What will the typical college dorm room look like in the year 2020? On-demand supplemental lectures available in every room, or maybe translucent solar panels on dorm windows to charge laptops that weigh less than a three-ring binder?

With technology advancing at an exponential rate every year, Gradware.com–a San Diego-based supplier of discounted software and hardware for students, teachers, and schools–is asking students to share their visions for the future of technology on college campuses. The three student responses the company deems best will qualify for a college scholarship worth $1,000, $500, or $250. In addition, Gradware says it will publish up to 50 of the top essays in book format and distribute these to college presidents, technology research and development firms, and journalists in the national media in June.

“We want to bring back the notion that U.S. colleges and high schools are important breeding grounds of technological innovation and cultural creativity,” said Spencer Sakata, Gradware’s chief executive officer. “This is a chance for creative, forward-thinking students to brainstorm the coolest gadgets they can think of. No rules, no limits–we’re really looking for some crazy ideas here. Technology can be very cool when it enhances campus life.”

Sakata said he hopes education officials will find the essay compilation useful as they plan their future needs for campus technology. “They’re going to be intrigued by the ideas that students have,” he predicted. “Students are using technology differently, and it’s … changing their priorities.”

Sakata said creative thinking is of paramount importance in the contest.

“The first thing we want to do is foster innovation at the college level and have students think about technology and how it relates to everyday life, and we want them to think big about it in ways that are more integrated into their lifestyle,” he said.

Today’s student entrants just might dream up tomorrow’s “it” technology, Sakata said.

“I think the future innovations will come from ideas that students have now,” he said. “We’re looking for how technology applies to your lifestyle, not just point solutions that aren’t integrated in any way. Technology is starting to really converge, is getting cheaper, and is becoming more widespread. Now we [should] focus on how to use [it] in a way to benefit us, not just technology for technology’s sake.”

The contest could act as a springboard for a new generation of “smart homes” as students get older, Sakata continued. A “digital dorm room” and the technology used in it, he said, could easily be extended to homes.

In the immediate future, Gradware’s essay contest could inspire college planners to integrate technology in new and exciting ways, said Judy Marks, associate director for the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities.

“I think this contest should be very interesting to see what the students are thinking of,” said Marks. “Universities have attempted to network and create wireless environments and everything that goes along with that.”

Marks said many college dorms are undergoing an immense redesign, and not just in terms of technology: “Mostly it’s their kitchens, bathrooms, and the dormitories themselves have enormous services that they’re offering kids, and amenities that you couldn’t imagine would be in dormitories.” (See “21st-century dorms ‘up the ante’“.)

The 2007 Gradware National Essay Scholarship, “The Digital Dorm Room of the Future,” is open to all undergraduates and college-bound high school juniors and seniors in the United States. The scholarship contest details are available on the Gradware web site from now until the competition deadline, March 16.

Sakata said he expects a lot of responses from IT and design majors, as well as English and writing majors. “This kind of contest doesn’t require technical knowledge–it requires imagination,” he said.

There are no need-based or GPA requirements to enter. Essay applicants must be 28 or younger as of the scholarship deadline. Students must submit an essay no longer than 750 words describing their vision of the “digital dorm room” in the year 2020, and what campus life should be like with the power of emerging and future (not yet invented) technologies.

Links:

Gradware
http://www.gradware.com

2007 Gradware National Essay Scholarship: “The Digital Dorm Room of the Future”
http://www.gradware.com/scholarship.asp

National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities
http://www.edfacilities.org