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Mike King, Vice President, Global Education Industry, IBM

Mike King, Vice President, Global Education Industry, IBM

By Mike King

The age of the heavy textbook-filled backpacks and printed syllabi is coming to an end.

It’s self-evident that the higher education marketplace has been transitioning to digital content and collaborative learning programs for years. Up until recently, much of this evolution has been laptop based, but today the landscape is migrating to tablets and mobile devices. In fact, most campuses now assume, and plan for, multiple devices per-user when considering bandwidth needs for campus-wide WiFi access.

But it’s not just colleges and universities. K-12 schools are moving quickly to digital learning delivery programs, as well, due in large part to the increasing adoption of tablets and new programs designed to leverage those systems. In the U.S., the Race to the Top Assessment program will essentially mandate online testing for all students by 2015. Many districts are implementing tablet programs before then. Los Angeles Unified has announced a tablet program for “one to one” computing (ratio of device to student), and many other major districts, including New York City, Houston, and Gwinnett County, Ga., have similar projects in the works.

 Several countries have also announced similar programs for their K-12 students, such as the multi-billion dollar Fatih program in Turkey and Thailand’s One Tablet Per Child (OTPC) policy.

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While the consumer market is good at creating “walled gardens” that corner us into using services that are unique to specific devices, institutions of learning shouldn’t follow suit. Savvy educators should work to build open environments that let content and services flow freely across a variety of devices. Doing so will be critical to supporting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) models that is becoming more common in schools and corporations, alike.

To be sure, in academia as it is in the enterprise, locking into a single tool or platform and training employees on proprietary infrastructures is limiting and costly. But potentially more detrimental from an educator’s standpoint, such practices can start confining the educational content and ultimately stifle the learning process itself.

IBM’s MobileFirst portfolio of mobile solutions, for example, deepens our Smarter Education capabilities. For instance, our partnership with Desire2Learn (D2L), a leading learning management system company, brings almost a hundred curriculum publishers into the classroom. D2L’s Binder app puts that content onto multiple tablets and creates an open environment that fosters academic collaboration and thereby, success.

Approaches that leverage data and insights that inform and align with content, as well as support a variety of devices, like IBM’s Smarter Education solutions, can deliver personalized learning. Such support enables broad choice in the classroom, but also a consistent focus on improving outcomes for students.

Success in the education space is measured not in apps, but in graduates and in shrinking the widening skills gap. To achieve this, the industry must focus on the student and not on the device. To do that, it must create open models for access, promote learning, and enable any curricular content to be supported on any device.

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