Top 10 Educational Technology Developments of 2011

© 2011 Brian Farrell

As the year winds down (winter break started today, yay!), and as my COETAIL grading pile ramps up, I’ve been reflecting on some of the developments in educational technology over the past year, and what this will mean for our learning communities in 2012. By no means an exhaustive list, here are 10 developments (in no particular order – in fact, I think #2 is probably the most important!) that I think will impact our classrooms, libraries, and online learning spaces in the coming year:

1. Kindle eBook Lending for Libraries

Certainly not a complete solution (it isn’t even available outside of the US yet), but definitely a step in the right direction. While Amazon is not exactly a model citizen when it comes to supporting libraries, and while publishers are already getting itchy about people borrowing their books, ebooks are a space that libraries want to be in, and librarians need vendors that will work with them in providing ebook solutions to their patrons.

2. The Online Filter Bubble and a Junk Food Information Diet

Probably the most important idea of the year, and yet probably also something that most people don’t even realize is happening. If you aren’t aware of how the internet is being fed to you, and just how tailored your online experience has become, you need to watch this TED talk by Eli Pariser. This is something that all educators need to make sure that their students are aware of.

3. Skype in the Classroom

Skype was already a great tool for educators, particularly those of us working in international settings. The formalization of their education site now means easier collaboration amongst teachers and students around the world. I can already hear Google grumbling, so I’d watch for similar developments coming from Google Voice.

4. Steve Jobs’ death

I was torn about including this one, as Steve Jobs was not exactly a model corporate citizen. Still, his penchant for innovation and revival of Apple into a company that provides outstanding and highly useable products in educational spaces will mean that he will be greatly missed. I’m not naive enough to think that the loss of Jobs will mean the demise of Apple, but I do think that there’s a limit to how quickly and how many innovations can keep coming from them. As a result, schools like mine that rely heavily on Apple devices need to keep a keen eye on the competition to make sure that we’re providing the best tools to our students.

5. Google to acquire Motorola

Google is huge and just keeps getting bigger. Their purchase of a hardware manufacturer in Motorola means that they can now better compete in the smartphone market, which should be a positive development as far as new innovations and healthy competition is concerned. I’m a big fan of open source solutions though, and despite their promises, it’s hard to say whether Google will continue to keep Android truly open now that they are directly competing in the smartphone hardware marketplace. Still, the possibilities afforded to education by mobile platforms are already fantastic (see #10 below), and I’m excited to see what a Google/Motorola partnership will bring to our schools.

6. Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

This law makes me nervous, and really is a step far too far. Respecting copyright is one thing (and the right thing), but a total clampdown on any sort of fair use online makes the US is now looking more like China and Iran when it comes to online spaces, and I’m hopeful that the recent backlash continues to slow things down. Even as a producer and seller of online content, I realize that for creativity to continue, people need to feel free to explore and share their creations online. While the online space may be new to legislators, this is just a case of a business model needing to change – if you think this is a new problem, watch this excellent video series.

7. Internet Explorer Auto-updates

This may seem like a small story, but I feel that it is actually quite significant. By making this move, Microsoft is attempting to make their platforms more secure by forcing users to update to the newest version of their software automatically. The Orwellian in me has doubts about others controlling my software remotely, but the realist in me  acknowledges that this will greatly benefit many computer users (hi mom!) who don’t realize that they’re putting themselves at risk by running out of date software. I currently work in an all-Mac school, but I can hear the cheers already from IT support people in schools that run on Windows.

8. WebOS Open Source

The more open source platforms, the better (see #5). While most don’t believe that WebOS will be a major competitor in the marketplace, by making this platform available to the public, HP is allowing new developers to get a foothold in the mobile marketplace. Any super programming geeks in your school? Why not let them loose on WebOS?

9. The other tablets – HP Touchpad, RIM Playbook, and Kindle Fire (with apologies to Samsung)

Yes, there are other tablets out there. The iPad is a fantastic tool, but there are other (cheaper) alternatives that can do a lot of the same things quite well. Well, assuming that they are still around in 2012 – the Touchpad is already on its way out, and I’m assuming that the Playbook is not far behind it. Particularly for schools that find it hard to fully fund a fleet of iPads, the alternatives are worth looking at, and their continued development means more innovation, which is good for everyone, iPad user or not.

10. iPhone 4s & iPad2

The iPhone and iPad are already tremendous additions to the classroom, but I feel as though we’re just scratching the surface of what we could be doing with these devices. The addition of a (in the case of the iPhone 4s, much better) camera to the iPhone and iPad mean even greater flexibility in how these devices can be used in our classrooms. Our field studies micro-blogging project at my school has been ongoing for several years, and is one great example of how smart phones can be integrated seamlessly into our schools.


Thanks for reading this far. I wish you and yours a restful holiday break, and all the best in 2012.


Social Media Success and Failures after the Japan Earthquake

Earthquake damage near Yokohama Station

First, we’re all safe here in the Yokohama area. The worst that we’ve had to contend with is the possibility of rolling power blackouts, which pales in comparison to the horrendous scene a few hundred kilometers north of here.  The earthquake was certainly felt here, and we continue to feel regular aftershocks. I have photos of some of the damage in Yokohama here, but overall, we’ve been incredibly lucky. My heart is with the people of northern Honshu.

Screen grab of TimeOutTokyo's Twitter Feed

My most reliable source of information throughout this catastrophe has been Twitter. There are a few sources there, including TimeOutTokyo (which is normally an entertainment and restaurant review source), that have been absolutely fantastic with providing very current English information about the situation. For those of us who can’t speak Japanese, this has been incredibly valuable, and I am very thankful for those who are working tirelessly to get this kind information out.

Screen grab of DFAIT's Twitter Feed. Note the time between updates.

The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa has been completely the opposite – most of what they’ve been posting (when they’ve bothered to post anything at all) has been political spin about how the Foreign Affairs minister supports the cause or that their call centre in Ottawa is doing their job (answering the phone – never mind that phone service here did not work for the first six hours, and is still sporadic). I don’t understand why they bother to have a Twitter account at all if they’re only going to use it to post this kind of garbage. That type of stuff is best left for their website, which, along with the main DFAIT website in Ottawa, I wasn’t even able to access for the first two days, even though I’ve had internet service continually since the earthquake happened. I’m registered with the embassy, so they have sent me two emails in the past four days, the first of which was some three hours after the earthquake, and started with “As you may have heard on the news already, a powerful 8.9 magnitude earthquake…struck off the east coast of Honshu, Japan on 11 March 2011 at 14:46 local time (00:46 Ottawa time).”

I haven’t heard it on the news DFAIT, I’ve been living in the midst of it. It seems as though you’re spending my tax dollars on garden parties at the embassy, as you’ve been proven irrelevant by a local entertainment magazine. Thanks for nothing.


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