Friday, January 14, 2011

CES: A Glimpse into the Future

Tablets, TVs and 3D glasses were everywhere. With over 140,000 people and 4,000 vendors at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, it was sensory overload!

While I did see some potentially cool educational devices, like Samsung’s version of an IWB (see pic below) or Vitiny’s Digital Portable Microscope, what I really took away from the conference was the overall sense of direction that technology is going in the near future. The conference revealed future trends in technology that the Education field needs to be aware of and plan for.

The most obvious trend related to our push in education to supply one standardized format of computing to students. This is the completely opposite direction that the market is heading. Take, for example, the tablet. 80 different tablets (ipad competitors) were revealed at CES by a plethora of different companies. As expected, all of the big names in electronics (Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Toshiba [liked this one] to name a few) released their version of the tablet with both Microsoft Windows and Google Android operating systems (Android seemed far less clunky and cumbersome). What was a big surprise were the dozens of unknown (at least to me) Asian companies that also released their versions of the tablet. These companies generally offered tablets in a variety of sizes and some had additional features that their big-name cousins couldn't offer (such as multiple SD, HDMI or USB inputs). While they couldn't give us an exact price, one can imagine that these tablets would be available for significantly less than the name brand versions, while the build quality seemed to be the same if not better.

Is the tablet the answer for schools? I would say no. Although their portability, price, and functionality are extremely enticing, one major contender in the electronics game doesn’t even seem interested in making them. Sony does not, as of yet, have a tablet. Considering that Sony is quick to make any type of device they believe can put their name into people’s homes, their lack of a tablet at CES seemed like a curious omission. To me this means that either Sony is cooking up something to potentially give them a monopoly on the portable computing market (think Blu-Ray, not Betamax), or they’ve given up hope of ever competing with the iPad.

What does this have to do standardized formats in schools? The vast number of tablets signifies a trend in technology where people are no longer using just 2 types of computers (PC and Mac). Now, computing devices transcend everyday life. Computers, laptops, netbooks, tablets, gaming devices and Smartphones (along with multiple operating systems) will become more common, especially as size and price drop, while functionality increases. To hold students to one type of computer system that is rapidly becoming non-native to them may actually be limiting their ability to find information and create new knowledge. We are fighting a losing battle. What we need to focus on is the “seamless integration” of multiple computing devices and operating systems.

Students should be able to bring whatever devices they wish from home, or use school provided devices if they choose not to, and connect seamlessly to school systems and wireless internet. Cloud based storage services (such as Google Docs, Dropbox or Skydrive) can be utilized to allow student access to their files anyplace at anytime from any device. Web 2.0 applications (soon Microsoft Office will be all web-based) will allow students to create knowledge and evidence of their learning whenever and wherever they choose. We need to drop-out of the standardization race that we could never possibly win and prepare for multi-platform devices. It’s all about developing flexible and adaptable systems for the constantly changing world of technology.


  1. Considering the amount of time that today's youth is spending with these breaking technologies, and the amount of time that teachers and administrators aren't, the technology gap will only continue to widen. What educators need to master is the art of incorporating opportunities for the application of technology without dictating what that technology is, or how it will be applied.

    Central to this issue is the provision of adequate support for teachers. The global trend toward seamless integration will actually reduce hard costs (less on-site storage, etc.) but really puts pressure on schools and divisions to support teachers in developing a sense of vision and direction for these technologies in the classroom and beyond. Exposure to emerging technologies is one thing, but having the opportunity to reflect on these technologies in the context of enhancing learning within our programs is something else altogether.

    As for ethical usage, schools are most commonly seeking to apply the same hand of discipline and consequence for online abuses as they would for the playground. The extent of effectiveness, however, remains largely (and perhaps thankfully) untested.

  2. Thanks for the responses, Rusty and Anonymous.

    I agree completely with both of you. Rusty, you certainly ask some near impossible questions, but I believe that Anonymous provides some potential answers. The seamless integration should lessen costs and strain on districts and IT departments, even in lower income communities where resources are more scarce.

    The big assumption with student owned devices is that they will cause major disruptions, widen the technology gap between the "haves" and "have-nots", and lead to un-academic activity. If districts can still supply a lesser number of devices for students without the resources to bring their own, all students could potentially have access to a device. As for the other potential issues with students bringing and using their devices at school, they are primarily behavioral concerns that should be dealt with under a school's discipline policy. Alternately, if the learning activity is engaging and meaningful for students, disruptive behaviours shouldn't be a problem.

    As for districts needing to support teachers with the implementation of technology in the classroom, I agree (not just because it is my job). But I believe the focus should be more focused on supporting teachers to improve their overall pedagogy, of which technology is a part. It is certainly advantageous for teachers to have a person or persons who have the time to seek out, introduce and guide teachers through the use of different technologies, but there really needs to be a focus on improving pedagogy as a whole.