With the new year upon us, I’ve dusted off the crystal ball. After about an hour of gazing mystically into it, I came up with… nothing. So much for my divination skills. Perhaps Peter Drucker put it best. “Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.” Still, each year gives clues about what the next will be like. And, so, I foolishly tread onto the ice in this unseasonably mild winter.
It’s going to be a bad year for Microsoft. Sure, Vista was a flop. What could be worse for them than 2007 and 2008? 2009. Vista has been compared with Windows ME. ME was the version that everybody skipped. Most techy people I know would routinely “upgrade” Windows ME to the older Windows 98, because doing so would substantially improve the performance of the computer. Windows survived ME because it was a stop-gap measure to bridge between Windows 98 and Windows 2000. See, they already had this OS they were working on, based on NT. The Windows 95/98 code was about to be put out to pasture in favor of the all-new OS. The problem was that it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. So they released ME in the meantime, based on the 98 code. Sure, it was a failure. But the followup was good enough to make people forget about ME. Plus, XP was released a year later, also based on the NT code, and it’s still the best OS Microsoft has ever released.
So what comes after Vista? Windows 7. Windows 7 is not a new operating system. Most analyses I’ve read peg it as a warmed over version of Vista. Change the graphics. Make some minor improvements. And try to sell it as a completely new, better OS. But the general disdain for Vista has so permeated the market that Vista leftovers aren’t going to cut it. Microsoft is banking on the Mojave experiment working in real life, and I’m not sure it will.
If the Linux people had their act together, they would have eaten Microsoft’s lunch two years ago. Ubuntu is still not ready for use as a general, all-purpose operating system. And if Apple weren’t so… Apple, they’d easily have 50% or more of the OS market. Right now the only thing keeping Windows afloat is the lack of a reasonable alternative.
The blogging fad is over. Now what? Dave Cormier said that Alan Levine said that Nick Carr wrote that he read on Technorati that only about 5% of the blogs tracked by Technorati have been updated in the last 120 days. Looking at my own RSS feeds, I see that most of the bloggers I follow have reduced their output in the last year. The ones who were blogging weekly are now blogging monthly. The ones who were posting every day are down to a couple times a week. Even this blog, which has 100 posts in 2006 and 100 posts in 2007 only had 68 last year.
It’s not that people aren’t interacting and posting things online. It’s that they’re moving away from blogs in favor of smaller, bite-sized chunks of conversation. So there’s more happening on Facebook, and Plurk, and Twitter. People are putting video and photos online, and starting conversations in the comments. It’s another iteration of the ever-shrinking attention span. Nobody has time to read (or write!) a 1000-word blog post. “Leave your name and number, and I’ll try to get back to you. You have 140 characaters to talk to me before you’re through.”
Here in the education world, we’re still trying to get teachers to start blogging. In 2009, student blogging projects will be about as old school as giving students email accounts. That’s how their parents communicate. Still, it’s going to remain a great way of posting information online quickly, and for generating conversations. Blogging’s not going anywhere, but we’re going to see a reduction in the number of new blogs created, along with much lower volume in the blogosphere.
We’re going to have to do more with less. Look, the economy is a mess. That’s not a big secret. Schools don’t have any money. that’s not new. Educational technology funding is not what it needs to be in order to meet the demands placed on the technology. In a good year, we barely squeak by, and we rarely accomplish the needed professional development and instructional integration support that is needed for the technology to be truly effective.
School budgets are being cut. State budgets are being cut. People in our communities — lots of people — are losing their jobs. Many of them are losing their houses. They’re not going to vote to increase their taxes. It’s not that they’re unhappy with the schools. It’s not that they think we don’t need the money. The problem is that they can’t help us.
What does that mean? We have to reduce costs. We’re going to be lengthening our replacement cycles, and using tools like nLite to get more life out of our existing computers. We’ll continue to explore open source alternatives to expensive commercial software. Right now, nearly all of the software running on all of our servers is open source. We also run a lot of free applications on our desktop clients. That trend is going to continue.
Professional development finally goes online. When schools run short on funds, what’s the first thing to get cut? Okay, field trips. But what’s the second thing? Professional development. It can easily cost $300 to send a teacher to a one-day workshop. When you count substitutes, travel expenses, and participation fees, professional development is very expensive. Most of it is also delivered in a one-shot lecture format, which is probably the least effective method of teaching we know about. Because of that, the return on investment for many professional development initiatives has historically been low.
If we focus on the reason for professional development, the need to help our teachers become more effective in the classroom, we have to come up with a different approach. It’s not about having a “day off”. It’s not about “getting out of the building.” It’s about how we can help these good teachers become better teachers. That takes sustained work. It can be done online, and it should be done online. I don’t know if that takes the form of an LMS/CMS based system, or if it’s the development of professional learning networks. I suspect it’s both. But the days of sending teachers off to a workshop on a school day for a one-day inservice on differentiated instruction, or reading in the content areas, or integrating technology are over.
Learning will become less formal. Compared to the web sites we used to create with Frontpage and Dreamweaver, blogs are an organizational mess. There are links all over the place. Nothing stays in the same place from day to day. Posts and pages can belong to more than one category, so they show up in multiple places. Organizationally, it’s hard to get your bearing sometimes. But compared with Twitter and Facebook and the other social networking tools out there, blogs are very structured.
The same is happening with education. At one extreme, you have a textbook and a traditional class. The teacher (in some classes) follows the textbook in order. Week 1, chapter 1. It’s very organized, very predictable. When we move that class online, we transfer the whole structure to a learning management system. So you’re in Moodle (or one of the many other tools), and the course is organized into weeks. Each week has a number of tasks. You do everything in order, submit the assignments required, read the things that are to be read. No problem.
But these courses are very limiting. If I’m teaching a class on classroom blogs, I might include a few examples. But you could go out and find a few thousand examples on your own. Maybe the ones you find are better than the ones I know about. So in a lot of these courses, there are assignments that ask the participants to go out and find additional resources. That’s a good thing.
As we keep going, though, we develop relationships with others interested in the same things. We start conversations, and learn about new resources, new project ideas, new ways of looking at things. Eventually, we get to the point where the online “class” is no longer necessary.
Education isn’t structured in a way that makes it practical to participate in professional learning networks for credit. But that’s not going to stop people from doing it. Eventually, the powers that be will catch up.
So that’s it. 2009 in a nutshell. What did I miss? Feel free to leave your comments, and check back at the end of the year to see how I did.