It was interesting to watch Karl Fisch’s prognostications regarding technology and learning in the year 2020. Some of his ideas were spot-on. Others were close but missed the mark. But overall, it’s a brave thing to do and fraught with peril.
I won’t pretend that I know or can even pretend to know where technology and learning/teaching will be in the year 2020. What I will do is tell you what I would ‘like’ to see happening by then.
Right now I think there are two big players in the technology world. I believe Fisch was right in zeroing in on Google. They are doing some really great things in the field of web accessible tools. Google Apps and the associated tools Google has created, purchased and integrated are coming together and creating a powerful platform. Google has moved past its infancy stage and is starting to mature.
The other major player in technology is Apple. Far from being bought up by Google as Fisch predicted, Apple has become one of the most dominant forces in technology. Their iOS devices (iPods, iPhones and iPads) are ubiquitous. According to “Apple Insider“, Apple’s iPad accounts for 98% of the web traffic that originates on a tablet device. Additionally, they account for 54.5% of all web traffic that originates from any mobile device. The iPad has become much more than a ‘consumer’ device. According to “the Mac Observer” 94% of the Fortune 500 companies are either testing or deploying the iPad in their business.
Imagine what could happen if Google and Apple could bury that hatchet and join forces. Imagine Apple’s hardware and iOS quality control and design prowess being used to help Google design and produce a collection of web apps that were integrated into Apple’s iOS and Mac OS. Apple’s profit margins from the sales of their devices could easily support Google’s research and design work. On it’s own, according to “TechCrunch” Apple spent $2.4 billion dollars in research and development in fiscal year 2011. And… Increased that by $1 billion dollars in fiscal year 2012, to a total of $3.4 billion dollars. That’s just for research and development.
So imagine Apple and Google working together. Google’s apps have become fully functional and so mature that there is feature parity with Office. And, it’s free, integrated into Apple’s now fully merged iOS and Mac OS. Apple’s profit margins are supporting Google’s development of the web applications. Google’s apps can open and translate all Office files and formats. For all practical purposes, Office is dead.
On the other hand, Google’s fragmented, bug-ridden and virus-infected Android operating system has been replaced by Apple’s iOS operating system on mobile devices: phones, mp3 players, tablets and devices yet to be developed. Apple’s years of developing an operating system in a closed environment has resulted in an OS that is virus resistant, mature and vastly superior to other contenders, including Microsoft’s late-to-the-game offering.
Microsoft’s computer operating system still has influence in the desktop PC market, but that influence is waning. Apple’s evolution of the OS X operating system into the OS XI operating system (now merged with iOS) with Google App integration has taken hold. Apple has once again decided to license its operating system to other hardware vendors. Only, this time the hardware has to meet strict specifications that are set by Apple. As has always been the rule in Apple’s own ecosystem hardware and software interoperability is ‘de rigueur‘. Failure to follow human interface design guidelines results in instant revocation of licensing and removal of merchandise from the market.
The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles of: 1) Multiple Means of Representation, 2) Multiple Means of Action and Expression and 3) Multiple Means of Engagement have become fully integrated into all learning materials. (If you aren’t familiar with UDL, the National Center on Universal Design for Learning has a five minute video that will explain the concepts.) All publishers are now required to produce common core curriculum supporting materials in a certified UDL format.
Multiple means of representation: Learning materials are now presented in multiple formats… schools no longer need to convert text materials to a format that can be read to those students with print disabilities as all print materials also come as an electronic text format that can be read using a text to speech program. Materials are also available in a video format that explains the concepts and can be used in a flipped-classroom format, as well as large print and electronic braille formats.
Multiple means of action and expression: Students also have the options of demonstrating their understanding of the concepts in various ways. Paper/pencil tests don’t work for you? Create a video demonstrating your understanding. Create an audio podcast to show you know your stuff. Work through a project that could only be completed if you understand the material.
Multiple means of engagement: Students have the option of working alone or in groups, using a traditional learning approach or engaging in a constructivist approach, having the environment highly structured or extremely free and spontaneous.
The point of UDL is, we are all different and we learn differently. Consequently, we need teaching and evaluation materials and methods that are accessible, effective and highly engaging for all students. By having multiple methods of representation, expression and engagement incorporated into the curriculum materials at the time of their purchase, teachers are free to provide individual students with the materials and methods that are best/necessary for those students to succeed. Additionally, teachers are freed from the time and effort, the burden of having to try to ‘adapt’ traditional materials to meet the varying needs of a diverse group of learners creates. Teachers are busy. Trying to adapt materials is very time consuming. It would be much more effective and efficient to provide teachers and students with universally designed learning materials right up front than to have to try to adapt them.
In the past I’ve talked about word-prediction programs, text-to-speech programs, context-based grammar checking programs, voice-to-text programs and other assistive technology programs. These programs are essential for some students. They are not optional, they are a necessity for some students to have access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) (follow the link to see Wikipedia’s description of FAPE). For other students, these are helpful programs. These students may not need to have them but they may be more successful if they do have access to them. These tools are incorporated in all UDL materials.
In the future I envision, Apple and Google have joined forces to provide access to web based, UDL designed tools, materials and teaching methods for teachers, ensuring that all students have access to the free appropriate public education that is their right.