One of the most important trends of 2010, well beyond the education sector, was the increasing ubiquity of mobile computing devices.
The Year of the iPad
Arguably, the year belonged to Apple, which announced the iPad in January and released the tablet in April. The iPad was rapidly embraced, making it the most quickly adopted electronics device ever (beating out the DVD). The The 9x7" touchscreen iPad offered an enhanced user experience over the iPhone, tapping into Apple's already-established rich app ecosystem. Some questioned the iPad as a device better suited to "consuming" rather than "creating" content, but a variety of apps -- particularly in art and music -- have demonstrated great potential for the device, despite its notable lack of a camera or USB ports.
E-Books and E-Readers
Along with the iPad's launch came the iBookstore, as Apple joined the increasing number of e-publishers. Indeed, the iPad provided a clear challenge to some of the other e-readers, namely Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook, as the former had more functionality (albeit it at a much higher price).
No matter the device, this year marked an explosion in e-reading. A report from the Association of American Publishers said that e-book sales grew 193% between January and August. E-book sales were up from $89.8 million in 2009 to $263 million in 2010.
According to a study by Scholastic (take it for what it's worth), 57% of kids age 9 to 17 say they're interested in reading via e-books. And a third say they'd read more for fun if they had more access to books on an electronic device. And purportedly the iPad was among kids' most requested gifts for the holidays.
It's no surprise then that textbook publishers -- with the buzz and the market (a $10 billion a year industry) -- sought to get in on digital publishing too. A number of apps, such as CourseSmart were released for the iPad, aimed specifically at students. While sales of digital textbooks make up only a small percentage of sales, that is projected to grow by 150-200% per year.
Instead of building an e-reader app (for the iPad, for the web), Kno is building a tablet/e-reader specifically for students. The company announced a substantial round of funding from Andreessen Horowitz and said it was building a dual-screen as well as a single screen device. Launch is expected right before the end of this year.
The Most Ubiquitous Mobile Device -- The Cellphone
More than 75% of those between the ages of 12-17 own cellphones. The cellphone is teens' preferred mode of communication, and as we all know, they use the cellphone not for voice but for texting. Teens send and receive an average of 3,339 texts per month, about six texts for every hour they're awake. And college students, although they aren't as avid texters as teens, still send around 1630 texts per month.
Statistics like that probably contribute to the notion that cellphones at school are a distraction. Indeed, 9 out of 10 college students admit to texting in class. And as a result, many schools have policies - both formal and informal - that restrict cellphone use on campus.
However, a cellphone isn't necessarily a distraction, and as these mobile devices are in more and more students' backpacks, cellphones can be a great (and low-cost) technology tool in the classroom. Cellphones are cameras and audio recorders, allowing students to work on multimedia projects. Cellphones are calculators. They are calendars - a far better way to record homework assignments than the print calendars students never carry around. Cellphones can be used to poll students in classrooms. In other words, cellphones can allow students to create and to share content, and they can provide an important bridge between the classroom and home.