Stan Trevena is director of Information and Technology services for Modesto (Calif.) City Schools.He is also co-founder of the Pacific Rim Exchange project in Second Life, a teen cultural exchange project.

Jul 23 2007

6 Tech Trends for the Next Five Years

What's going to be the next big thing to influence education?

There’s so little free time anymore that some of us don’t even know what to do when it arrives. Raise your hand if you’ve stared at your e-mail screen and actually hit refresh when you know there’s nothing new to read.

But if there is a sliver of time for information technology leaders that isn’t taken up by troubleshooting, purchasing or any of the other countless tasks you are in charge of, it likely occurs in the summer. Sure, back-to-school beckons quicker than you’d care to admit, but there is a little time to indulge in some good, old-fashioned, long-term thinking. Two years ago, who saw Web 2.0 becoming such a big force, or imagined having to deal with students using proxy servers to avoid your network’s security features?

Kick your door closed and spend some time with six of the top experts in your field as they discuss not only what they think the next big thing will be, but also how you can prepare today to take advantage of these trends tomorrow. Then get back to work.

1. Reality Virtually

Just as many IT professionals were starting to understand the implications of Web 2.0, the next generation of Web technologies is emerging and collectively being referred to as Web 3.0, or more appropriately, Web 3.D.

Virtual world platforms are gaining acceptance on many university and college campuses, and K–12 districts are now looking at these new technologies to engage students in the learning process. Any subject that benefits from collaboration, socialization, simulation and participatory activities can be enhanced with virtual lessons in an online world.

Students today have grown up with the Internet and video games. Many students have social pages on services such as MySpace and Facebook; they play games like “World of Warcraft,” keep multiple instant messaging sessions active, and rely on the Internet as their primary information source.

Virtual world platforms are blurring the lines between these different applications and services. Virtual world environments can be used to provide new experiences in learning for students. Collaborative building projects can provide real-time experience with team dynamics and management. Lectures, group discussions and live performances can all be delivered in realistic environments. Distance learning can be adapted to these virtual worlds for a variety of subjects. Language learners can interact with native speakers, without concern for geographic limitations or time zones, using virtual world platforms. Many of these platforms are now incorporating voice support, which will further expand the options available to educators.

The current platform of choice for educators is the virtual world of Second Life ( This 3-D virtual world has received a lot of press this year. In Second Life, people create virtual representations of themselves in the form of avatars. They navigate the virtual world and interact with others and the environment remotely. Second Life has attracted the attention of Main Street America, with many businesses now rushing to set up virtual shops.

There are numerous challenges for IT in supporting a platform like this. These technologies dance on the edge of long-held IT taboos, such as the use of video games in the classroom, chat, instant messaging, social networking and viral videos. Second Life has received some negative press surrounding adult activities in this virtual world, including bars and gambling. In response, creator Linden Lab supports two separate “grids”: the main adult grid and the teen grid. The teen grid is restricted to residents between the ages of 13 and 17. Linden Lab is testing a new age identification system that will further secure and separate the adult content from teens.

Districts that lock down their desktops with policies will likely face challenges with updating clients. Some universities have come up with ingenious ways to run the Second Life client from thumb drives, while others create images of the client and push them out to users in specific groups at login. Many of these platforms use Web services that may be blocked by Internet content filters and packet shapers. Ports often need to be opened on firewalls to allow traffic to flow to the clients as well.

Research firm Gartner recently released a study in which it estimated 80 percent of all active Internet users will have a virtual “second life” by the end of 2011, but not necessarily in Second Life. These technologies are now at the stage where the Internet was in the early 1990s. The client for Second Life was put in the public domain at the end of last year, with rumors of the server going there before 2008. IT shops may soon need to add a range of new servers to their infrastructures to support the many technologies that make up these virtual worlds. Many IT shops were blindsided by Web 2.0 and were ill-prepared for the rapid increase in popularity of blogging, wikis, Really Simple Syndication feeds, social networking and streaming services.

With power to engage students in their education and to bring new dimensions of learning to the classroom, virtual worlds are poised to expand and enhance the classroom and quite possibly alter the landscape of the 2-D Internet. Create an avatar, get in-world and start to explore what might be the next evolution of the Internet.

Second Life Facts:

Linden Lab created the Internet-based virtual world Second Life in 2003. At the site, users create a representation of themselves, an avatar, who can then communicate with others, travel, create objects, amass or lose virtual money, and be rated by other participants.

