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Considering the Top 5 Education Technology Predictions for 2012

by Hap Aziz

Predicting any type of technology advancement is a potentially reputation-damaging activity, yet most people involved in tech verticals find it difficult to resist putting on the prognosticator’s cap. Add education considerations to the mix, and we find ourselves playing a very shaky game of “What If?” involving too many unknown variables for us to have great confidence in our predictions. It is with this in mind that I congratulation ZDNet Education Columnist , for having the bravery to take a stand by making his Top 5 Ed Tech predictions for 2012. While I won’t rule out the possibility that I’ll come up with my own view into the future, for the moment I’ll be satisfied in considering what Mr. Dawson has identified. So let’s take a look at his list:

  • Analytics and BI will go mainstream – Dawson states that “2012 will see an explosion in the real use of analytics to assist schools and districts in improving quality and outcomes,” and he thinks that we should be able to leverage both formative and summative assessments along with other currently mined data in order to accomplish tasks like identifying at-risk students before they would even need to see a guidance counselor. I’m a bit skeptical on this prediction, not from the technology standpoint, but rather from the institutional cultural standpoint. There is still much resistance within institutions around protecting data instead of transparently sharing it, and faculty as well as academic leadership have concerns regarding the validity of data interpretation. Add to that the fact that there aren’t any widely accepted models to factor the variables of student preparedness and motivation into outcomes, and we find ourselves still at the same crossroads of resistance here.
  • Google’s tablet will NOT be the holy grail of 1:1 – Both this item and the next (on Bring Your Own Device) presuppose the value in 1:1 initiatives, and the reasoning (at least in these predictions) is that the value of each student possessing and interacting with a computational device such as a tablet is a foregone conclusion. In this segment, Dawson speaks exclusively around the cost issue of a 1:1 tablet initiative, and he states that coming in under the price point of $300 would make the ideal of a “tablet in every backpack” a reality. But he doesn’t tie his reasoning here to any data (analytics and BI are supposed to go mainstream, after all!) that would demonstrate any connection to learning outcomes.
  • BYOD will make 1:1 possible in a big way – See my commentary for the previous segment regarding the value of 1:1 initiatives. However, I do believe the Bring Your Own Device prediction has some potential, considering the increasing acquisition of smart devices among students of all economic and cultural demographics. The question is whether or not curriculum will be designed in such a way as to maximize the utility of having smart devices readily available. If smart devices are used only (or primarily) as portable web browsers to access an LMS when a computer is not available, we’re not likely going to see any great improvements in outcomes.
  • Khan Academy, et al, will give publishers and mainstream educators a run for their money – Dawson makes no additional commentary on this point (and I’m not sure if this is the result of a misprint, Internet glitch, or his feeling that the point is self evident). In any case, I will split legalistic hairs here and say that this depends on the definition of “run for their money.” The Khan Academy (and similar) content provides a source for quality video accessible for supplementation of existing course materials, and if course designers choose to implement such content more widely, this might make publishers take notice. However, 2012 might be a bit soon, yet, for there to be a significant shift away from the traditional publishers–and many publishers are taking their own actions to stave off the slide into irrelevancy. But giving mainstream educators a run for their money? No, not until Khan Academy content becomes completely interactive and can actually address specific student learning issues–just like a mainstream educator.
  • We will say goodbye to a lot more libraries and hello to a lot more information – Again, this is a point dependent on definitions. Already we are seeing libraries at various institutions scaling back on their traditional media purchases (books, periodicals, etc.) and devote more resources toward the acquisition of digital and online content. I don’t think that portends the disappearance of libraries so much as it indicates a transformation of the kinds of libraries we build. Even as information becomes less centralized and more cloud-based at the source, the library as a place for academic community and gathering will still have a role. I might predict instead that libraries will have even a greater role as the place to go when trying to sift through and interpret all the terabytes of information ready to be called up by a few keystrokes of activity. Librarians themselves will have an invaluable role in helping our younger learners transition into savvy users of digital data.

At the end of 2012, it will be interesting to review these predictions, from both Dawson’s perspective as well as my own. I’d be willing to bet that we’ll see some events occur and technologies come to the fore by the end of the year that we currently don’t even suspect. By the way, earlier in the week Dawson wrote on his predictions for 2011 that he made a year ago regarding technologies “that should have had real impacts in education this year, but which never amounted to much” (see here).

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