What are the “game-changing” technologies that today’s students are using–and creating?
At the 2008 Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference in Austin, New York Times personal-technology columnist David Pogue offered his thoughts on the topic. Speaking at the group’s Past Presidents’ Celebration, Pogue–one of the world’s best-selling technology “how-to” authors–cited the convergence of phones and the internet, ubiquitous wireless, and Web 2.0 technologies as key tech trends with important implications for schools.
Voice over IP, or the ability to make phone calls over the internet, has driven down the cost of making calls by 30 percent over the last three years, Pogue said.
Skype, which is free software that lets you make calls from computer to computer, has been downloaded some 250 million times, and “it’s huge for college kids,” he said, because it allows them to call their friends from high school free of charge.
Having this capability is nice, Pogue said–but what really would be useful is if a version of Skype came on your cell phone, so you could make internet-based calls free of charge from wherever you are. The technology to do this exists, he said–yet “for some reason, the cell-phone companies are not interested in helping you avoid calling fees.”
There is one exception, though: T-Mobile HotSpot @Home, which launched last June 29.
With this service, any time you’re in a Wi-Fi hot spot, all your calls are free, Pogue said. What’s more, he said, T-Mobile will give you a Wi-Fi box to use in your home or office free of charge, because the company wants you to give up your telephone land line–it’s the only cellular provider that isn’t also in the land-line business.
The HotSpot @Home service seamlessly hands off your call from hot spot to hot spot, or from a hot spot to a cellular network and vice versa, Pogue said. And if your call starts in a Wi-Fi hot spot but is transferred to a cellular network, it’s still free of charge for the duration of the call.
Another service Pogue cited that takes advantage of the convergence of phone and internet service is Google Cellular, which is a no-cost way to eliminate those pesky $2 surcharges on your cell-phone bills when you dial 411 for information.
If you’re looking for directions, or the telephone number of the nearest pizza delivery place, you can send a text message to Google at 46645 (“Google” without the “e”)–and in five seconds, Google will send this information back to your phone at no charge, Pogue said.
The service also works for getting weather information (e.g., “weather austin”), flight information (“aa 152”), stock quotes (“amzn”), movie show times in your area (“shrek 44120”), word definitions, unit conversions, and currency conversions.
Pogue also highlighted various services that convert voice messages to text, and vice versa. He said he uses a service called Simulscribe, which automatically transcribes phone messages and delivers them via eMail. “I don’t check my messages; they come to me–and they’re written out,” he said. Callwave is another software program that turns voice mail to text.
Grand Central, a service bought by Google, will issue you a “uninumber,” or a single phone number that, when dialed, will ring all your phones simultaneously. Because the service is web-based, you can control many options, Pogue said; for example, you can record different greetings for various callers. (You can even set it to respond to callers who are harassing you with a message stating, “We’re sorry, but the number you dialed has been disconnected…”)
Another trend with important implications for schools is “wireless everywhere,” Pogue said. For instance, you can buy cellular cards that plug in your laptop–giving you internet access anywhere you have cell-phone service. These solutions presently cost about $60 a month, but “I can tell you now, they won’t be charging that much when today’s kids are in charge,” he said.
Wireless internet access is coming to cameras and other devices, too, Pogue said. The technology now exists for cameras to upload the pictures you take to a computer automatically through a wireless internet connection, so every time you take a picture, “you know it’s being backed up online,” he said.
Web 2.0 technologies, which rely on user-created content and interactivity, are yet another trend with enormous implications for schools.
“We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg” with regard to Web 2.0 possibilities, Pogue predicted. He described two new and creative variations on the Web 2.0 theme: One is a site called goloco.org, which allows people who are making local trips (to the mall, for instance) at the same time to find each other and share the ride; the other is an online petition service launched by the U.K. government.
“We’ve only scratched the surface on the things that we can share,” he said.
With these shifts in technology, however, come profound cultural shifts–changes that create whole new challenges for educators.
One of these is the need for instant gratification, Pogue said: Even eMail now seems too slow for many students, who are accustomed to sending and receiving instant text messages on their cell phones.
Another challenge is what Pogue called the “splintering” of kids’ attentions.
“We already have so much information to deal with, and it’s only getting worse,” he warned. “It’s going to be a challenge for this generation to figure out how to divide their attention.”
To address these challenges, educators will have to teach students new skills for processing information, judging the credibility of information, and behaving ethically and responsibly online, Pogue said.
And though advancements in technology are bringing changes at quite a rapid pace, things have a way of working themselves out, he assured conference attendees.
Until they do, he advised, “enjoy the possibilities” that technology affords.
Editor’s note: For more of David Pogue’s thoughts on the social implications of new technologies, see the video “Teaching the Net Generation” here.