At the Intersection of Education and Technological Innovation

Flickr photo by Isobel T
The new year brings with it predictions of what is to come. Thus, I thought this would be a great opportunity to peek around the corner to see what may be appearing on the EdTech landscape in the near future.

Firstly, lets get past the obvious predictions of whether the education market will anoint Apple or Android as the tablet of choice. You don't need a crystal ball to realize that the future of education will be platform and device agnostic. Whether students bring their own device or the school provides one to them, students should be able to access learning resources from anywhere and on any device. The key to making it big in the education market will be devices that are actually made for learning and understand the difference between a consumer device that can be used in the classroom and a learning resource that consumers will also use outside of the classroom. It is clear that the dominant tech companies have no desire to create products specifically for the low-margin education sector, leaving it up to smaller education-friendly entrepreneurs to fill the gap. I look forward to affordable devices that come pre-loaded with a variety of educational apps and make it easy for students and teachers to access their school's learning resources.

Flickr photo by Canned Tuna
Regardless of what is used in the classroom, making it easy for students to connect to academic content, connect to their peers and connect to teachers on  mobile phones will have a greater impact than any classroom-based educational technology. One needs only to see how the developing world is leap-frogging the developed world when it comes to using basic mobile phones and SMS to support formal and informal learning. Reading about the mobile learning opportunities on South Africa's MXit Network that don't require a smartphone provides an introduction into what is possible when you don't obsess about how to acquire the latest high-end EdTech tools and focus instead on what students are already using.

While the developing world often looks to the G8 countries for educational innovation, this relationship could be turned on it head in the near future.
This is where my predications become bold. 
The following two articles piqued my interest into what could take place at the intersection of education and technological innovation.

The New York Times article, Many of India's Poor Turn to Private Schools, outlines the growing demand for quality education in India, despite the government's recent education spending spree. While the article reveals the dismal current reality, it also highlights the almost insatiable demand of education consumers in India. With a growing middle class and half of its billion people population under the age of 25, India has the insurmountable challenge of finding a way to equitably  provide educational opportunities to its young people if its economy is continue to grow. More dire than economic stagnation, the world's largest democracy could be in jeopardy if this mass of future citizens are not provided with the educational opportunities they desire. The solution to this dilemma - technological innovation.

The Globe and Mail article, How a Montreal Company Won the Race to Build the World's Cheapest Tablet, reveals how the Indian government has rightfully surmised that educational technology can help it to address its growing educational delmina. With the goal of providing students with an affordable mobile device that can access the internet via wifi or cellular connection, the Aakash UbiSlate, puts a host of learning resources into the hands of students for only $52 (US). It is not surprising that the tech giants passed on the chance to create an innovative learning opportunity for millions of students because of the low profit margins, but anyone interested in changing the face of education should have jumped at this opportunity get their product into the hands of hords of education hungry young people. 

Now that the technology community has made their contribution to overcoming the technological challenges, what will be the education community's response? 
Will we continue to stand on the middle class sidelines happy with the current level of glacial progress, while the developing world pushes the boundaries of mobile learning, or will we begin to seek out opportunities to learn from those that start with less and capitalize on the advantages we have?

While the exploits of the Hole in the Wall computer have been recounted at TED, I relay this story to highlight what those with next to no educational resources can do with a simple computer. It leads me to question why the education community in the developed world hasn't accomplished more with all that we have.

Exploring the state of education and technological innovation in India led me to question why so many in the higher education community, including my own institution, continue to focus on China as the primary source of  international  students instead of looking to India as well. The New York Times revealed the supply and demand imbalance of the Indian higher education market in the article,  Squeezed Out of India, Students Turn to the U.S.  While the focus of the article is on the response of American colleges, Canadian institutions could  play a greater role in addressing this imbalance by increasing our Indian recruitment efforts, and by also partnering with Indian institutions to provide blended and online learning experiences on both continents. The article also provided an interesting contrast to the Chronicle of Higher Education's story about The China Conundrum: American colleges find the Chinese student boom a tricky fit. In the long run, expanding the educational relationship between Canada and India may provide some interesting insight into what can take place at the intersection of education and technology.


  1. Great post Camille - your questions really resonate with me. Progress in K12 education in NB seems stymied as we are constantly reminded that we must deal with our fiscal situation. But more and more this seems to me to be an excuse. Indeed with all that we have, a clear vision of where we want to go is needed more than ever.

  2. Digital Doorway - fascinating concept. Do you have plans for further expansion.