Datacasting, radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, student web logs (blogs), and intelligent essay graders are among a dozen technologies likely to emerge as must-have solutions in the nation’s schools, according to a report unveiled Nov. 3 by the Washington, D.C.-based Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

The third in a series of CoSN-sponsored reports dedicated to emerging technologies, “Hot Technologies for K-12 Schools” examines the usefulness of such heretofore little-known technologies in schools and begins to explore how such innovations might be used to transform learning in the 21st century.

To develop the guide, CoSN’s Emerging Technologies Committee (ETC) initially identified five key educational issues schools are facing today–the instructional process, assessment and evaluation, diverse learning styles, the building of communities, and improving the efficiency of school administration.

In considering which technologies to include, the report’s authors devised a list of technologies they felt would not only make a fundamental impact on education, but would be economically and financially feasible enough for schools to begin integrating sometime in the very near future.

“Most schools embracing technology today have primarily focused on its deployment for administrative purposes or for the back office,” said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “Our hope is that this guide will provide technology leaders with a strategic understanding of technologies that can truly transform their schools over the next three to five years.”

On the instructional front, one technology that is just beginning to crop up in schools is datacasting. A descendant of streaming video, which enables students to view snippets of teacher-selected educational videos from their desktops, datacasting provides similar capabilities–but with higher-quality results, says Gene Broderson, director of education for the nonprofit Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Unlike streaming video–which has been criticized for hogging precious bandwidth across school networks and sometimes appearing blurred and sluggish, Broderson said–datacasting enables students to view content in full-screen, broadcast-quality video and sound.

Instead of streaming videos directly to students’ desktops, Broderson said, datacasting lets educators download whatever content they need to a central server, so it can be accessed whenever it’s needed. Often, he said, the videos are accompanied by corresponding lesson plans, interactive student assignments, and other teaching materials.

In the assessment and evaluation category, CoSN’s report looks closely at emerging concepts known as pattern analysis and performance projection. According to Karen Greenwood Henke, who helped spearhead research efforts on the project, “these are technologies that help administrators make sense of the data schools are collecting.”

With the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) demanding a move toward more data-driven decision making in the nation’s schools, Henke said, administrators must consider solutions that are capable of analyzing patterns “not really apparent to educators.”

Henke suggested pattern analysis and performance-projection tools could be used to help gauge how students are likely to perform on standardized tests. Through personalized charts and graphs, she said, the technology will provide educators with a way to more accurately target remediation for struggling students.

“Universal design” is another emerging technology concept garnering attention from the nation’s top ed-tech enthusiasts. With the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) slated to take place during the next session of Congress, Raymond Rose, vice president of the Concord Consortium, a nonprofit educational research and development organization based in Concord, Mass., says the pressure is on for schools to begin looking at solutions that meet all students’ needs–and not just those with severe disabilities.

Under the concept of universal design, Rose said, technologies are beginning to emerge that can be used for dual purposes–to the benefit of everyone within the school system. The concept, he said, is similar to that of building a wheelchair ramp. Though the ramp is built specifically for students confined to a chair, it can be equally useful for students with temporary ailments–or even those with too much in their hands, who might have difficulty navigating traditional steps.

“Schools need to think about tools that will meet all students’ needs,” Rose said.

According to the report, administrators also are increasingly concerned with technologies that spur greater community involvement and communication throughout the school system.

Technologies such as programmable phone systems, which enable administrators to send out pre-recorded messages to parents and stakeholders, are already coming in handy in some parts of the country, says Tom Rolfes, education IT manager for Nebraska’s office of the chief information officer.

Instead of relying solely on television and radio stations to get the word out about school closings on snow days, for instance, schools can use their own prerecorded messages, sent out simultaneously to every parent of every student. That way, he said, administrators needn’t worry if students will show up at school only to find themselves locked out in the cold.

Rolfes also touched on the growing importance of comprehensive student information systems used to track and monitor student progress, as well as the use of blogs as an increasingly popular tool for building stronger school communities–spurring much-needed communication among students, parents, and educators.

Also highlighted in the report: a concept known as RFID.

Darrell Walery, director of technology for Consolidated High School District 230 in Orland Park, Ill., projects the use of RFID chips–tiny microprocessors capable of holding and storing all types of student information, from lunch accounts to daily student schedules–eventually will help administrators keep better attendance records and more accurately track inventory of library books and supplies.

Though the technology still remains cost-prohibitive for some schools–with RFID readers costing in the range of $1,000 to $2,000 apiece–the chips themselves are relatively cheap, Walery said.

And that’s not the best part.

Walery reports that the attendance-taking capabilities alone have saved some early adopters up to 90 hours of instructional time per day district-wide, adding, “This is something that is going to be important in the next few years.”

Other technologies covered in the report include highly portable large storage devices; digital assessments; sound-field amplification; multisensory, customized learning tools; and advanced learning management systems.

When deciding which technology options to pursue, CoSN offers these four suggestions: (1) look for solutions that will engage and empower students; (2) think about how the technology will be implemented and used before you purchase it; (3) vet purchasing decisions with concerned stakeholders, including community members and parents; and (4) try to identify unintended consequences–from potential instructional and legal hurdles to security issues, privacy concerns, technical glitches, and financial headaches.

“A critical factor in the success of deploying technology within a school environment is that it be embraced not only by teachers but by parents and the community as well,” said Steve Rappaport, chairman of CoSN’s ETC. “To broaden adoption, it’s important these technologies are convenient, customized, content-rich, collaborative, creative, and compliant.”

A final version of the report is expected to be available no later than Nov. 15.

Links:

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

eSN Online Store (upon final report’s availability)
http://www.eschoolnews.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=26