Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Long Term Impact of Mobile Devices on Public Education

When we first introduced computers into academic computing 50 years ago, there was one monster device somewhere in the institution.  Students and faculty had to sign-up for "time" and prepare their "programs" and data entry using punch cards or tape.  The end result was usually a limited few individuals sharing the system to accomplish mundane automated tasks that were more instructional than useful in a commercial sense.

Fast forward to the microcomputer revolution spawned by Apple and IBM 40 years ago.  More computing "seats" were installed in computer labs and greater numbers of students and faculty were able to play games, write papers, learn about the computer and write programs to make it accomplish, again, fairly mundane tasks.

Then came local area networks (LANS) and then the Internet, which meant that schools needed to build an expensive infrastructure to house the labs, interconnect all the computers, and build gateways to the outside world.

Mobile computing is changing this paradigm, radically.  With the first Starbucks and Borders Bookstore WiFi hot spots to more recent mobile wireless 3G and 4G cellular networks, students no longer need to be in the "seat" to compute.  They also don't need punch cards, the LAN, or even the academic gateway to the Internet to do research, complete and submit assignments, take on-line classes, communicate with their classmates, teachers, and alumnae.

With this "virtualization" of the academic environment has come a shift in the focus of technology funding for education.  And it will affect public institutions at all levels from elementary schools to universities.  Some of the more critical challenges for technology planners will be information and data security, data retention, de-duplication, and archiving, and identity management, privacy, and intellectual property protection.  These issues will ultimately drive the focus of infrastructure change management.

The new focus will be what I am calling "Cloud Control".  By that I mean developing the institutions' ability to identify and validate users, resources, and the means that access to institutional resources will be charged back or funded.  Future funding models will shift the emphasis from physical infrastructure capital resources like buildings, furnishings, computing hardware, utilities like power and cooling, to connectivity, one-to-one computing access on campus, and building relationships with external third-party content and instruction providers and publishers.

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