2011 was a pretty wild ride for tech in general. Android exploded, tablets finally took off in a big way (although the iPad still reigns supreme both for consumers and in ed tech), HTML5 gained some real traction, "social" in all its forms went completely mainstream, Google Apps gained even more legitimacy (along with plenty of other cloud technologies), and the Mac vs. Windows debate was replaced by real market differentiation. There are a few things that a lot of us in the field expected would be revolutionary in education that just sort of fizzled.
Android was supposed to usher in ultra-cheap tablets for everyone. "A tablet in every backpack" could have been the slogan at the end of 2010 when most of expected costs to drop so significantly in this space that our view of 1:1 would be fundamentally altered. It would be the rule instead of the exception and it would happen on cheap Android tablets.
It turns out, though, that the big winner in education remains the iPad and even that remains a dubious distinction with the cost of Apple's devices still being too high for widespread adoption and a dearth of solid pedagogy around the devices. The Kindle Fire is getting us there, at least in terms of price, but that only appeared on the market a month ago and still lacks a management or content ecosystem that would allow it to head for backpacks in the way that we expected.
Speaking of ecosystems, although both Apple and Android now have reasonable tools for management of the devices and for pushing content to them (especially Apple), Android's fragmentation and flirtation with tablet-only versions (Honeycomb) that never made it to many tablets did nothing to help its case outside of consumer and, to a lesser extent, enterprise IT.
And those ultra-cheap Android tablets? It turns out that they stink.
All of those cheap Android tablets were supposed to usher in great, interactive textbook applications. The EPUB standard has evolved, Adobe released awesome PDF and tablet-centric technologies, and publishers started pushing out electronic versions of their textbooks for download or rental, but the content never really appeared. As we mentioned above, neither did the inexpensive devices on which students could read and interact with the texts.
Don't get me wrong. Cengage made some real progress with MindTap and even the textbook giant Pearson started creating custom texts from proprietary and open sources that could be distributed electronically. But prices haven't come down far enough, interactivity hasn't increased enough, and the chicken-or-egg problem of cheap tablets/e-readers hasn't helped anything either.
Thin computing has continued to evolve with advancements in small deployments around Windows MultiPoint server and enterprise technologies for desktop streaming and sharing trickling down to education. The potential was there, but the investments needed to set up mini-data centers in schools and districts that would efficiently and (in terms of TCO) cheaply power desktops in labs and classrooms never got off the ground.
Even more interesting was the idea of PCoIP (PC over IP). Complete PCs living on blades could be centrally managed and provide the experience of full, high-powered desktops without exposing expensive machines to the prying hands of students or the dust and nastiness of regular classroom use. Another take on this idea, delivering a full virtualized PC via the cloud to students on thin clients, laptops, or other non-school devices, also seemed poised for real success. And while there have been successful deployments, they have generally been isolated case studies and not the real time-, energy-, maintenance-, and/or money-saving ventures they should and could have been.
The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement remains alive and well among its proponents and an increasing number of school administrators are realizing that 1:1 computing won't be successful or sustainable without allowing (or requiring) students or parents to participate by supplying computing devices for their kids. Alive and well, however, hasn't translated into widespread practice.
Unfortunately, the combination of a miserable economy that has seen too many parents without the means to supply devices and too many schools without the means to provide scholarships for needy students has torpedoed many BYOD 1:1 initiatives. Combine that with the continued reluctance of system administrators to embrace the idea because of security worries and, again, a lack of funding to install robust back-end systems to manage those security risks and you have a very workable idea that just hasn't worked (yet).
There are great teacher doing great things with tech-enabled and hybrid learning models around the world. These folks are the standouts that get held up on blogs and get awards from Intel and Microsoft and Google. There are others who are just as amazing in quieter ways pulling tech into their curricula every day in really relevant ways to teach students about information access and communication that matters in the 21st century.
That being said, most teachers with access to the right technologies continue to use them in the same way we've used paper and pencil for the last few hundred years (OK, maybe quill and parchment, but you know what I mean). All too often, we apply a thin veneer of tech over the same old ways of teaching and call it 21st century learning. Usually this is through no fault of the teachers. The right professional development, along with the right technology and related resources, needs to be in place to do something bigger, better, and bolder.
Regardless of the reason, though, 2011 should have been the year when the state of the art in tech-centric and tech-enabled teaching should have been drastically advanced. After all, nobody had any money to buy much technology and so, instead, we should have been focusing on using what we had in transformative and powerful ways.
The good news is that 2012 is just around the corner. The opportunities for changing the way we do business are still here and are easier to access and understand than ever.