on its way toward compliance.

# 5: Telepresence

Imagine a conference room with six chairs, three on each side of a conference table. Envision a clear glass panel running down the center of the table.

Walk into this room while a high-level parlay is under way, and you'd see six executives deep in conversation. But here's the catch: Only three of them are physically present. The three participants closest to you actually are in the room--in Chicago, say. The others are in San Jose, Calif., but their life-size, high-definition images are on the glass partition in the Chicago conference room.

Whether schools and universities would be willing to pay for a full-fledged telepresence capability is unclear. But, in time, the potential for education could be substantial.

Leading universities already are making course content available over the internet, and medical schools are presenting in high-definition clinical demonstrations via Internet2. Large K-12 districts increasingly rely on video conferencing for management meetings and professional development.

#6: 21st-century learning

An organization called the Partnership for 21st Century Skills has developed a program designed to help educators prepare their students for the future. According to the Partnership, students need the following skills. The job of educators in the 21st century is to deliver them:

  • Information and communication skills;
  • Thinking and problem-solving skills;
  • Interpersonal and self-direction skills;
  • Global awareness;
  • Financial, economic, and business skills; and
  • Civic literacy.
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