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April - 2010 - issue > Technology
Today's-Technology-Trends-in-the-Education-Sector
Arpan Banerjee
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Today's students are growing up in a digital world that provides a variety of hi-tech tools, from computers and video games to increasingly sophisticated mobile devices. The schools and universities are following suit, integrating a range of technologies both in and outside the classrooms. Let us look at some exciting trends in today’s education sector.

Globalization

The demand for higher education globally has increased and will continue to grow. New campuses are being built, and existing campuses are expanding. Universities are competing internationally for resources, faculty, the best students, and education funding.

Overseas expansion creates opportunities for students and faculty in terms of exchange programs and expanded campus environments. India, China, and the Middle East have quickly become key areas for widespread campus growth. The learning model varies by country and institution, ranging from replicating the home campus to building local capacity to participating in faculty exchanges.

These global learning environments give students an opportunity to expand their portfolios to include experience that is valued in today’s workforce. Universities, in turn, use their foreign campuses to attract top research talent and build international relationships, establishing a global presence and helping to develop local capacity.

Information Literacy

Enhancing technical literacy and creating a culture that encourages faculty to use computers, smart devices, and other innovative tools in their curricula is becoming a top agenda of the colleges. From the perspective of students, while they are device-savvy, they may not necessarily be information savvy. In spite of growing up with technology, many students have not learned how to use technology for academic purposes. Universities are addressing this, through a variety of methods and are creating a technology culture through an array of programs such as support desks and student employment programs. The bottomline is to ensure that students are viable candidates and are competitive in the global workplace.

Branding

Today, the Internet is a viable way to market academic programs to prospective students while enhancing the school’s brand. Universities are also establishing online parties and networking websites for newly admitted freshmen, allowing them to interact virtually with campus services and the campus community before they start school. The presence of schools in virtual online communities such as Second Life helps enhance the brand. YouTube’s education channels and Apple’s iTunes U are effective not only for teaching and learning, but also for marketing a university. To attract prospective students, universities develop student blogger programs, where current students blog about their student lives. Some universities also have respective ‘fan pages’ on Facebook to enable communication with incoming freshmen.

Mobility

Students depend heavily on their mobile phones and PDAs these days. With the proliferation of mobile phones on campus, colleges everywhere are compelled to capitalize on feature-rich phones that are capable of much more than just voice calls. Adoption of the BlackBerry, iPhone, and other smart devices that have Internet access allows students and faculty perform a wide range of assignments. Tasks like administration, sharing class notes, downloading lectures, and instant messaging are possible anywhere with a cell phone service.

Mobile phones are also being used to access computer files from a remote location. With services like Sooner, students who have forgotten to bring an assignment to class can use their cell phone to access the completed work on their home computer and show it to their professor. Mobile applications such as Twitter and CitySense help students schedule meetings or study dates remotely. Mobile learning is also on the rise that uses PDAs and smartphones to deliver courseware, field data, short tutorials, and even classroom polls.

New Technology Adoption – a Trend in Itself

Some of the biggest trends of today include the emergence of Web 2.0 and social networking phenomena, such as blogs and wikis as well as new online video repository and delivery websites such as YouTube, iTunes U, and Big Think. The emergence of smartphones, such as the iPhone and other intelligent devices, has enhanced mobile learning (referred to as m-learning). These technologies create new channels for content delivery, online video expansion, and podcasting. Also, the adoption of virtual reality websites such as Second Life has provided the institutions of higher education with new venues for class gatherings and learning.

Some popular Web 2.0 tools are:
Blogs: Short for ‘Weblog’, a blog is an online journal, which has an owner (a person or oragnization) and readers serve as contributors and commenters that shape the dialogue. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic.

Wikis: The best way to describe a wiki is by giving the classic example of Wikipedia, which is an online encyclopaedia generated, validated, and maintained by users.

Podcasts: Series of digital media files that can be both audio and video.

Mashups: Similar to a portal, mashup is a newer, loosely defined Web 2.0 technique for content aggregation. Examples of popular consumer mashups are Google maps and Diggs.

Social networking and communities: Popular social networks like Facebook, Orkut, and LinkedIn used to build an online community of users that shares interests and or activities.

A combination of these tools is transforming learning environments to be social and personalized. While traditional Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Blackboard or Web CT are course centered and driven by the faculty, the new approach is to create a ‘learner centric’ system.

Universities continue to examine ways in which they can integrate these tools to further enhance the campus and learning experience and improve productivity through flexible learning environments. Many universities view technology as a key asset that helps them create an intellectually vibrant and relevant campus to attract the best students and faculty.

Learning and Collaboration

The education process has evolved over a period of time to collaborative learning. Web 2.0 and social networking tools such as blogs, wikis, and online social gathering websites like Flickr are enhancing and facilitating collaborative learning and are being used widely on many campuses. The delivery of content has evolved dramatically, as many professors opt to post all class material, including complete audio and or video recordings of lectures, on sites like iTunes U and YouTube. Open source course management systems such as Moodle and similar systems on Facebook are some applications that support more content and student collaboration.

Virtual meeting place tools like Webex, Dimdim, and Gotomeeting are efficient Web based collaboration solutions that help improve productivity and decrease communication gaps and travel. These tools simulate the visual communications that occur between students and teachers in the traditional classroom setting.

Education and Entertainment

Higher education content and entertainment (edutainment) share a common footprint these days. Teachers combine the two using various videos that have both educational and entertainment value in podcasts and post course content on education channels. Television broadcasting companies such as the BBC, MTV, NBC, and ABC are quickly developing methods to integrate broadcast media with higher education. This trend supports the marked increase in the use of multimedia devices on college campuses where content is accessible not only through computers, but also through TVs and smartphones.

In conclusion, technology is all set to play an increasing role in higher education of this century. Learning technology of today is being shaped with the help of tools to create a social, highly collaborative, and personalized environment. Institutions will adopt innovative solutions that will change the way students learn, communicate, produce, collaborate, and study both on and off campus. Creating innovative services from current and future technologies requires a powerful, reliable, expandable, and secure IT infrastructure that has adequate bandwidth, quality of service, and storage. Many colleges and universities have already developed plans to ensure success in meeting their current and future needs. Educators, managements, and administrators who are proactive in embracing the trends with the help of the right technology partners are in a position to create significant competitive advantages.

The author is VP, Business Development, Innominds Software
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