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Six Technologies That Will Shape Education

Researchers suggest gaming and mobile devices are among the six technologies that will have a major positive impact on K-12 education in the next few years.

"The 2010 Horizon Report: K-12 Edition" released this week by the New Media Consortium (NMC) in collaboration with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), discusses six technologies that will shape education in the next 5 years. The report also highlights critical educational challenges in that time frame, including challenges that may require fundamental changes to the way we educate in the United States.

The annual Horizon Report focuses on the key technology areas that researchers identify as likely to have a major impact on educational institutions and other learning-focused organizations within the next five years, broken down into the technologies that will have an impact in the near term, those that are in the early stages of adoption, and those that are a bit further out.

Top Six Technologies for the Next Five Years

One Year or Less: Cloud Computing and Collaborative Environments

Cloud computing refers to surplus computing resources available from specialized data centers, each often hosting thousands of servers, that power the world’s largest websites and web services. Growing out of research in grid computing, cloud computing transforms once-expensive resources like disk storage and processing cycles into a readily available, cheap commodity. Development platforms layered onto the cloud infrastructure enable thin-client, web-based applications for image editing, word processing, social networking, and media creation. Cloud computing can offer significant cost savings in terms of IT support, software, and hardware expenses. It has become common for schools to use cloud-based applications to manage calendars, rosters, grade books, and communication between school and home. The report's researchers said cloud computing has seen dramatic uptake by schools over the past twelve months including uses such as work on peer review and editing of writing projects using Google Docs.

Collaborative environments are online spaces where the focus is on making it easy to collaborate and work in groups, no matter where the participants may be.

Two to Three Years: Game-Based Learning and Mobile Devices

Game-based learning and mobile technologies (particularly the blurring of cellular networks and other types of networks) will play a key role in education, according to the report. Gaming, the authors wrote, has several advantages for education, "but the greatest potential of games for learning lies in their ability to foster collaboration and engage students deeply in the process of learning."

Four to Five Years: Augmented Reality and Flexible Displays

Augmented reality refers to the convergence of various media tools and mobile applications to create "a portable tool for discovery-based learning, enhancing the information available to students when visiting historical locations, doing field work, interacting with real-world objects, and even paging through books."

Flexible screens that can wrap around curved surfaces are in prototype, as are small, very thin interactive screens. Flexible screen technology allows displays to be literally printed onto plastic, along with the batteries that power them, enabling the sorts of live motion displays previously only hinted about in the world of Harry Potter; believed to be the new paper or electronic paper.

The report's authors cited several examples of schools using these technologies successfully and included links for further reading on each topic point. Access full report here (pdf version).

K-12 Technology Challenges

Beyond the six technologies identified as significant for the next five years, the report also looked at the challenges facing education institutions. This year's report cited five challenges that the authors identified as "critical." They include:

1. Inadequate digital media literacy training for teachers;
2. Out of date learning materials and teaching practices;
3. Lack of agreement on how education should evolve, despite widespread agreement that change is needed;
4. A failure of education institutions to adapt to informal education, online education, and home-based learning; and
5. Lack of support for or acknowledgement of forms of learning that usually occur outside the classroom.

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