From an E-Education perspective, the last two years have yielded significant technological change on three major fronts: hardware, software and network connectivity. Distance educators and administrators should take note of these changes and trends when planning new programme and course development activities in order to continue to compete successfully in this fast-changing field.
First, on the hardware front the most important technological changes relating to e-education have been the proliferations of both Flash memory drives and Apple iPods. Large capacity Flash memory drives have now become very inexpensive and most college students find themselves using this hardware to transport files easily from on location to another; thereby increasing the portability of their work (Lightbody, 2005). A high degree of portability and the ability to access their distance education anywhere at anytime have now become the expectations of the distance learner. Like Flash memory drives, Apple iPods are now becoming more and more popular. An educational spin-off of the iPod is the concept of podcasting. Where anyone can record themselves using audio files and publish their sound files to the Internet for people to download and play either on their iPod or on there computer. From a distance education perspective, podcasting allows for instructors and students to share audio, including lectures, much easier than in the past (Read, 2005). Also, some visionaries are now regularly publishing podcasts as a way to share, explore and build knowledge in the field of e-learning (For an example, see Susan Smith-Nash’s e-Learning Queen blog).
Second, on the software front the most important technological changes relating to e-education have been the proliferation of web-logs (a.k.a. blogs) as well as the rise of free beta versions of new Google services. Weblogs have exploded in popularity in the last two years. The Internet now contains thousands of blogs and a significant amount of them belong to the education category or have educational applications. They have been used in an educational setting to provide a way of sharing student work, of chronicling experiences, of journaling thoughts and feelings, and of disseminating knowledge (Dyrli, 2005; Krause, 2005; Richardson, 2005). Educators are also using blogs to communicate and share with their colleagues. So called Edubloggers form an active collection of writers on the Internet and share their practical knowledge of technology in education. In the last two years, Google has begun to transform itself into a formidable service provider that will benefit e-education initiatives. With the creation of free beta versions of its Google Scholar portal (a service which allows users to search some peer-reviewed material; I've writen about it before here), Google Booksearch portal (a service which allows users to search full text of public domain books) and most recently its Google Base service (a service which allows users to add any kind of content to the Google database), it has become increasingly useful to e-educators and students alike (Young, 2005). From a distance students can now use these Google resources to supplement their institutions library services and they can also publish new content to Google for their classmates to use.
Third, as wireless technology becomes faster and cheaper most laptop manufacturers are now including wireless cards in the standard configuration of their products and students are taking advantage of this technology to learn (Carlson, 2005; Gossey, 2005). The result is that more distance education students have laptops which they can connect to wireless networks to increase portability of their work space. Students can now connect their laptop to the Internet at various points throughout their homes as well as other semi-public places such as some workplaces, libraries and even laundromats! The increased portability will facilitate Internet access for students and will continue to help them learn anywhere at any time.
The ramification of these advances in the last two years is important to consider. As hardware, software and network technologies continue to bring new levels of portability, functionality and resource access to students at a distance, the popularity of web-enabled distance education programmes will continue to grow. Designers who design their courses to leverage new tools, services and Internet functionalities in order to better connect students with resources and with each other at a distance will be the e-education leaders. This interconnectedness is the value in distance education today; student-to-student interaction, information accessibility and content sharing are now the expectation of students at a distance. Forward thinking educators will continue to provide students with new e-education models that take advantage of the positive aspects in the fast-changing technological landscape in order to maintain and grow their market share. A century old quotation from Will Rogers still remains pertinent today: “Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.”
Do you think there have been other major changes in E-Education technology in the last two years that I've missed? If so, please leave a comment with your ideas.
Carlson, S. (2005). Colleges Increase Use of Technology in Teaching, Survey Finds. Chronicle of Higher Education, 52(9), 42-42.
Dyrli, O.E. (2005). School blogs. District Administration, 41(10), 69-69.
Gossey, D. (2005). Wireless for All of Us. Edutech Report, 21(10), 4-5.
Krause, S.D. (2005). Blogs as a tool for teaching. Chronicle of Higher Education, 51(42), 33-35.
Lightbody, K. (2005). USB flash drives: Easy data transfer in education. Retrieved 02 December 2, 2005, from http://members.ozemail.com.au/~leemshs/flash.htm
Read, B. (2005). Lectures on the go. Chronicle of Higher Education, 52(10), 39-42.
Richardson, W. (2005). Blog revolution. Technology & Learning, 26(3), 48-48.
Young, J.R. (2005). 100 Colleges Sign Up With Google to Speed Access to Library Resources. Chronicle of Higher Education, 51(37), 30-30.