Computers in education will create an "online learning community" which will transform the way students learn, says Microsoft education expert George Conard.
International marketing manager for Microsoft's Education Customer Unit, Conard was in New Zealand in June to talk at an education conference, Pushing the Edge.
"Learning has to become more student-centred and we're looking at how technology can make that happen," says Conard. "When computers were first introduced as education tools, we saw them as a way of giving kids 'quizzes'. That's proven to be not particularly beneficial. What you want to do is use [them] as a tool to develop critical thinking skills and to give access to information resources."
The move to technology in schools has to start with the teachers, he says.
"You can't just stick a row of computers in a classroom and expect the teachers to know what to do. They need time to get to know the equipment and they need to know the computers aren't going to replace them. Teachers will still need to know how to teach - that's never going to go away," he says.
The way that they teach, however, is likely to change and teachers need to work together on that. "They need to try new things and communicate with one another about what works and what doesn't. The role of the teacher is likely to change to more of a facilitator than a 'lecturer', but they still have to teach the same things."
Ideally, students, teachers and parents will all be linked electronically to provide the best possible learning environment.
"You want to enable a lot of rich interaction between people, so parents can keep up to date with what their children are doing and students can ask questions of teachers and one another."
Of course, not everyone has access to the technology they'd need for this "connected community" to work, says Conard.
"Access is a big issue in most countries, but it is getting better in many places. Older equipment can be leveraged using Terminal Server and [Microsoft is] trying to work with hardware vendors on Windows CE devices suitable for students - a little, inexpensive device they can carry around, drop in the mud and hose off . well, maybe not that rugged. But tough enough for them to take from class to class and use for Web browsing and messaging."
Fifteen years from now, he says, "when the kids born in the 90s start hitting the workforce, they'll have grown up with the Internet as just a regular thing. If you think about it, for us a television or fridge isn't 'technology', it's just there. And for these kids the Internet will be just like that, something that's always been there. It'll just be a tool they use. It'll be fun to sit and watch what they do with it - I just hope I'm out of their way by then."