The Future of Anytime, Anywhere Education

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Technology is currently being used in many schools to help connect teachers, students and families with the best educational and administrative tools available. Research firm Market Data Retrieval claims that 80% of public schools now have broadband service, which suggests that many educators have seen some form of Web-related or wireless deployment in their own schools.

As technology has improved and become more widespread, educators have been challenged to use it in innovative ways that keep students engaged, attentive and able to retain information. Many districts are now looking at anytime, anywhere access to multimedia content as a next step in accomplishing those goals and expanding the learning environment. We are entering an era where certain educational trends are encouraging the use of online, multimedia and wireless tools at unprecedented levels, which may alter the overall educational technology landscape in the future.

Numerous factors impact the educational technology landscape, but here are a few trends that could drive the next generation of technology deployment in many schools:

An increased need for multimedia education. Students are comfortable with the Web, and they like being entertained via interactive, visually stimulating mediums such as video games. Educators must grab their attention with multimedia learning tools and content in those familiar formats (especially video), or risk more and more students “tuning out.”

A reduced need for a “fixed” education environment. Educators and administrators understand that teaching, learning and administration can happen anywhere. The availability of technology which enables access beyond the classroom is a fundamental shift that is breaking down barriers and enabling new instructional approaches.

The ongoing need for family involvement. Several studies have discussed family involvement as a key factor in educational performance, and that will continue. Teachers and administrators need to increase family and parental involvement by making important information accessible to families in an interactive and timely format.

Looking to the Future

In the context of these key trends, the educational technology landscape is likely to change quite drastically in the next five or so years. Multimedia education will further materialize as the technologies used to access that content continue to evolve and improve. Anytime, anywhere access to multimedia information will be a key component of tomorrow’s cutting-edge education.

As we take a hypothetical look at schools of the future, it’s important to note the overarching trend toward wireless enablement across a variety of applications. Technology has been breaking down the classroom walls for years, but the next step is to go beyond the school grounds and provide wireless access to administrative, planning, teaching and learning tools from virtually anywhere.

It’s challenging to predict the exact technological makeup of future schools, but many of them are expected to deploy some or all of the following multimedia or multi-access technologies:

Ubiquitous Wireless. By enabling education to happen anywhere, wireless technology may fundamentally shift the traditional “schoolhouse” mentality. Many of today’s wireline technologies are already being wirelessly enabled, and that trend will allow multimedia content and applications to be accessed from anywhere. Future schools could have
Wi-Fi networks on campus and high-speed wide-area wireless services off campus. Teachers, students and administrators are likely to have converged mobile devices, smart phones or laptops that can instantly detect various wireless networks and select the one with the fastest connection speed. With wireless speeds that will eclipse DSL speeds in the next few years, anytime, anywhere education will have limitless possibilities.

Integrated Communications Platforms. Integrated communications platforms that use Internet protocol (IP) to combine voice, video and data will be a key component of an on-demand multimedia education. Integrated platforms connect every room, help automate administrative duties, and allow teachers to show interactive video presentations at any time through a centralized media database controlled from the classroom. IP-based systems will allow schools to expand functionality and applications as new technologies arise. For example, schools may soon place IP video cameras in every room to help with security and safety. Principals will be able to instantly pull up video from any classroom on their wireless devices and monitor important developments using wirelessly enabled IP communications platforms.

Hosted Content Platforms. Hosted content platform technology exists today, but it will continue improving to enable access to multimedia instructional curricula and resources, collaboration utilities and productivity tools from outside the school. The idea that all teaching and learning takes place between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. will fade away as students, parents and teachers increasingly embrace the idea of accessing Web-based information at their convenience. Today, this access is mostly limited to a wireline connection. But as remote access to information becomes commonplace, many schools will begin making these tools available off campus via high-speed wireless networks.

Family Access Technologies.Today, communications systems are used to give families access to teachers and key information via touch-tone phones, voice-mail platforms and Web-based systems. Future systems will allow schools to enhance the communications features available to parents and begin enabling wireless access to those features. With the use of PDAs or smart phones, families will be able to stay informed and involved with their children’s education in a way that better fits their busy schedules.

Overall, as we look toward the future of education technology, the possibilities are very encouraging, especially given that schools are already enjoying the benefits that today’s technology brings, including increasing student achievement and keeping schools safe. As technology advances, administrators, teachers, parents and students will have a “no boundaries” approach to communicating and learning. As we see these advances, it’s important to remember that technology should be an enabler in education - allowing teachers to provide incredible learning environments that will grab the attention of tomorrow’s students in exciting new ways.


Pitt County School District Uses Communication Technology to Improve Student Results

The District:

The Pitt County School District in Greenville, N.C., consists of 33 schools and more than 20,000 students in a 656-square-mile area in Eastern North Carolina. The district’s technology decisions are made by Rejeanor Scott, Pitt County’s director of media and technology.

The Challenges/Goals:

  • Improve the academic performance of at-risk students.

  • Place state-of-the-art tools in teachers’ hands to boost productivity and enhance the learning environment.

The Solution:

Pitt County deployed Sprint TekNet IP, which provides data, voice and video capabilities in every classroom. The system incorporates video distribution and control capabilities, IP phones and voice mail, as well as automated administrative functions. The district is also installing Sprint’s Empowered Education Desktop, which is powered by LearningStation and combines Sprint’s communications network with online delivery of a comprehensive listing of high-quality educational learning tools from a wide range of K-12 content providers. The Empowered Education Desktop provides the unique capability of tracking student application usage to support data-driven decision-making at both the school and district levels.

The Results:

  • A study of 60 students instructed in a technology-based environment outscored the general population in reading and math by more than 15%.

  • Teachers infused an array of multimedia content into the curriculum, allowing for a more interactive and visually stimulating learning environment.

  • Teachers are now more productive and effective with multimedia learning because they use an in-class digital phone and centralized media database instead of wheeled media carts with a TV and VCR.

The Comments:

Rejeanor Scott says: “The dropout rate is down. Kids are excited about learning. They’re engaged. … The role of teachers is changing. Students are now empowered, firsthand learners with the teacher as their educational guide.”

The Future:

Sprint hopes to help schools begin wirelessly enabling key technologies, multimedia tools and applications. The Sprint TekNet IP and Empowered Education Desktop are two examples of technology that could be expanded wirelessly to provide teachers, administrators and students with an anytime, anywhere multimedia experience. Sprint and other carriers are launching higher-speed wireless networks in the next year or so that are expected to accelerate mobile deployments in education. Specifically for Sprint, the company is upgrading to Evolution Data Optimized (EV-DO) technology that will have average user speeds of 300-500 kilobits per second and peak rates of up to 2.4 megabits per second. These speeds will greatly impact the multimedia content and education applications that students, teachers, faculty and family can access anytime, anywhere on the wireless network.

Resources:

To learn more about Sprint’s educational technology applications, visit www.sprint.com/education.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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