Sci-Fi educational tools coming to a school near you?

Cloud computing, collaborative environments and game-based learning are three developing educational technologies expected to emerge in the coming years, according to a new study.

An annual technology report published by the New Media Consortium this month surveyed educators, content providers and cutting edge designers to forecast what is likely to become a big part of a student's everyday vocabulary when looking into the near future of education.

Of six emerging technologies identified, the author isolated three that they expect will have a significant impact in as few as one to two years:

Cloud Computing

Although the combination of resources that support cloud computing is highly complex, in a nutshell, cloud computing refers to a platform for inexpensive networking, computing and communicating over the internet.

The report notes that although school administrators are embracing and using the technology already, it has yet to take hold in the classroom where books and paper are still the norm. The transition of cloud systems from an administrative tool to use in the classroom, however, looks to be poised for a breakthrough.

Collaborative Environments

Powered by cloud technology, collaborative environments are online spaces where educators and students across the globe can meet and share ideas.

For example, students from opposite ends of the country or separated by international borders can work together on joint projects and share resources. The report indicates that collaborative environments can be built from free or low cost off-the-shelf programming or assembled from simple, free tools - the key is the interaction they enable. Not the technologies they include."

Game-Based Learning

The use of electronic games to create alternate educational delivery methods also has a high probability of expanding further into classrooms.

Today's students are fed emotionally and educationally on digital games, and with that, educators need to tap into that technology to engage our very tech savvy kids. The challenge for game designers, however, is embedding the educational content so that learning "becomes a natural part of playing the game."

The report forecasts that increased use of games as educational tools is likely to hit classrooms as early as two to three years. Further, that games offer learning opportunities such as skill building, collaborative problem solving, foreign language acquisition, and development of critical academic skills.

Mobile Devices

Staying connected while on the go through devices such as laptops, cell phones, electronic book readers, is the new norm for people to stay in touch with colleagues, family, and the outside word. At the same time, access to the Internet seems limited only by geographic location.

While indispensible for work or social connections, cellular appliances are restricted in most classroom settings because of potential student misuse. However, the increasing capabilities of the devices and the expanding possibilities for educational use will most likely lead to increased curricular use according to the report.

Some educational uses can include support for field studies, note-taking on assignments, and drill and practice homework that can be done on the fly.

Augmented Reality

Further out in the future, the report indicates that "augmented reality" may have a place in the classroom. Augmented reality combines virtual data with the real world. One illustration of use could be for students on a field trip. The user would point a web cam at a location which would access AR applications that could overlay maps and information about how the location might have looked at different points in time - all visible on a mobile device.

Flexible Displays

The report notes that flexible display technology is still in the early phases of development but has the potential of taking education to new portable heights.

The touch-sensitive display screens could be printed onto very thin, flexible or stretchy materials and then attached to other surfaces. The images would be transmitted using organic light-emitting diode technology which draws very little power and has its own light source.

Potential uses for education are limitless once the technology is perfected. One such use the report suggests is that the flexible displays might be put to use to enhance textbooks with video content or animations.

Although poised for the future, folding these technologies into educational delivery systems is not without its challenges.

Noting that change in education is "hard to come by," the report observes that first there needs to be widespread agreement on the importance of digital literacy in professional development programs for educators, new learning models including hi-tech breakthroughs need to be adopted to engage today's technologically advanced students, and policy-makers and educators must push for "rapid and radical change."

To view the report, click here:

http://www.nmc.org/publications/2010-horizon-k12-report

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