Five ed-tech stories to watch for 2010

Game-changing technologies are on the way in 2010.
Game-changing technologies are on the way in 2010.

Recently, we posted a look back at the 10 most significant education technology stories of 2009, as chosen by our editors. Now, here’s a look at five stories that could have a huge effect on education technology in the new year. (As always, you can follow the latest developments regarding these and other stories at

5. Will Congress reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act this year, and if so, what will the new law look like?

The reauthorization of NCLB is three years overdue, but if the recent health-care debate is any indication, it could be a while yet before lawmakers overcome the gridlock on Capitol Hill to pass a new federal education law. Still, educators will be watching closely to see how these efforts play out in the coming year–and what effects they might have on school policy.

Eight years after NCLB was enacted, U.S. schools have made some progress in closing achievement gaps, but much work remains to be done. And there is growing evidence to suggest that the nation’s schools aren’t preparing students adequately to compete in the global economy, as U.S. scores on international benchmark exams have remained relatively flat while other nations have made great strides.

The Obama administration has articulated four key priorities in its efforts to reform the nation’s schools: rewarding effective teaching, improving academic standards, using data to drive instruction, and transforming underperforming high schools. It’s likely these four priorities will be reflected in any new education law that emerges from Congress. But there are other bills pending in Congress that could help shape a new education law as well, and many of these have important implications for ed tech.

For instance, states offering students curriculum options that integrate key 21st-century skills would receive matching federal funds through an incentive bill introduced last May by West Virginia Democrat John D. Rockefeller IV. And the School and Family Education about the Internet (SAFE Internet) Act, sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., would authorize roughly $175 million over five years for internet safety education and training to help make children, parents, and educators aware of proper online behavior.

Related links:

Bill would fund internet safety education

Duncan outlines school reform agenda

Senate bill supports 21st-century skills

Duncan: Use tech to leverage change

4. How will the continuing evolution of mobile devices affect students’ computing experience?

The rapid evolution of mobile computing has had a profound effect on school technology use in recent years, and this trend is sure to continue in 2010.

Over the past several months, netbooks–smaller, scaled-down versions of notebook computers–have begun replacing laptops in a number of schools, and recent advancements in smart-phone technology have prompted many school leaders to reevaluate their cell-phone policies, with an eye on whether these can put a computer in each student’s hands for less money than traditional machines.

Later this year, Google will introduce a new operating system for netbooks and other mobile computers that promises to reduce boot-up speeds dramatically. Called Chrome, the new system–which is closely tied to Google’s web browser of the same name–aims to shift users toward “cloud computing,” a model in which programs are not installed on a local machine but instead are accessed online. In a recent demonstration, a netbook using an early version of the Chrome operating system reportedly booted up in seven seconds, and Google said it was working to make the start-up time even faster. (That could be key in an environment where time is at a premium, such as a 50-minute class period.)

Google is involved in another development with significant implications for mobile device users: The company is getting set to unveil untethered cellular phones that use its Android smart-phone platform. “Untethered” means the phones won’t be tied to a particular service provider, allowing schools and consumers to use whatever provider makes the best sense for them.

Another technology rumored to be in development is a new tablet-style computer from Apple Inc., which might be the first major launch in a new class of slate-like multimedia devices that could overtake the laptop computer. Despite a growing cacophony of rumors, Apple so far has declined to acknowledge that such a device exists. But that hasn’t stopped zealous Apple watchers from generating an early buzz about the device, which is rumored to be coming out in March. As imagined, the device would be a single-color panel a little larger than Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader. Because users would be able to manipulate on-screen objects–including a virtual keyboard–by touch, there would be no need for a mouse or a conventional set of keys.

Yet another developer working on a tablet-style mobile computing device is the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, which just announced a change in direction. Gone are the organization’s plans for a twin touch-screen XO 2 computer, which folded like a book and was scheduled for release this year but never advanced beyond the prototype stage. In its place will come the XO 3, which is described as a “single sheet of flexible plastic” that cannot break. Although details are sketchy, OLPC claims the device will have a target price “well below” $100–but it’s not expected to be available until 2012.

One sub-$100 mobile device that is available now is the $99 Cherrypal Africa, a “mini-netbook” that debuted last month and is intended to bring internet access to the world’s poor. The features of what is being called the world’s first actual $100 laptop might not impress anyone–it’s small, with just a 7-inch screen, and “admittedly not exactly fast, though good enough to browse the web,” wrote company founder Max Seybold.

But Seybold believes the $99 Africa, which has a 400-MHz processor, 256 megabytes of RAM, 2 gigabytes of flash memory, and runs either Linux or Windows CE, might find a niche in developed nations, too.

“There are still more than 15 million Americans who can’t afford [a] laptop, who have to go to a public library or live without access to the internet at all, which is becoming increasingly difficult,” Seybold noted.

Related links:

Are netbooks right for education?

Google offers peek at new OS, a potential challenge to Windows

With a new phone, Google might challenge Apple

World’s first $99 laptop debuts

One Laptop Per Child changes direction, aims for ultra-thin device

Buzz swirling for Apple tablet

Report: Apple tablet device coming in January

Google to take wraps off new mobile phone

3. Will the digital textbook revolution succeed? And, how will new developments in the digital book market affect teaching and learning?

In our review of the top ed-tech stories of 2009, we cited the emergence of digital textbooks as the No. 1 story of the year, as both California and Texas–two bellwether states for textbook purchasing–are now moving toward digital models. But it remains to be seen whether these efforts will succeed, and policy makers and educators will be watching to see how these ambitious projects fare.