This virtual world takes only a 10-megabyte download for each player, and the real-time 3-D streaming seen is accomplished using intelligent compression. Second Life exists on a scalable server grid running Linux capable of supporting thousands of simultaneous Second Life residents and allowing the world to grow infinitely in any direction. The site boasts 7.2 million registered users from 100 countries.

2. Wireless Predictions — Mesh Networks That Heal Themselves

Darrell Walery

Darrell Walery Director of technology at Consolidated High School District 230 in Orland Park, Ill.

He is also the chair of the Emerging Technologies Committee for the Consortium for School Networking.

Where is wireless going in the next five years, and how will that affect K–12 schools and their IT directors? Answering any question about technology’s future is risky business, but let’s dust off the crystal ball and give it a try.

Many schools have some form of wireless connection today. It is not uncommon to see carts of wireless notebooks rolling through a school hallway. In many cases, schools are still using access points located on the carts and having teachers create wireless clouds on the fly. Some districts have invested in full roaming networks and installed access points throughout their buildings. This allows for much greater flexibility of use and opens up the possibilities of using other kinds of devices, such as Wi-Fi mobile phones.

Any talk about wireless technology must start with a recap of the fast-changing standards and what they mean:

  • 802.11b One of the initial standards that most equipment employed; 11 megabits per second maximum bandwidth, typically 4–5Mbps.
  • 802.11a and 802.11g Current production equipment; 54Mbps maximum, typically 20Mbps.

At this time, most access points schools would purchase are b and g compatible. This allows older wireless access cards to work with the new access points.

The next standard being discussed is 802.11n. It will have maximum speeds to 248Mbps, with typical speeds at 74Mbps. This standard is under review but close to final implementation. Some companies have already released products that include this standard. Early reports indicate that the speeds promised are achieved, but there are some issues with legacy wireless devices. It may be a good idea to wait on the purchase of any 802.11n hardware until the legacy questions are answered.

Another popular trend will be mesh networks. A mesh network eliminates wiring the access points to your network. The access points communicate with one another and pass data from one point to the next. Mesh networks can be designed to be self-healing so when one access point is disabled, others pick up the slack. Implementing mesh networks will save money on installation costs.

Technology directors should plan on implementing full roaming networks if they have not already. The increase in wireless data rates coupled with the drop in notebook prices will help solve the problem of access for students in classrooms. Schools are always looking to increase the access to technology; wireless technology is the only way to do this. In the next five years, we will see schools shifting from notebooks on carts moving from room to room, to notebooks on shelves in the rooms. This puts the technology in the hands of the students when they need it.

Installing a full roaming network also gives schools the ability to leverage the network and use it for other activities. Personal digital assistants can link administrators with their online databases to access real-time information on students. Tech departments could use PDAs for receiving repair tickets in the field. Teachers and administrators can use wireless Wi-Fi phones to enhance security.

The faster wireless speeds will make it feasible to use wireless for desktops. Some schools are starting to do this, forsaking all wiring in most areas of a building.

Where wireless will go in the next five years is hard to pin down, but speeds will continue to increase and schools will continue to boost their use of wireless. Start planning now to take advantage of these changes.

More Wireless

In addition to the standards in the 802.11 family, the nonprofit Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has developed standards in three other areas.

  • 802.15 Working Group for Wireless Personal Area Networks These are more commonly known as Bluetooth and work for everything from cell phones to toys.
  • 802.16 Working Group for Broadband Wireless Access Standards These support the development of fixed broadband wireless access systems to enable rapid worldwide deployment of innovative, cost-effective and interoperable multivendor broadband wireless access products.
  • P1451.5 Working Group for Wireless Sensor Standards This will enhance the acceptance of the wireless technology for transducers’ connectivity.

Source: IEEE,

3. Web 2.0: Seeing the Benefit of User-Created Content

Michael Furdyk

Michael Furdyk is co-founder and director of technology of, a nonprofit social network for social good.

He has worked for Microsoft, taught high school technology courses and founded two Internet startups.

Over the last year, it would have been hard to miss the explosion of attention given to various user-created content initiatives. But if you did, these two events can catch you up quickly. Last November, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion, and then Time magazine named “You” its Person of the Year. So now that Web 2.0 has gone mainstream, what’s next?

In the next few years, the amount of user-created content on the Web will explode even further, as the proliferation of Web-enabled mobile devices makes posting a video, photo or blog even easier. The Web is already saturated with content, loosely becoming organized into communities of interest — but there are millions of hidden content gems out there already, waiting to be found. Tools that let us easily filter and search this content across many sites (like Technorati for blogs) will develop into new destination sites as the number of choices for one type of content becomes overwhelming. Video (or vodcasting), for example, already has dozens of sites that host millions of videos, and organizing them is a challenge that many entrepreneurs are working on.

