Oct 31 2006

College: Where Culture and Technology Meet

Social computing, personal broadcasting and smart technology will transform university classrooms during the next several years.

What do blogs, MP3 music players, cell phones and video games have in common? They've infiltrated youth culture, certainly, but they're also part of the future of higher education.

Many of today's consumer technologies have the potential to become tomorrow's educational tools. In the future, students can view missed lectures by downloading videos onto their cell phones or video-enabled music players. Students who are used to learning from class lectures and textbooks will have a new learning tool: educational video games.

These technology applications, along with social computing tools such as blogs and Voice over IP, will have a place in higher education within three years, predicts the 2006 Horizon Report, an annual study on emerging educational technologies by two nonprofit educational organizations, the Austin, Texas-based New Media Consortium and Washington, D.C.-based EDUCAUSE. An advisory board of 21 educators, researchers and senior IT leaders reviewed 80 technologies before selecting the following six emerging technologies that they believe are likely to have a big impact on teaching, learning or creative expression in higher education:

1. Social computing (adoption within one year): Today's youth have embraced online communication and collaboration tools, such as social networking Web sites, instant messaging and videoconferencing. Social computing will manifest itself in higher education through distance learning, blogs and wikis, where students can collaborate on writing and research projects.

2. Personal broadcasting (one year): Professors can use MP3 players to deliver educational content, such as videos of lectures. Foreign-language students can listen to podcasts to practice the languages they're learning.

3. Mobile phones (two to three years): Cell phones are becoming more powerful computing devices as telecommunications providers build faster networks, allowing for improved Web browsing and higher quality video and audio. Some professors are having students answer test questions by text messaging from their cell phones. One university offers language lessons through cell phones in the form of a mobile blog.

4. Educational gaming (two to three years): Educational games are in the works for all subjects.

5. Augmented reality and enhanced visualization (four to five years): Augmented reality combines real-world elements with virtual reality, while enhanced visualization creates 3-D graphical representations of large sets of data. These technologies will enable students to visualize and understand information in new ways.

6. Context-aware environments and devices (four to five years): The smart classroom of the future will make it easier to incorporate technology in classes by catering to professors' needs. For example, when professors walk into their classrooms, technology will scan their ID badges and automatically log them onto the classroom computer, so they can access their class presentations. Professors also will be able to lower projector screens with the point of a finger.

These technologies could transform the way professors teach. It's important for educators to consider new, innovative approaches. The first four technologies identified in the Horizon Report are already embraced by students, so why not try them out as learning tools? Educators should experiment and see if they work. Time will tell if they are widely adopted and effective, but they provide an opportunity for teachers to engage students and, ultimately, to improve education.

Chris Rother is vice president, public sector, for Vernon Hills, Ill.-based CDW·G, a leading technology provider to government and education.


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