Saturday, February 23, 2013

How well did I predict the future? A five year check

Today while I was cleaning up my files, I found this document that I wrote exactly five years ago. Along with an explanation of my plans for educational technology in my schools, it contains predictions about how technology would change in ten years.

I was struck by the coincidence of finding this document on its five-year anniversary and so I'm posting it here- not exactly for posterity, but more to reflect on my own thinking at the time, and to evaluate what I predicted correctly and what I didn't anticipate. It's also an interesting half-way point between when I wrote the predictions and when I predicted they would happen. Here's the original message, followed by my "scorecard" and some other reflections.

Dear Information and Technology Literacy Team,  
As you know, I've been exploring Google's "Apps for your domain" service for a while in order to find more effective ways for district staff to access and share information. The ultimate goal is to enable staff, students, parents, and the community to efficiently access, evaluate, share, and use information and technology to communicate with each other, solve important problems, and contribute to the betterment of society. (Lofty, I know, but we have to keep the end in mind.) In a small way, technology can help with that by making us more efficient, more informed, and more communicative.  
If you've spent much time around me, you have probably heard my soapbox speech of how schools are becoming information-restricted zones, and about how I want to bring the information and communication tools that people are using at home, into the school. Shared calendars are an aspect of Google Apps that I am exploring, and hope to implement soon. The "OSD Portal Page" is an example of what I foresee as a more useful way to deliver customized content to each staff member. Google Apps offers services like GoogleTalk, their Instant Messaging service, which generically have evolved from personal communication services into business communication tools.  
As I explored the capabilities of Google Apps (the beta version), I found some limitations. I've been talking to Google about some of my concerns, and am going to meet with them in Milwaukee in a couple weeks.

As it turns out, Google was working to address some of my concerns already, and this week, they announced Google Apps Premier Edition. I've attached some documents which explain the service so you can familiarize yourself with it. Aside from now costing money (of course), there are some significant changes which make this a more realistic possibility for organizations, including ours.  
Now, I'm not rushing headlong into this. However, it strikes me that this is a major milestone in the transition from PC-based software to Web-based software, or Software-as-a-Service (called SaaS in the industry). In the past few years, the District has mirrored the industry trend to transition to web-based services. Our in-house databases are primarily web-based, and accessible from off campus. E-Funds, Esped, PowerSchool, and Lawson are all web-based. Arguably, we have already entrusted our most important systems (payroll and student information) to web access. Trusting Internet access for "office" software doesn't seem too much of a stretch.  
In the short term, this gives us choices for how we choose to spend our money. I haven't completed a full analysis yet, but it appears that Google is offering services which could effectively replace our current ones, but at a lower cost.  
In the long term, this has implications for the role of our work, the practical implementation of schools, and our philosophy of education. Allow me to explain the trend, as I see it.
Where has this come from?  
IBM used to sell you hardware, terminals, network cables, and software all as one big package. Microsoft was revolutionary in that they had the audacity to charge money for software (almost unheard of at the time). They made an entire industry out of arranging electronic bits, putting them on media, shrink-wrapping the box, and selling it to you. You felt like you got something, because you got the box and the disk and the manual. But now software is delivered electronically. Manuals are online. And boxes are wasteful. Microsoft now gets more than half its income from license agreements. They don't give you anything except the right to continue using the bits.  
Where are we now?
Google is stepping in and offering services for a subscription. Not a new idea, but they've done it in a compelling way. Instead of shrink-wrapped boxes, they are offering full services, such as email with guaranteed 99.9% uptime, 100GB of storage, and data archiving services to comply with federal regulations. (That last part is HUGE to an IT department.) They are doing basically what IBM was doing forty years ago, but using the network (the Internet) we already have to deliver all their services, and to eliminate the physical barriers of "the office" or "school." Google is already pushing access to these services and information out to the ubiquitous interface of the mobile phone. If you haven't noticed, almost everybody has a phone, even the students in our schools, where phones are not allowed. Plus, phones are not just for voice communication anymore. Phones can access the internet at speeds faster than the dialup connections of a few years ago. They have cameras, keypads, networking capabilities, and web browsers. Remind you of anything? 
Where is this going? 
Extrapolate this ten years into the future. It's hard to imagine. Ninety-five percent of students in grades 5-12 will have a phone which can access the internet at broadband speeds. That access will give them their email, IM, voice communication, videoconferencing, office apps, music, and more, all in their hand. Are we going to hang onto the "no phones in school" rule, or take advantage of the low cost of information and communication access that students bring to us? Are we going to continue to limit learning to a 45 minute block of time in a particular cinderblock room, or will we deliver education the way everything else is delivered- on-demand, asynchronously, transcending physical and geographic boundaries?  
I know, there is a likelihood (actually a guarantee) that students will access things that are not appropriate.  
That is what makes your job as Information and Technology Literacy educators absolutely vital. We will no longer be able to prevent access to information (even doing so now is an unending, and losing, battle). We will be forced to admit that students will access huge volumes of data, and they need to have the knowledge, skills, guidance, and encouragement to wisely, critically, and productively evaluate and use that information. Your role will be to give students the skills to handle the methods by which they will receive information on all other subject areas. Not just school subjects- all subjects. Aside from those who teach students how to read, you will have the most important role in preparing students to survive and thrive in the information age.  
Thanks for reading this. There are some moments when a certain piece of the puzzle called "the future" falls into place for me. This was one of those moments, and I wanted to share it with you, not only to give you insight into my vision, but also to let you know how vitally important you are to the future of our students. 

What I got right:
  • Google Apps proved to be huge (we moved to it in 2008-09)
  • Microsoft's Office cash-cow is doomed
  • SaaS is common; apps have moved online; nobody buys shrink-wrapped software anymore
  • Wireless Internet access is replacing wired access
  • Learning is moving outside of traditional schools and breaking geographical boundaries
  • The importance of teachers who can guide students through making positive life choices
What I missed:
  • I don't think it will be another five years before 95% of students 5-12 have phones. It will be sooner. (In my defense, when I wrote this, the iPhone didn't exist yet. The release of the iPhone and iPod touch accelerated the adoption of personal Internet devices.)
  • Google Apps ended up being free for schools, not just cheap.
  • I didn't see tablets like the iPad coming
Interesting to note:
  • Every cloud-based service we used five years ago has been replaced with something else.
  • We have still not embraced the idea of students bringing their own devices.
So, what are my predictions for the next five years? I'm not making any right now. I haven't had an epiphany lately. Plus, I'm busy working on the implementation of these ideas- we have Chromebooks and iPad in our buildings to support personalized learning, enrollment in online learning is increasing drastically, and the factory model of school is crumbling. Fortunately, the team of people I work with are amazingly talented and dedicated. The future is bright. Let's go.

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Keep it clean and on-topic, folks. Or if not on topic, make it visionary and inspiring. Or at least entertaining. Funny gets you bonus points.