Amid the fast changing world of educational technology, a new and exciting vision is emerging; one that ultimately has the potential to transform teaching and learning. What is that vision? At the highest level it is one of ubiquitous student access to the tools and resources of learning.
Just exactly how does ubiquitous access transform teaching and learning? The way technology always does…by putting more control in the hands of the end user; in this case, the student. Traditional print and broadcast media has been disrupted by end user access to hundreds of thousands of alternative news and direct publishing sources available on the web.
The traditional music industry paradigm is being shifted by peer to peer web distribution of content. Banks and financial institutions, manufacturing, science, text book manufacturing, global trade, traditional telephone systems, medicine, ticketing, shopping, etc.; have all tasted a wave of technology change that has transformed business models that succeeded for decades.
What is behind all truly transformative and disruptive technologies?
User control…user access.
Schools have been slow to feel the effects of technology. Over the past 15 years they have worked diligently to build technology infrastructures where none existed and to push the student per computer ratio from 16-1 in 1995, to 4-1 in 2002. The number of computers in the schools has stalled at the 4-1 mark; not because this ratio is optimum for student learning; but because of finances.
So why dream a dream of ubiquitous access if it is not financially viable?
Because in the last three years there have been dramatic changes in technology itself. Changes that create the environment for the dream, the vision of ubiquitous access, to become reality.
Just what are these changes?
First, thanks to visionary leaders like Nicholas Negroponte, who believes that every child on earth should have a laptop and access to the Internet, (OLPC Project) a new generation of inexpensive, portable, wireless notebooks and laptops have been developed. These devices ranging $200-$500 per device are ‘game changers’. We can purchase 2 or 3 of these for every one of the old style, full blown desktop computers.
Second, changes in “virtualization” technologies that have taken place in the last 3 years, allow these inexpensive devices to do almost anything their expensive, full blown desktop predecessors can do. By connecting either by traditional Ethernet cable or wirelessly to a ‘virtualized’ network, students have access to educational applications running on servers that are not physically present on their notebook, laptop, or for that matter, a full blown desktop computer that they may be using.
Think about that. No matter where the student is, no matter what device they are using, if they can access the Internet, they can access their school network, it’s educational applications, and all their files.
These two developments, combined with the spectacular plethora of educational software, tools, and resources create the foundation for “barrier free”, ubiquitous, access to learning.
How this will transform teaching and learning is anybodies’ guess; but one thing is for sure, smaller portable devices in the hands of all students, virtualized to provide access to the best educational resources, will create a user empowered, learning environment that sets the scene…
… for a new school paradigm to emerge.