Last year, the big news at the Florida Educational Technology Conference was mobile everything. This year, mobile was no longer the new, new thing — it’s been accepted and integrated. It’s just there. It just works.
It’s another reason why opportunities are still growing for mobile developers who can turn their insights and novel ideas into products and services for education markets. Attendance at FETC increased by about 15 percent over 2012, to 9,500 people.
At the sessions I attended, virtually everyone had a tablet of some kind, taking notes, looking at material referenced by the speaker, or inputting comments on Twitter for everyone in the room to see. I also noticed state-of-the-art WiFi routers and antennae at the back of each meeting room. 3G and 4G cell reception was great. I had no trouble browsing pages, texting, or making calls from the show floor or the individual sessions.
However, there weren’t as many “pure” mobile app plays as there were last year. Instead, a number of vendors were offering device-management setups where a bunch of mobile devices could be directed from either a standard Web browser or a PC application.
David Pasqua from Georgia-based TabPilot demonstrated the company’s classroom tablet-management tool. The system gives teachers the ability to activate and deactivate different applications on each student’s TabPilot device from any standard networked browser. For example, if teachers want the class to use a mapping and word-processing program, they’ll simply call up an application list and check the boxes for those that are needed. Once they hit the Activate button on the desktop, the Android-based tablets immediately update to allow use of only the chosen tools. That’s a plus for all those K-12 teachers whose students have trouble focusing on the task at hand.
Another trend I spotted was a subtle move in the direction of the Internet of Things technology. Several vendors demonstrated student polling systems. One example was a picture of a beaker with five different layers of colored liquids designated by numbers. Each audience member had a little clicker with a variety of buttons, kind of like a TV remote. The presenter asked the audience to identify which liquid was the most dense according to the number on the layer. As audience members voted, the presenter could actually tell who had voted and who hadn’t, since each clicker had its own number. Within seconds after the voting closed, the presenter had a tally of correct answers, which was promptly displayed on a graph that the audience could see.
While not exactly traditional IoT, this shows how vendors are beginning to use devices that can provide real-time interactive capabilities for their educational audiences. These will continue to get more sophisticated over time, and I think that pretty soon we’ll start to see sensors instead of just buttons integrated into the tools.
Vendors will need people who can combine software, hardware, networking and sensors into new applications that will help students to learn and interact with teachers and each other. And school administrators will need somebody to set up, install, maintain, program and develop apps for overseeing those systems — providing the mobile-development community with a bright future in education.