A look ahead to the educational IT challenges for 2012

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In IT for Every Classroom, Paul Keery shares his insights on technology news, trends and best practices in 21st-century teaching and learning.

Photo from The York School

The year 2011 left a wake of upheaval in the IT world. Changes for the major IT companies, the different needs of high school and elementary school instruction, and the growing ubiquity of smartphone and social media use will all provide students and teachers with special challenges in 2012.

Apple and RIM: Different Directions

Apple and RIM seem to be going in two different directions. While Apple's stock (in both senses of the word) couldn't be higher, RIM faces an existential challenge. RIM has to find a way to make its tablets easy and worthwhile to use; unlike Apple, it has few apps that appeal to its tablet users and few people working on such apps. Its BlackBerry faces challenges of obsolescence that it will have to surmount.

Yet the death of Steve Jobs means that Apple may face similar challenges in the near future. Can Apple find a way to maintain Jobs' legendary approach to innovation, or will it prove to have been a "one-man company"? For educators, the fate of Apple is probably more compelling than that of RIM, which has paid little attention to educational users over the years.

Different Educational Needs: Elementary School vs. High School

A major, ongoing challenge to the successful increased integration of IT in the classroom lies in the difference between elementary and high school educational needs. Almost all of the major technologies available to use in classrooms tend to focus on elementary school needs; it's easier to write software that teaches fundamental skills rather than software that focuses on the more specialized needs of the specific subjects and the required curriculum taught in high school. In addition, while provincial educational ministries across Canada inspect high schools, many provinces do not inspect elementary schools; this allows much more freedom for elementary educators to innovate without fear of running afoul of ministry inspectors.

However, this presents another issue: How do educators prevent IT integration from coming to a crashing halt at the high school level, due to curricular pressures? This has been an issue for some time, but will become a greater problem as more and more elementary students used to working with IT enter the high school system.

Smartphones in the Classroom

The year 2011 saw an exponential increase in the number of students with smartphones, and, correspondingly, in the pressure to use them in the classroom. Upheaval in the Middle East and, later, in Asia, Europe and North America, developed and fostered over Facebook and Twitter, bringing social media greater attention than ever before–and, again, pressure from students to use them in school.

Smartphones have great potential in the classroom, but also create problems. The ability to take and post pictures instantaneously, and to access any student's Facebook accoun–not to mention to play games and chat with others–can easily be abused. Given the potential legal liabilities, it's not surprising that school administrators are reluctant to allow smartphones to be used.

Yet the growing tendency to replace digital cameras with camera-equipped smartphones, as well as the ability to use smartphones to record and download audio files for recording podcasts and video, makes them very convenient classroom tools for IT integration.

In 2012, school administrators will have to find a way to balance the legal liabilities with the economic and educational value of using smartphones as a classroom tool.

Social Media in the Classroom

It has been said that journalism is the "rough draft of history." If that's the case, then social media is the "first draft of journalism." Both reflect only initial perspectives, and are often misleading, if not flat-out wrong. Using social media in class to follow an event is tempting, but it may not mean that students are developing any understanding of what is actually happening in the event. A challenge for educators in 2012, with many events that will be Tweeted and Facebooked and FourSquared, will be to develop a meaningful method to integrate these tools with the background and context needed to fully understand events as they happen.

As 2012 progresses, we'll see how educators respond to these challenges. We can't count on the world ending on Dec. 21 to bail us out of them!

—Paul Keery
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