What's on tap for Ed Tech in 2008?

It's that time of year again when all of us bloggers start prognosticating about the coming year. That being said, I think there are a few really significant trends that emerged in 2007 that will really take off in 2008.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

It's that time of year again when all of us bloggers start prognosticating about the coming year. That being said, I think there are a few really significant trends that emerged in 2007 that will really take off in 2008. Read the list below and then tell me what you think. Anything I've missed?

First and foremost, 2008 will be the Year-of-the-Ultra-Mobile-That's-Cheap-Enough-for-Educators. We've already seen the OLPC XO and the Asus Eee enter production (the latter with considerable success and fanfare and the former with some exceptionally innovative features, despite production and sales issues). The first generation Intel Classmate certainly caught the interest of my students, colleagues, and kids; reviews and articles surrounding these little notebooks were among the most read in this column in 2007. Not only is there one hell of a market for computers like these in developed countries (not to mention the developing nations where they are being marketed), but there is considerable innovation in this area happening right now, suggesting that affordable, kid-sized laptops will make 1:1 computing actually practical in 2008.

One of the reasons that these little laptops can now be successful, despite moderate performance and tiny onboard storage devices, is the increasing usability of online applications. Zoho and Google Docs both offer really impressive application suites that need little power on the client side and satisfy the needs of most teachers and students remarkably well. Course management tools, blogs/forums, and improved student information systems are all online and provide anytime/anywhere collaboration, as well as access to school resources. 2008 will see a continued abandonment of high-powered client machines running various local applications, in favor of rich Internet applications that students can access at home and at school.

Again, as interest (and funds) turn away from full-featured, high-powered, energy-hogging desktops, thin clients will become increasingly important in educational institutions. They're easy to administer, cheap to buy, and last a long time, due to their lack of moving parts. They can easily be made from salvage computers as well. While Microsoft's offerings in this area are actually quite good, Edubuntu and the Linux Terminal Server Project are remarkably robust, making server-centric computing very realistic on a modest budget. Edubuntu only gets better and thin clients remain one of the best ways to do more with less. Similarly, the full-blown desktop just isn't necessary in most situations as so much of what our students do goes online (and the rest can be delivered by an application server). Where the ultramobiles noted above aren't realistic, thin clients will be filling in the holes in 2008 to vastly expand student access to computers.

Apple has been clobbered in Ed Tech by the likes of Dell for several years now and has found a lot of success in the consumer electronics business instead. I have to wonder, though, as schools remain unwilling to move to Vista during refresh cycles; Apple continues to gain market share, especially in mobile computing; and too many folks remain gunshy of Linux, will Apple see a resurgence in Ed Tech? I'm not nearly as sure on this one as I am about my predictions above, but I'm very curious to see if Apple can make any inroads back into this market.

This wouldn't be a Dawson piece if I didn't mention open source. However, the general anti-Vista sentiment among many in the industry, the increasing usability of desktop Linux (have you used Ubuntu 7.10? Can you say, "It just works"?), the need to save money wherever possible (i.e., cheap hardware and no licensing costs), and, again, the decreasing relevance of the desktop OS given web-centric computing trends means that Linux is going to be on a lot more educational machines in 2008. Microsoft won't be crying for mercy just yet (sorry, folks), but Linux gets easier and more accessible all the time. There are fewer and fewer barriers to adoption and the mini laptops mentioned above all run Linux (only the Classmate was designed from the ground up to run both XP and *nix operating systems; the XO and Eee were designed with Linux in mind).

Finally, electronic textbooks are becoming a reality. Pearson just announced a deal to provide 45% of California schools with online history texts. Amazon is already looking at a second-generation Kindle e-book reader with support for the sorts of features needed in textbooks (e.g., color and improved image rendering). The OLPC XO doubles as an e-book reader. We're hardly going to be paperless by 2009, but this market is going to grow very rapidly in 2008.

Talk back below and make some predictions of your own.

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