IT and Education

What’s Missing in Education Technology?

Education is not fully benefiting from the technological progress we have made up until now. We have computers, tablets, smartboards, etc. but there is continuous disengagement from the students and teachers when content is being taught. The ‘no cell phone’ rule is a kind of a joke, considering that the a large majority of students possess one and use it to communicate throughout the day. One research found that delivering curriculum content through cell phones actually increased the proficiency of the class by 30%. The same study found that there was a 50% jump in students finishing the year in proficiency than there was without the cell phone medium.

Given that mobile devices are here to stay, and by in large, will continue to dominate our social lives, I think it would be wise to harness the power of mobile technology for education. Students have heavy and large textbooks, they have notes to take, and they also want to connect to the Internet. This technological void in device hardware and software has not allowed the schools to digitize and leap forward in bringing a change to the educational system. I’m more specifically referring to tablet computers, which have not been up to par for the aforementioned needs. Yes, there are tablet PCs out in the market by various companies including Hewlett Packard and Fujitsu, but they don’t fully deliver in terms of practical use for students. Sure, you can fold the screen and take notes via a special pen (of which the string alone costs $12.00) that doesn’t work smoothly and efficiently. They are more expensive than a full featured laptop, almost double the price, and they are heavy, clunky, and really ugly.

Apple’s Initiative

Apple has announced an iPad initiative for the educational market. Where textbooks would be digitized and priced at an incredible $14.99 for an interactive, fully featured textbook that delivers more content than a regular paper-based textbook. Clearly the vision displayed by Apple is of the future, where paper-based textbooks would be a thing of the past. The questions that arise from this concept are can iPads become more affordable for an average student? The rich schools (including independent and private) will definitely benefit from this. I know of a school in Toronto that has already made arrangements with Apple to distribute iPads to every student, such that digital textbooks, with enriched content, are the backbone of the school’s academic curriculum. Although this initiative seems enticing, there are major hold-backs to this vision. Like previously stated, iPads aren’t cheap and therefore become out of the reach for many lower income and middle income families. Apple’s closed ecosystem is not open enough for the entire educational market. By this I mean that Apple’s textbook format is not universal (as is meant to be), and therefore they will probably lose a chunk of the educational market and, if not played rightly, they might just sink themselves into a self-inflicted choke hold. I believe that Apple’s vision is far reaching, but there is definitely more room for other contenders to take hold of this market.

Visions of the Future

Let us speculate about  how technology may affect the future of education. We have already discussed digital textbooks, but I believe, like others, is that technology can harness the power of the Internet to have interactive classrooms. Imagine teachers having the ability to give course material over the web that is affordable for every student to download on to their digital devices. BYOD programs can be implemented to offset costs. Homework and tests are done on a single device. Technology having a larger educational base, such that all fields of learning are interconnected to the technological mediums that support their systems. This and much more can be the future that will benefit the next generations, both in terms of educational effectiveness and for the environment.