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CoSN’s crystal ball: Get ready for mobile learning, cloud computing

Many of CoSN’s 2011 sessions focused on mobile learning and cloud computing.

In one of the highest attended sessions of the Consortium for School Networking’s annual conference in New Orleans, the New Media Consortium (NMC), in collaboration with CoSN, on March 16 previewed their 2011 Horizon report for K-12 education, which predicts six technologies that will become prevalent in five years or less.

Chief technology officers, superintendents, and other education stakeholders, though struggling with the session’s early starting time, managed to rally for an early glimpse of this year’s Horizon report. Many were pleased, and not that surprised, to see that mobile learning and cloud computing have a “time-to-adoption horizon” of one year or less.

“Mobile learning is fast becoming a reality, and has really skyrocketed from last year’s report,” said Laurence Johnson, CEO of the NMC, “in large part because of how useful mobile tech is in emergency preparedness on campuses.”

Other technologies covered in the report include game-based learning, open content, and personalized learning environments.

The Horizon report, sponsored via a grant from Hewlett-Packard, is produced each fall using a process that is informed by both primary and secondary research. Nearly 100 technologies, as well as dozens of trends and challenges, are examined for possible inclusion in the report each year; an internationally renowned Advisory Board examines each topic in more detail, reducing the set until the final listing of technologies, trends, and challenges is selected.

The entire process takes place online and is fully documented at

The condensed preview of the 2011 report was produced specifically for CoSN’s conference. The full report, as well as CoSN’s accompanying toolkit, will be available May 17.

What to expect

With many of CoSN’s sessions focusing on mobile learning and cloud computing, it was no surprise for many attendees that cloud computing and mobile learning have a “time-to-adoption horizon” of one year or less.

“Cloud computing is here already, but it has so many facets and evolutions that many haven’t been fully realized yet in K-12,” explained Johnson. “We expect large-scale movements to the cloud in 2011 for K-12, including eMail and resources like virtual labs.”

Johnson said that while mobile devices also are being used in many school districts across the country, full-scale adoption still has a way to go, owing to complications regarding privacy and policy practices, as well as having networks to support high-speed data.

Other educational technologies on the horizon include:

Two to three years: Game-based learning and open content.

Four to five years: Learning analytics and personal learning environments.

“Learning analytics is promising because it can measure learning in real time, but there are still many questions on how we can actually measure true learning,” said Johnson. “Personal learning environments, at this point, are still in a conceptual phase.”

The preview also listed many key trends, the most prominent being that people expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to.

Other trends include:

• The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the internet is increasingly challenging educators to revisit roles;

• As IT support becomes more decentralized, the technologies used are increasingly based not on school servers, but in the cloud;

• The perceived value of innovation and creativity is increasing; and

• Technology continues to profoundly affect the way educators and students work, collaborate, communicate, and succeed.

Although these technologies continue to improve K-12 achievement and productivity, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still challenges to be considered.

For example, a new challenge found in the report this year was that many activities related to learning and education take place outside the walls of the classroom.

Other challenges include:

• The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices;

• Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession;

• Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competitions to traditional models of schools; and

• A key challenge is the fundamental structure of the K-12 education establishment—that is, “the system.”

NMC encourages those interested in more information about the Horizon report, including case studies, research papers, and remixable data, to visit

More than a report

Donna Williamson, technology director for Mountain Brook Schools, Ala., said that while the Horizon report is useful, it doesn’t mean much if you don’t have school leader buy-in or professional development (PD).

“Last year with the 2010 Horizon [report], I was so excited because there’s so much great information that can help schools know what tech to budget for and what PD is needed. But even though we had the few instant tech-leader buy-ins, others—like board members, some teachers, PD instructors, et cetera—didn’t really know what they were looking at,” said Williamson.

Williamson said that sometimes you have to start fresh to get the buy-in you need.

She started a book report system in which she asked her district leaders to read a book she thought was pertinent to the report—books such as A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink.

“If there was one book I’d suggest that school leaders read, it’s Tony Wagner’s Making the Grade: Reinventing America’s Schools,” she suggested. “It’s no-nonsense, easy to read, and has some very practical advice and steps on how to integrate some of these key trends.”

After asking her staff and leaders to read these books, everyone helped to develop a 21st-century skills comparison chart, comparing the proficiency of skills mastered among the district’s different schools and how these skills are supported.

“After taking these sort-of ‘starter’ steps, then the report, as well as CoSN’s 2010 toolkit, became an extremely useful guide—not just for those automatically in-the-know,” said Williamson.

CoSN’ 2011 toolkit will have 2 components:

  1. A presentation template that provides a PowerPoint overview of the report. The Notes View will have a suggested script for use in group discussions. There will also be a discussion facilitator’s guide with questions to stimulate group thinking about the report and new technologies, said CoSN.
  2. Discussion activities to engage stakeholders in dialogue to identify local instructional and education challenges and consider whether emerging technologies might have the potential to address them.

The toolkit, along with the Horizon Report, will be released May 17. It will be available for downloading free of charge at


CoSN 2011


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