Key Technology Trends

from Technology & Learning

The latest America's Digital Schools survey highlights key funding challenges for district administrators.

In a first-of-its-kind survey, the Greaves Group queried more than 900 school administrators last year about technology needs. The result, America's Digital Schools 2006, is a comprehensive look at how schools are adapting to the new world their students inhabit—and how they're going to fund it. Below are key finding from the report.

Total Technology Spending

The total instructional technology budget is reported to be $6.8 billion in 2006.

With this expense included, along with administrative and instructional technology costs, the results show that instructional technology purchases still constitute the lion's share of school district technology budgets (62 percent) but that personnel costs (28 percent) far exceed other administrative technology costs.
—America's Digital Schools 2006

1. Not long ago very few schools had a large number of laptop computers.

ADS 2006 indicates that 19 percent of all student devices today are mobile and that 50 percent 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. New technologies have emerged as drivers for this shift. An example is the reuse of the LCD panel in consumer portable DVD players, which cuts the cost of the display, the most expensive item in the system, by more than half. Leading the way in driving lower-cost devices are the work by Nicholas Negroponte at MIT, the Dana from Renaissance Learning, the Intel Eduwise laptop, the Nova5000 from Fourier Systems, and the Microsoft Ultra-Mobile PC.

2. Ubiquitous Computing Is Growing Rapidly

Closely connected to the above is the move toward ubiquitous, or 1:1, computing (defined as "each student and teacher has one Internetconnected wireless computing device for use both in the classroom and at home"). 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.

Instructional Network Spending

Schools report spending $15.45 per student in 2006 on instructional networks. This will grow at a moderate rate of 10.7 percent to $25.20 per student by 2011.

School network purchasing is huge and growing rapidly. This is a segment to watch. The ADS 2006 data indicates that schools are paying some attention to the important issue of ensuring sufficient bandwidth to run future applications.

Networks will continue to play a central role in school purchasing plans. E-rate funded networks will be getting old and may need to be replaced. Ubiquitous computing will drive bandwidth and wireless connectivity requirements. It is also possible that new technologies, such as Gigabit Ethernet and UWB wireless, will prove compelling to schools and drive change forward.
—America's Digital Schools 2006

In 2003, QED reported that 4 percent of U.S. school districts had started 1:1 implementations. ADS 2006 indicates that more than 24 percent 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.

3. Ubiquitous Computing Practitioners Report Substantial Academic Improvement

ADS 2006 shows that 88 percent of school districts where academic results were tracked report moderate to significant positive results, with 12 percent 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.

4. A Bandwidth Crisis Is Looming

Today the Internet bandwidth per student is 2.90 Kbps (or kilobits per second per student) according to the survey. Furthermore, schools say they will grow this to 9.57 Kbps per student by 2011—a 3.3-fold increase. But the ADS 2006 team believes that as much as 40 Kbps may be needed in five years. As the number of computers in schools increases and the ways in which students use computers change, more and more bandwidth will be needed.

It is unlikely, however, that many schools are budgeting for a 14-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.

5. Online Learning Is Growing

ADS 2006 shows that online learning in the eight main subject areas is currently used by only 3.8 percent of students. By 2011 this figure will grow to 15.6 percent or a 32.6 percent compound annual growth rate.

This finding has substantial implications across the school landscape. If over 8 million students are taking an online course 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.

Professional Development Spending

Schools report that professional development will grow from $19.60 per student in 2006 to $25.02 per student by 2011.

As schools move toward ubiquitous technology, the type and purpose of professional development will change. Lecture-style speeches will change to more online learning and mentor coaching. Professional development will change from learning about technology to learning how to transform the classroom with technology.

NCLB legislation encourages 25 percent of all technology purchases to be allocated to professional development, but the ADS 2006 numbers indicate that a far lower amount (5 percent) is actually spent from the technology budget. However, the curriculum/instruction budget may continue to cover all staff development.
—America's Digital Schools 2006

6. Professional Development Is Key

ADS 2006 indicates that only 17 percent of district curriculum directors believe that their current professional development program is prepared to support 1:1 computing effectively. In contrast, 73 percent of superintendents rank professional development as extremely important in successful 1:1 computing initiatives.

For the first time, districts have quantified the professional development required for a successful 1:1 implementation. The average is $94.75 per student per year. This is a substantial amount. However, it is consistent with anecdotal evidence of what works.

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.

7. Low Total Cost of Ownership Is Increasingly Important

According to ADS 2006, superintendents rank low total cost of ownership (TCO) as one of the most important factors in a successful ubiquitous computing implementation. While most technology directors agree, 24 percent feel TCO is only somewhat important, and 9 percent feel it is 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.

8. Some Product Categories Will Grow at a Rapid Rate

ADS 2006 shows that student appliances, tablet computers, handheld devices, and interactive whiteboards will be some of the fastest-growing product categories among mainstream products over the next five years. The results show student appliances growing 104 percent, tablet computers 78 percent, handheld devices 37 percent, and interactive whiteboards 24 percent. The projected growth in mobile computing is also significant, with PC laptops growing at a 27 percent annual rate and Mac laptops at 25 percent. These growth rates, for products with fairly high price points, appear robust in a market known to approach change cautiously.

Home Connectivity Spending

Although still an issue of debate, many districts consider bandwidth in students' homes to be important or extremely important.

As home Internet connectivity becomes essential, schools expect to spend more for home connectivity solutions to supplement parent-purchased Internet access. They also plan to purchase more products that can be delivered to homes electronically.
—America's Digital Schools 2006