Smart Classroom

5 Higher Ed Tech Trends To Watch in 2010

There aren't too many corners of higher education that technology hasn't infiltrated. From admissions to financial aid to the classroom and everything in between, nearly all aspects of college are being handled in some way by the applications, hardware, and gadgets that help institutions work more efficiently.

Don't expect much of that to change in 2010 as more technology is developed and introduced to the higher education market. To make your trend-spotting activities easier, we spoke with some higher education technology experts and came up with these five top tech trends to watch in the new year.

1. More Interactive Classrooms
The days when professors lectured to a class of blank, unresponsive faces are long gone. Today, both students and educators are tapping technology to make the classroom environment more interactive and dynamic. Purdue University's Web-based Hotseat application, which allows students to use handheld devices to interact with professors in the classroom environment, is just a taste of what's to come.

"Anything that helps make the classroom more interactive, animated and engaging--be it multimedia, streaming video or some other innovation--will be in demand this year," said Gregory Phelan, chair of the department of chemistry and associate professor at SUNY College at Cortland in New York, which is upgrading its facilities to include streaming video that professors can access via the server while teaching (rather than "carrying" the content with them into class). "We'll be there soon."

2. More Information at Your Fingertips
In an era when information just can't be produced quickly enough, electronic book readers, smart phones, search engines, and other tools will continue to create an educational environment where both students and teachers have everything they need at their fingertips. "This faster access to information is going to change the classroom dynamic," Phelan predicted. "It will impact the way in which lessons are taught, and how students do their work."

Phelan pointed to the colleges that are "handing out" tablet PCs to all freshmen as the frontrunners in the race to equip students with all of the information they need to succeed in school. Whether other universities follow that lead remains to be seen. "I'd really like to see more schools making that move," said Phelan, "and even further integrate technology into the college classroom."

3. Mashed-Up Technologies
Technological equipment and software that serves a single purpose has gone the way of the 8-track tape and will continue to fade in 2010 as more users learn to "mash up" their technologies into more useful packages. "Students are using every communication vector that they can get their hands on right now," said Ron Hutchins, associate vice provost for research technology and CTO at Georgia Institute of Technology's Office of Information Technology. "It just makes sense that they would mash those technologies together and make them more specific and customizable."

Take online maps, for example. Once thought of as standalone applications that help the user get from Point A to Point B in the fastest, most efficient manner, online maps can now be integrated into other applications, such as location-based e-mail programs. "These types of customizable, specific mashups," said Hutchins, "will become even more prevalent in higher education this year."

4. Breaking Out of Technology Isolation
One of the coolest uses of technology that Hutchins has seen lately can be found in Rutgers University's English department, which is equipped with an entire wall of touch-enabled whiteboards. Using precision positioning technology, the wall-mounted boards allow for unprecedented participation and collaboration among students.

"Students walk up to the wall and use their hands to manipulate items," remarked Hutchins. "It's like putting your whole body into a design project." Hutchins said such innovations also go a long way in getting students up out of their seats and interacting with educators, other students and technology in a meaningful way. "Technology can be isolating," he said. "I love the notion of integrating the classroom and making it more social. This is just one way to make that happen."

5. Capabilities That Go Beyond 1:1
Last year saw college students using more devices and technology applications than ever before, and universities scrambling to keep up with those tech-savvy students. Expect the trend to pick up speed in 2010, said Shannon Buerk, education design strategist at Dallas-based consultancy Cambridge Strategic Services. Netbooks, online education, social networking, smart phones and podcasting will continue to play a role in the typical student's life, as will "4:1 computing" as a replacement for the more traditional 1:1 (one device to handle one task).

"The traditional 1:1, standardized computing is too rigid in today's educational environment, where students are tapping into multiple technologies and switching gears quickly between them," said Buerk, who said she sees the university landscape as being ripe for even more technological innovations in 2010. "When it comes to [technology], there are no boundaries in the learning environment."

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