In the educational space, the engagement factor of user-created content generated through social networking has already become impossible to ignore. While it’s likely that sites such as MySpace and Facebook will continue to be blocked in schools around the world, a new generation of social networking sites focused on education and global collaboration, like, the site I co-founded, will increase student engagement through applying social networking and user-created content principles.

Already, thousands of teachers from dozens of countries are harnessing the power of user-created Web content as the basis for informal assignments and experiential learning through the TIGed initiative. Informal content creation gives students who might not be confident in their writing skills an opportunity to benefit from an appreciative global audience using other content media, such as podcasting, photo­blogging or vodcasting.

Share the potential of engaging students through user-created content with your teachers, and you’ll find no end to students’ enthusiasm to create and participate.

What’s Hottest?

It’s near impossible to answer which area is growing fastest, blogs, podcasts or user-created videos.

Blogs While there’s no exact count of blogs, the number passed 50 million in July 2006. Right now, 175,000 blogs are being created every day, the blogosphere is doubling every six and a half months, and there are an estimated 1.6 million online postings each day.

Podcasts In September 2006, there were an estimated 3 million podcasts available. Three months later the number multiplied to 20 million.

UC Videos On YouTube alone, 65,000 videos are uploaded every day, while more than 100 million are watched daily, according to a July 2006 study.

Sources: Technorati, USA Today

4. Cell Phones — Boon or Bane to Schools?

Jim Hirsch

Jim Hirsch is the associate superintendent for academic and technology services in Plano (Texas) ISD, a district of 53,000 students.

He directs all curriculum, instruction, professional development, special education, instructional technology and infrastructure/technical support activities for the district.

Many public school advocates point to a need for “transformative” change within the system to ensure the learning environment will become more relevant for our students today. As a start, consider the use of student-based technology to be a transformer that might already be in place. And that prompts the question, how prepared are you and your teaching staff for today’s scenario where students bring a wide array of personal communications technology devices into schools and classrooms?

Perhaps the most common technology resource that could be used in a transformative fashion for student learning is the cell phone. While not all cell phones and service plans provide Internet browsing, most provide some option for text messaging. A service like Homework Now ( gives teachers the opportunity to build Web-based pages to support classroom activities and also provides a method to have alerts sent via cell phone messages. This could provide valuable information for students in keeping track of class requirements and would also provide that same information to parents — keeping them closer to the teaching and learning loop. Similarly, services like or Messaging 4 Education ( provide even more flexibility for teachers to create cell phone-based learning activities for students.

Students will quickly realize that examples such as those presented above are legitimate and responsible uses of cell phones in the school setting, while disruptive uses such as text messaging during exams, inappropriate photographs and even gang communications have no place in a school setting. These uses have led outside groups to call for K–12 schools to severely limit or ban the use of cell phones on school grounds.

The challenge of putting policies in place to enable transformative uses of technology while providing means to ensure appropriate use is significant, but that should not stop innovative school systems from inventing promising practices in this area. Initially, these practices may involve student cell phone access to learning materials only outside of the school day — a unique way to extend the learning day, which research shows is the primary intervention with guaranteed positive results in terms of student achievement.

With the proliferation of Wi-Fi-based phones coming to the United States, it’s appropriate for IT directors to begin building wireless networks that can accommodate the ad hoc use these devices may require to support instructional processes. With nine out of 10 college students now carrying cell phones, within five years we will see similar number of K–12 students with cell phone access. This appears to be a golden opportunity to leverage a device a student already owns for enhanced learning opportunities outside of school.

Who’s Texting Whom?

More than one in three U.S. children ages 13 to 17 engage in social networking or otherwise creating content on cell phones. That’s the lowest percentage among these other five countries: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and U.K. Of Italians 13 to 17 years old, nearly 70 percent use their phones for social networking or creating content. Phone-to-phone photo messaging is the most popular category of user-generated content, with 19.9 percent of American teens reporting they sent a photo to another phone in the month of October 2006.

Source: M:Metrics, Inc. December 2006

5. Revolutionizing High School

Gerald L. Zahorchak

Gerald L. Zahorchak, Ed.D.

He has served as the Pennsylvania secretary of education since October 2005.

Dave Fadale, a geometry teacher in Middleburg, Pa., recalls the day he understood the powerful impact new computers were having in his classroom: No one asked to use the hall pass.

“I went an entire day without one student ‘signing out,’ ” Fadale says.

