Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Price is Right for Education Technology

If you are waiting to see what evolves in technology before implementing a major technology initiative in your school, your wait is over.

Technology has shown that the pace of change accelerates; it does not stabilize. (Maybe it is better stated your wait is futile.)

Likewise, if you are waiting for the price to drop because it is too expensive, you can stop waiting.

The price has already fallen to the point that makes technology initiatives affordable for schools. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the falling cost of a gigabyte of storage as noted by Ivan Smith (Boing Boing by David Isenberg):

YEAR — Price of a Gigabyte
1981 — $300,000
1987 — $50,000
1990 — $10,000
1994 — $1000
1997 — $100
2000 — $10
2004 — $1
2010 — $0.10

So where is the price headed? A goal of industry is for computers to cost . . . wait for it . . . one dollar!

This means computers will be everywhere: carried on our persons, mounted into tools, installed in furniture, and sewn into the fabric of our garments. It will also make computers disposable. Of course we are not talking about computers with full monitors and keyboards (assuming keyboards continue to exist). We are referring to microcomputers with specific and limited functions.

A skeptic may doubt that one dollar computers are achievable. But consider the musical greeting card--the card you open and plays a popular tune or even sings to you. A single such card has as much computer power as existed in the world in the 1950's.

The point is that now is the time to invest in technology. The initial outlay for purchasing will be buoyed over time by the falling costs of subsequent additions and updates. This calls for a short-term expenditure rather than a long-term investment with significant, recurring costs.

Of course times are hard and budgets are stressed to the breaking point in a manner unprecedented in the last 70 years. Our nation's economy is a mess, but over the next few years it will rebuild. Now is the time to use this crisis to begin restructuring. Schools should begin by redesigning student-centered classrooms emphasizing inquiry learning. They should start training teachers in an instructional methodology facilitated by technology. This should lead to integrating technology into instruction. Schools should next pilot laptop learning in select classes, providing students with the research tools to facilitate inquiry learning. Finally schools should lay out a plan for full one-to-one implementation.

Though expensive, education technology is affordable; though futuristic, it is contemporary; though extraneous, it is essential. The time is now.

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