Tech firms keep their secrets better than most governments, so predicting tech innovations for the coming year can be tricky. EducationWorld went straight to an industry insider to see exactly what educators should expect from the world of technology in 2012.
Jody Forehand currently serves as the Vice President of Product Planning for education tech firm Luidia. Luidia is known for developing the eBeam technology featured in many interactive whiteboard products. In addition to working with partners such as Sony and HP, Luidia also produces its own educational whiteboard product, dubbed the Engage. Forehand has spent years in the educational tech sector, and she has put that experience to use for EdWorld readers as she predicts what schools will look like, technologically speaking, in the coming year.
Tablets and mobile devices started getting a foothold in classrooms in 2011, and this trend is expected to continue, according to Forehand.
“Tablets, especially iPads, will be a major factor in 2012,” she said. “When we talk to our dealers, they see it not only continuing, but accelerating as well.”
Forehand believes that last year’s influx of tablets was based on a number of grant-related pilot programs and that 2012’s expected expansion will fall under more traditional programs.
“What was interesting to me is that it sounds like schools are mostly getting them for the teachers to use,” Forehand said. “I’m going to be curious to see if that shifts in the coming year to where more and more students will have them. As prices come down and more students bring in their own iPads to use, we expect to see more and more classroom embracing this technology.”
While some have argued that the Kindle Fire’s $199 price tag would make it enticing to the education market, Forehand said she isn’t seeing Amazon’s tablet gaining any ground.
“In terms of being in the classroom, we’re just not seeing much evidence that the Kindle Fire is gaining a lot of traction,” Forehand said. “That is based on our dealers, and I was careful to ask about that specifically because we need to know for planning eBeam features for the coming year. They said that by far, the iPad outpaces anything out there.”
Forehand said the move to open source software is predominantly found abroad, but she said she expects this trend to appear stateside in the near future.
“It’s an extremely strong trend in Latin America and Europe,” Forehand said. “The U.S. market for tech tends to be handled on a school-to-school or district-to-district basis, where in other countries the purchasing decisions are made on the state or federal level. In many cases, these large bids for these countries require Linux, and only Linux. I think that it is interesting that these countries are using this type of technology as a cost-containment measure.”
While there is often pushback with regard to change in schools, the cost savings may be too great for U.S. schools to pass up in 2012, she explained.
“This is why I’m thinking there could be a window this year,” Forehand said. “I’m going to be curious to see if it does make some traction. I think the primary hurdle may be the IT folks here may not have a very high comfort level with Linux. It may be that teachers may not be comfortable with it, but in these other countries they have a top-down approach. Whether teachers are comfortable with Linux or not, they’re going to do whatever makes the most sense dollar-wise for them.”
Existing infrastructure could also be a stumbling block for a move to Linux.
“I think that is part of it,” Forehand said. “You’ve got legacy systems, and I’m sure you have teachers concerned about using documents they’ve spent years creating in Word or Excel. But frankly, we’ve got a Linux box at my home, and I routinely open Word docs in a Linux reader or Excel spreadsheets, and it works fine.”
Even if Linux doesn’t make huge gains in the U.S. this year, Forehand expects open source programs such as Google Docs to gain traction.
“Anecdotally, I am hearing about some districts experimenting with that,” Forehand said. “If they can’t get another Microsoft license, they’re going in and using Google Docs. Taking that one step further, we’re seeing teachers who have access to Word, but are using Google Docs instead because of the collaboration features. It is very easy to use in classrooms and allows students to share their work.”