For a post-agricultural economy, we sure do seem to live by a calendar that restarts with the harvest moon. It’s not that we’ve all been bringing in the sheaves, of course, but that the kids are all going back to school — at a time that reflects, in most countries, a past need for them to be available in the fields during August. And every time, I find it an opportunity to notice changes in the choices and uses of technology on every campus from elementary through postgraduate.
Notably, this is the first new school year to begin since the October 2006 launch of Google Docs. Sure enough, Google announced last month that five U.S. universities have newly joined a growing international list of institutions adopting Google Apps Education Edition for both basic IT functions and collaborative tools. At the same time, much closer to home, my son’s high school choir plans to adopt Google Calendar for coordinating a volatile schedule of fund-raising gigs during holiday season — as well as maintaining its routine of rehearsals and other performances during the year. Meanwhile, on my own time, I’m starting a new concert season by migrating a regional orchestra (for which I serve on the governing board) from a clumsy membership management application on a single PC to a database and tool set built in a donated account on salesforce.com.
If you think back to roughly ten years ago, it seems as if we almost overnight saw the spread of then-newfangled URLs from technical settings into the consumer and media mainstream. What I’ve described above feels like a similar cusp of awareness, with the decade to come being dominated by things we do on line rather than things we need to install and configure and maintain on our personal machines.
If I were a schoolteacher, at a school where home Internet access could be assumed, I suspect I might encourage or even mandate submittal of assignments through Google Docs or other such facility; no more excuses of "the printer ate my homework." Group projects? Easy, or at least far easier, thanks to collaborative document editing. The usage norms and user interface expectations of the next generation of users are clearly being defined by Web-facing offerings rather than conventional office-type applications: developers should take note, and be prepared to deliver products that will fit into this "new normal."