The increasing availability of computing power, reduced form-factor, and the concomitant increase of communication channels is the catalyst for
epochal change in education. In many circles, the computer is considered a 'tool', albeit a powerful one. This view of computers can be expanded. The automobile was a 'tool' for transportation. Yet, its effect on society was far more profound than as just a way to get from one place to another. Cultural, economic and citizen-government relations were all extensively transformed by the automobile. The advent of ubiquitous computing will similarly affect our society. Nowhere is this more apparent than in education.
Most of our school systems are based on an industrial model that is more than 150 years old. In the last decade, we have had tentative experiments in 'distributed learning' and student-centered
(as opposed to teacher-centered) learning. Broadly networked computing creates both push (technology provides more access to resources) and pull (users demand more capabilities) pressure for these new teaching paradigms. The speed of these changes will be determined by the actions of schools and their administrations. However, just as the horse was essentially replaced by the automobile, so too will the lecture/textbook style of learning be replaced by network-centric computing.
However, having the latest technology does NOT imply successful use of that technology. Creating multimedia reports just because it is possible, does not make for deeper understanding by students. Spending
one's creative time working on word processor fonts does not lead to better understanding of essay construction. Therefore, our immediate challenge is to use network-centric computing with strategic vision. As these technologies are relatively immature, they still require a great deal of 'tinkering' and integration skills. In addition, as the pace of innovation is accelerating on a nonlinear scale, the risk of misinvestment is significant. As an organization's planning horizon moves farther to the future, this risk becomes greater.
The true arrival of network-centric computing
will be heralded when its use in the primary grades is neither unusual nor complicated to implement.. In the typical strategies of today, we tend to provide newer technology in descending order from post-secondary to elementary.
On the short-term horizon, (less than 5 years), increasing use of the Internet and lowered student/computer ratios (tending towards 1 or even less!) and increased internetworking are dominant trends. Care
must be taken to insure that school staff have the means and incentives to continually educate themselves in these computing technologies.
Finally, we mustn't lose sight of the human dimension of teaching. If teachers are to become just proctors and technicians then we will have failed in strategically integrating computing technology.
Teachers must bring color, nuance and insight to the creative process. Yet, this process will progressively utilize more computing resources.