A shift from PCs to network/appliance
computing is about to revolutionize education in schools, universities, the
workplace and across nations. To date, public schools have struggled to provide
enough PCs for student needs, while teachers have been left to wrestle with
technical and support issues. Lessons have focused on teaching kids how
to use technology, rather than using technology as a teaching tool. Traditional
universities are under pressure as more people seek access to higher education -
resulting in overcrowded lecture halls and less personal tuition. And changing
workplace demands mean people have to constantly refresh and upgrade their
But a simple move to a new model - network/appliance, or
browser-based computing - will solve many of these problems and deliver, well,
education on steroids: personalized, customized, optimized and lifelong learning
for every student and adult learner.
Or as Sun Microsystems vice-president of global education
and research Kim Jones says: "Anywhere, anytime, any place and on anything.
The beauty of network computing is that the actual computer can be managed
centrally somewhere by a service provider. In the classroom, both teacher and
students access information via browser-type devices, or appliances, which are
just windows to content."
Jones says there's no reason why we all have to learn how
to manage computers. After all, we don't need to know how a phone works or how
to use a switchboard. "We really can make the use of computers for
accessing information as simple as using a phone," she says. "Our goal
is to take the complexity out of the classroom and put it back with IT
professionals. "Let teachers get back to teaching, let students focus on
learning and use technology as an enabler, rather than the focal point of the
classroom." Today, teachers need to teach pretty much to the class median.
But the web-browser/device approach offers a chance to customize the curriculum
for every child in class. "Think of eight-year-olds learning fractions in
third grade. The students that are really good at math may be bored to death -
customized lessons mean they can be doing algebra instead," Jones says.
"The ones that are struggling may need to be revising
basic multiplication and division - and all of these things can be done in the
same class. No child is left behind." The teacher becomes more of a
learning facilitator, able to spend more time with kids who need it, without
holding back those shooting ahead.
Those devices may look a bit like a PC - but students
equally may be using things such as thin clients, set-top boxes, and Sun's Sun
Ray appliances. "You can do a lot from a PalmPilot or a WAP phone right
now. Analysts predict that by 2005, PCs will represent only 20 per cent of the
devices used by people to access information," she says.
Sun Microsystems is presently testing its Sun Ray
technology in a number of Australian schools to test the concept in practice.
Jones, who was in Australia last month to attend the Global Summit of Online
Knowledge Networks in Adelaide, says education is one of the exciting areas for
IT innovation. "Changing the way we deliver education removes a lot of
barriers of space and time that we've faced in the past." A big issue
facing nations is how to educate a much larger proportion of the workforce for
higher skilled jobs. "For every manual labour position that's being lost,
there are two or three new knowledge worker type jobs that need to be
filled," she says. "Education is critical in the information age and
every country faces the challenge of how to adapt traditional models of
education and make them scalable for today's world."
The current worldwide education IT market is about $US30
billion ($56.5 billion). This will grow rapidly as universities begin
collaborations with other institutions globally, and online courses become
available to people worldwide - good news for Australia, already a large
exporter of education services.
For now, the prospect of online education is still ruffling
some feathers among the old school. But e-learning will mature quickly simply
because educators must apply IT solutions if they are to meet today's learning
We are located at:
2 Holt St
You can contact us by:
Phone: +61 2 9288 7400
Fax: +61 2 9288 7401