Advocates of the move toward all-digital resources say this trend can save schools money over time, because schools can use open curriculum resources that are available free of charge online–eliminating or at least slashing the cost of replacing outdated textbooks every five or six years. But it’s unclear how these cost savings might be offset by other expenses, such as the hardware and infrastructure costs required to make sure all students have fast, reliable internet access as needed.

It’s also unclear how students, even those of the digital generation, will take to using electronic resources instead of print. For K-12 schools that retain ownership of textbooks and forbid students from marking up the text, this might be less of an issue; but some college students who have used digital textbooks say they missed the ability to take notes in the margin, or flag important pages with sticky notes.

Another issue that could help decide the fate of schools’ experiments with digital textbooks is the future of electronic publishing.

Although a growing number of schools are embracing books in electronic format, many classic titles that have become staples of the English curriculum still aren’t available as eBooks. These include, most notably, the Harry Potter series and countless other favorites: Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22; Lolita and To Kill a Mockingbird; Atlas Shrugged, The Outsiders, and Fahrenheit 451.

The reasons can be legal, financial, technical, or philosophical. In some cases, the author or author’s estate simply refuses, like J.K. Rowling, who has expressed a preference for printed books and a wariness of technology. In others, the author, or his or her estate, is holding out for more money.

A potentially disturbing electronic-publishing development with important implications for schools occurred last month, when Amazon snared the exclusive rights to sell The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Principle-Centered Leadership, by Stephen Covey, in eBook format. The deal essentially freezes out Barnes & Noble from getting the popular titles on the Nook, its eBook reader and a major rival to Amazon’s Kindle. If other authors sign similar deals in the future, that could limit the options available to users of a particular e-reader technology.

Yet another issue that bears watching in 2010 is the fate of Google’s proposed book-scanning deal with authors and publishers, which would allow the internet search giant to move forward with its plans to amass a huge digital library.

The landmark deal nearly fell apart over concerns that it would thwart competition in the emerging digital-book market, but the two sides agreed to a revised settlement that awaits a federal judge’s approval this year.

At stake is access to the full text of millions of out-of-print books online, a potential goldmine for scholars and other researchers. Google has called its Books project, which also scans public-domain works, an invaluable chance for obscure books to receive increased exposure; the revised deal awaits a hearing in February.

Related links:

Iconic texts still missing from e-libraries

Kindle lightens textbook load, but flaws remain

Google rewrites landmark book-search deal

Authors, publishers spar over digital rights to older books

Amazon signs best-selling author to game-changing eBook deal

Open courseware gains momentum

2. How will schools deal with a lingering financial crisis that isn’t expected to end anytime soon?

While some economists point to signs that the nation’s economy is improving, others say the U.S. faces a much slower climb out of the recession–a scenario that could disrupt public education in 2010 and beyond.

States are still waiting to hit bottom and are not likely to do so for another year or two, and education will feel the financial impact for some time after that, said Richard Sims, the chief economist for the National Education Association, at the Software and Information Industry Association’s Ed-Tech Business Forum last month.

At best, Sims said, current conditions will create the way for improvement–but it will be a “long stretch” of improvement until the economy has recovered fully.

Federal stimulus funding for education has helped, but it’s not nearly enough to offset the cuts still to come: A November report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicated that states’ fiscal problems are so great that states might have to make additional deep budget cuts and tax increases in 2010.

“The federal stimulus funds have helped schools, but not as much as hoped,” Mark Bielang, president of the American Association of School Administrators and superintendent in Paw Paw, Mich., said in a statement.

How schools deal with the lingering financial crisis bears watching–and school leaders no doubt will be looking for more ways to save money without cutting valuable educational programs.

Toward that end, eSchool News has put together a special supplement called “Money Matters,” in which district leaders reveal their secrets for balancing school budgets–without dropping what’s important. The guide includes seven proven ways to save on school budgets, ranging from the obvious (turning off computers at night) to the often overlooked (virtualizing software, leveraging partnerships).

Related links:

Money Matters

Schools face tough economic road ahead

Study: Schools face post-stimulus shortfalls

1. What will the new National Education Technology Plan and National Broadband Plan look like?

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is expected to unveil the first draft of the Obama administration’s National Education Technology Plan later this month, and next month the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will submit a National Broadband Plan to Congress. Both plans will influence the direction that ed tech will take in schools for years to come.

In a speech at New York’s Princeton Club on Dec. 1, ED’s new director of education technology, Karen Cator, previewed the national ed-tech plan for more than 200 ed-tech providers and investors at the Software and Information Industry Association’s Ed-Tech Business Forum.

In broad terms, Cator said in an interview with eSchool News, the administration’s ed-tech plan will seek to realize the president’s goal of making the United States first in the world in the percentage of college graduates by 2020 and to give every willing student at least one year of postsecondary education.

The plan will address the imperatives of global competition, Cator said, and it will focus on ensuring that effective teachers are present “in every zip code,” as well as on seamlessly bridging the gap between the wide array of technology students use outside of school and the more limited technology available to them in the classroom. The plan also will promote careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, but it will add an emphasis on the arts, because, as Cator explained, creativity is essential to lifelong success in the age of technology.

The unveiling of ED’s national ed-tech plan might roughly coincide with the release of the FCC’s national broadband initiative, Cator indicated. The dovetailing of those two elements of the national agenda, she said, will provide the best chance in decades for genuine, technology-driven, systemic reform.

Related links:

ED’s new tech chief previews national plan

Federal officials seek a national strategy for getting broadband to every American

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