Thursday, October 12, 2006

Office 2.0 Conference--Education Angle?


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Originally uploaded by SteveHargadon.
This is a birds-eye view of the vendors area from the Office 2.0 conference at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francsico. An extremely interesting conference, well-organized, and leaving me with lots to think about.

The conference revolves around the use of office productivity tools that are becoming available as "web 2.0" applications. (Of course, Google was here, and used the conference as an opportunity to announce the renaming of Writely to Google Docs and its integration with Google Spreadsheets.) I spoke at length with one of the session moderators, who basically complained that these new web applications have less functionality than their regular enterprise counterparts, and don't really bring any additional features or value that might provide them with leverage to succeed in corporations.

I agreed with him, but then I got to thinking about the educational market (which isn't being addressed in the conference at all). Even with lesser functionality, programs like Google Docs and Spreadsheets do bring something that gives them an advantage over traditional programs: computer independence.

Computer independence is significant because a student who uses these programs will have access to their data both at school and at home. And if you take it a bit further, they will also have access to their work when they advance grades or switch schools. That seems to me to be inherently compelling. And it leads toward the dream I have of classroom computing appliances, which are purchased and plugged in and thta have limited or no need for technical setup or configuration. The student's login follows him or her through each grade level, as does all of his or her work. Most of the applications are web-based, and so it doesn't matter which computer they use or where, and it doesn't require lots of technical support from the school to provide this freedom.

The other inherent advantage to the web-based computer appliance is that maintenance costs should be close to zero. Just running a web browser can be done with a computer that should be virus-proof, and run for years without any user intervention. (This is what our LiveKiosk.com project is all about.)

There is a tremendous amount of creativity in this crowd of Office/Web 2.0 folks. Now, if we can get some of them focused on the educational arena, maybe these dreams aren't that far off from being realized.
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