That’s what happens when you combine solid teaching skills with the power of technology. Fadale’s classroom is taking part in the inaugural year of Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s high school reform initiative, Classrooms for the Future.

Classrooms for the Future is a three-year, $200 million initiative to put a notebook computer on every high school English, math, science and social studies desk and to provide teachers with a multimedia workstation and intensive training to enhance education. Classrooms for the Future is not just about providing equipment — it is about making instruction more dynamic and using tools that students are already using outside of the classroom.

In the first year, 1,200 classrooms in 103 schools in 79 districts were equipped with more than 16,000 notebooks, and more than 1,900 teachers received intensive training on how to integrate technology in their everyday lessons. Though students do not have access to the Internet during school hours, they do have access to the same technology they use at home and away from school.

Classrooms for the Future is part of an effort to modernize teaching and learning across Pennsylvania. This reflects Rendell’s belief that high school graduates must be better prepared to compete in the high-tech global economy of the future. Well-trained students become productive and successful workers.

Some success stories have already been seen across the state:

  • An English teacher in Conestoga Valley High School has seen immediate gains in student participation. His students are more engaged because they are using the same technology in the classroom that many of them use elsewhere.
  • A math teacher for 39 years in the Southern Columbia School District reports firsthand how fully engaged her students are with the new technology. “I found they learn faster and understand more than by learning the traditional board-lecture method.”
  • A current events teacher in York uses the notebooks to videoconference with a soldier serving in Iraq.
  • An 11th-grader from Upper Darby High School says, “Technology can be a great tool for overcoming difficulties and learning new skills.”

6. Handhelds: The Inevitable Revolution

Cathleen Norris and Elliot Soloway

Cathleen Norris is the Regents Professor at the University of North Texas in the Department of Learning Technologies.

Elliot Soloway is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department at the University of Michigan. He runs GoKnow!, a leading provider of K–12 resources for mobile computing, with Cathleen Norris.

Computing technology will dramatically change K–12 education.” We have heard that prediction — that promise — for more than 40 years. Finally, the technology industry is poised to deliver the goods that will enable educators to offer their students all manner of new opportunities to learn.

Little candy-bar-size computers that fit in the palm of a child’s hand — not the timesharing mainframe behemoths, not the PC that transformed business, not the mobile-as-a-brick notebooks, and not even the king of disruptive technologies, the Internet — will be the harbinger of change in K–12. How children learn will change, and what children learn will change. For all of this, you can thank today’s personal digital assistants.

Why? Digital is motivating; children will spend time reading electronic books, “writing” multimedia reports and sharing their artifacts with classmates, teachers and even parents. While notebooks are the current contender for the 1:1 computer, schools are finally realizing notebooks are simply not sustainable year after year. We needn’t yearn for notebooks — does a third-grader need a notebook to write a two-page report on Latvia? Does even an 11th-grader need a notebook to deal with the day-in, day-out routine learning activities? No and no.

Fortunately, mobile computing devices are about to see an explosion of innovation. Models will range from $199 to $699; from 4-inch screens to 10-inch screens; from Linux and XP to Windows Mobile and Mobile Linux; from high powered to adequately powered. With four to eight hours of battery life, using wireless networking (cellular, Wi-Fi and beyond), and weighing under 2 pounds, the new mobile computers, while lilliputian in size, are anything but small in the functionality department.

But wait, the story gets better. It takes software to turn that hardware into mobile computers that address the unique needs of teaching and learning. A whole new generation of educational software is emerging that leverages all that sweet hardware and creates learning environments that support diverse learning styles, collaborative learning, and a broad range of assessment strategies. Finally the children will have the tools they really want and need in school.

A mobile computer is still a highly functional, costly device. Distributing hundreds of them to young children at the start of the school year, and allowing the devices to go home — which makes good pedagogical sense — requires extensive planning and staged execution.

Make no mistake: Your school/district will have a one-to-one rollout of mobile computers. It is no longer a question of “if” but only a question of “when.” This is inevitable because educators know it is the only way to reach and engage the digital generation.

One-to-One Milestones

According to a recent study of the nation’s top 2,500 school districts, one of every four have some sort of one-to-one program now, and fully half expect to have a program in place by 2011.

The first one-to-one program in K-12 occurred in 2001 when Henrico County (Va.) Public Schools handed out 12,000 notebooks to students and teachers.

The largest one-to-one program to date happened when Maine gave every seventh- and eighth-grader his or her own computer. The $50 million plan gave out 19,000 notebooks in its first year alone.

Sources: The Greaves Group, Hayes Connection, Henrico County Schools, Maine’s Learning Technology Initiative


Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT