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6 Emerging Technologies That May Impact Colleges

Government Technology recently posted an article about 6 Emerging Technologies that they believed would impact colleges everywhere. I have to agree with most of them, but here are just some of my opinions on each of the six.

When campuses may adopt them: one year or less:
1. Mobile Computing
Smartphones, netbooks, laptops and other devices that access the Internet through cellular-based, portable hotspots and mobile broadband cards have already become mainstream on many campuses.

At Georgetown University, the administration texts short messages to students, and professors use screen recording software to create podcasts of their lectures that can be downloaded onto mobile phones, said Betsy Page Sigman, a professor who teaches management information systems, databases and electronic commerce at the university’s McDonough School of Business.

I am inclined to agree with this. People everywhere, not just college students, are starting to use smartphones, netbooks, and the like to get what they need for their everyday life. I know Penn State itself has a few classes that have online lectures, podcasts, as well as some classes that students are using to create their own podcasts. The CATA Bus app and the Lab Use mobile app are just other ways in which mobile computing is making our lives easier (Unless you do not have a smartphone, then I salute you for making it this far).

2. Open Content
As textbook prices have soared over the years, educational resources have popped up online at no cost to the students and faculty who want to use them. Open content has had a huge impact on the way colleges do business, said Brian Parish, the president of iData Inc., a higher education technology consulting and software firm based in Virginia.

However, some educators resist open content because they want to protect their intellectual property, not because they don’t like the technology.

“A lot of people want to use open content on the faculty and staff side, but they don’t want to make their stuff open content,” Parish said.

This one I would consider iffy just due to the fact that even though there is open content out on the internet, how many people use it? I know students who have probably not opened a book ever in their college years, but I certainly know many people who have. The lynda access for being a Penn State student gives you a list of tutorials and resources for anything that may be on your computer, as well as the lab computers.

When campuses may adopt them: two to three years:
3. Electronic Books
Consumers have already mainstreamed electronic readers, including the Kindle, which was’s best-selling product in 2009. Campuses have not adapted the readers as quickly, but as more academic titles become available, they are piloting e-books.

Eight colleges and universities are currently in a pilot program with the Kindle DX, a larger-format version of the reader that is designed for academic texts, newspapers and journals. Those schools include Arizona State University, Ball State University, Case Western Reserve University, Pace University, Princeton, Reed College, Syracuse University and the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

And they’re not the only ones. Northwest Missouri State University and Penn State have started pilot programs with the Sony Reader.

Again, another iffy topic. I have nothing against Kindle or the Sony Reader, but I believe that only some people would use it. If you are a person who doesn’t normally read books, you won’t use something like this. However, if reading for school and for pleasure is your thing, you could just carry a Kindle around instead of 10 pounds of books in a backpack.

4. Simple Augmented Reality
When Sannier was researching augmented reality eight or nine years ago, it seemed far flung, but now it’s right around the corner. Through mobile computing and cameras, people can fuse the digital world and the physical world, which is really cool, he said.

The technology allows someone to point a smartphone at an object and find out information about it. For example, Sigman could take her smartphone to a place with a lot of plants, hold the camera up to one of them, and find out what kind of plant she was looking at.

Within a week of seeing a Droid phone, university President Michael M. Crow asked Sannier if he could create an augmented reality layer over the campus so that people could find out what things are, what’s going on inside buildings and find their way around.

This is happening now and it can only expand. The iPhone has plenty of apps that do exactly this for books, plants, etc. This coming December, Microsoft will be releasing the Project Natal, a voice/face recognition camera for the Xbox 360. This system can also scan objects from the real world into the virtual world. Ever play a skating game and thought it would be cool to scan your own deck to use in game? How about if you wanted your character to wear the same clothes you had on? With this software, you can do that. Imagine if a college adapted this system. You could have a class that uses this system, and instead of attaching a paper to an email and submitting to a drop box, this system could scan your paper, submitting it for you. This technology is expanding and will get better as the years go on, helping college campuses in the process.

When campuses may adopt them: four to five years:
5. Gesture-Based Computing
The iPhone, iPod Touch, Nintendo Wii and other gesture-based systems have become popular in the consumer industry because they let users control what the device does with their body movements. Devices with these systems could make the Internet come alive and “very likely lead to new kinds of teaching or training simulations that look, feel and operate almost exactly like their real-world counterparts,” the report stated.

“It’s clear that people have become more open to interacting with devices in a lot of different ways,” Sannier said. “I think the challenge there is less technology than it is practice.”

The Project Natal I mentioned earlier will be able to do this as well. It has the ability to scan your full person and control everything through body movements. Imagine turning lecture pages in a book or PowerPoint  by just moving your hand. You could select answers for a quiz by just saying what the answer is, and the system would know who you are because it recognizes your face. This could even be a new way to track attendance.

6. Visual Data Analysis
This technology basically combines advanced computational methods with sophisticated graphics engines. Oftentimes when someone looks at a straight list of data, it’s hard to see the outliers, which are the points that are farther away, Sigman said. But with visual data analysis technology, that person can put the data in a 3-D chart that will make it easy to see where the outliers are.

Being a college student, it would be nice to see data a little bit clearer, but I believe this is something that colleges would not have a primary focus on.

Overall, the future looks very promising technology-wise.


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About the Author


A senior from Pittsburgh, PA at Penn State University Park that is majoring in Information Sciences and Technology and minoring in Security and Risk Analysis. Other than Onward State, Mitch is involved with ITS, being a LA, and being apart of the Magazine of IST.

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