America's Digital Schools 2006: A Five-Year Forecast

Key Finding #1
Digital schools are transitioning from a desktop world to a mobile world

Not long ago, very few schools had a large number of laptop computers. ADS 2006 indicates that 19.4% of all student devices today are mobile and that 52.1% will be mobile in 2011. It is noteworthy that schools rarely change at this rapid rate. Also, since these figures represent the installed base, current-year sales numbers will be even more tilted toward mobile solutions.

These figures include laptops, tablets, and student appliances, but not cell phones.

Clearly this finding is of interest to hardware vendors. Of interest to software developers will be the growing need for new types of application software, since the way that technology is used in the classroom will change as a result of the movement toward mobile solutions. In addition, the transition to mobile computing will help facilitate the transition to ubiquitous computing, which is not practical in a desktop computer environment.

Key Finding #2
Ubiquitous computing is growing rapidly

Closely connected to Key Finding #1 is the move toward ubiquitous, or 1:1, computing (defined as “each student and teacher has one Internet-connected wireless computing device for use both in the classroom and at homeâ€). Ubiquitous computing, where every teacher and student has his or her own computing device that is not shared with others, is very different from temporary 1:1 solutions such as those provided by computer carts.

In 2003 QED reported that 4% of U.S. school districts had started 1:1 implementations.. ADS 2006 indicates that more than 24% of school districts are in the process of transitioning to 1:1—a large jump in a market that is known to take a cautious view of change.

Key Finding #3
Ubiquitous computing practitioners report substantial academic improvement

ADS 2006 shows that 87% of school districts where academic results were tracked reported moderate to significant positive results, with 13% reporting no results or poor results. It appears that properly implemented ubiquitous computing solutions can help improve student achievement to a significant degree.

In related interviews, many educators have pointed out that the effects of ubiquitous computing extend beyond improved high-stakes test results. Other widely observed effects include a reduction in dropout rates and an improvement in attendance rates.

Key Finding #4
A bandwidth crisis is looming

Today the Internet bandwidth per student is .69 Kbps (or kilobits per second per student) according to the survey. Furthermore, schools say they will need 23.6 Kbps per student by 2011 — a 34-fold increase. And some experts indicate that as many as 50 Kbps may be needed in five years. As the number of computers in schools increases and the ways in which students use computers change (see Key Findings #s 1,2, and 5), more and more bandwidth will be needed.

It is unlikely, however, that many schools are budgeting for a 34-fold increase, although technology directors are generally aware of the challenge. The hard costs of the bandwidth required to support the growth in online learning, home connectivity, and ubiquitous computing are unknown and likely to require additional research.

Key Finding #5
Online learning is growing

ADS 2006 shows that online learning for core courses is currently used by only 2.3% of students. By 2011 this figure will grow to 7.4%, or a 26.3% compound annual growth rate.

This finding has substantial implications across the school landscape. If the equivalent of one in fourteen high school students takes every core course online in 2011, then schools will need to purchase new materials, train teachers to work in the new environment, and upgrade their infrastructure to handle the increased demand while improving specialized instruction.

Key Finding #6
Professional development is key

ADS 2006 indicates that only 16.9% of district curriculum directors believe that their current professional development program is prepared to support 1:1 computing effectively. In contrast, 65% of superintendents rank professional development as extremely important in successful 1:1 computing initiatives.

Professional development is perhaps the single largest factor in the success or failure of the digital school. To be effective, professional development needs to include administrators and take different forms depending on the needs of the school or district. The focus needs to shift to a rigorous process of curriculum integration, data-driven decision-making, and capacity building.

Key Finding #7
Low total cost of ownership is increasingly important

According to ADS 2006, superintendents ranked low total cost of ownership (TCO) as the single most important factor in a successful ubiquitous computing implementation. While most technology directors agree, 22% felt TCO was only somewhat important, and 9% felt it was not important.

As districts consider moving toward a ubiquitous computing environment, TCO becomes increasingly important. When every student has a computer, every added dollar of support cost per computer becomes an added dollar per student, not 20 cents per student as in a 5:1 student/computer school environment.

Key Finding #8
The fastest-growing products over the next five years

ADS 2006 shows that student appliances, tablet computers, and electronic whiteboards will be the fastest-growing product categories, among mainstream products, over the next five years. The results show student appliances growing 113%, tablet computers 82.7%, and electronic whiteboards 35.1%. The projected growth in mobile computing is also significant, with PC laptops growing at a 25% annual rate and Mac laptops at 23.7%. These growth rates, for products with fairly high price points, appear robust in a market known to approach change cautiously.

— Conducted by The Hayes Connection and The Greaves Group
— Sponsored by Discovery Education and Pearson Education

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