In less than three years the storage capacity of Apple's iPod has increased 20-fold, from four gigabytes to 80 gigabytes. That's enough for 20,000 songs or more than 50 straight days of continuous music without ever having to repeat a song. More important, it's evidence of a revolution that most of us missed and that has monumental significance for K12 education.
Storage is virtually free: The hard disk drive (HDD) was first invented by IBM engineers in 1956 to provide storage for its System 305 computer. That hard drive included 50 24-inch magnetic platters, was the size of two refrigerators, and held just five megabytes of data. It cost $50,000, or $10,000 per megabyte. By contrast, the 80-gigabyte drive in today's iPod has 16,000 times more storage capacity, fits easily into a handheld device, and costs only one cent for every 10 megabytes. That's twice the storage capacity of IBM's original HDD for a penny, equivalent to a 99.99 percent discount, or virtually free.
But digital storage is not limited to hard drives. In fact, some predict that solid state storage or Flash memory-like the thumbnail-size SD card you probably use in your digital camera-will match and then pass magnetic hard drives in value and performance. Already some digital music players, including the iPod Nano, use Flash memory instead of miniature hard drives.
But whether hard drive or Flash memory takes the lead, storage is the story most of us missed. While we were monitoring Moore's law for computing power and being amazed by advances in high speed network capacity, a quiet revolution in storage took off. More than 450 million hard drives were sold in 2006, and the total storage capacity of all hard drives sold in just the last ten years exceeds 50,000 exabytes. Each exabyte is a billion gigabytes, and according to a recent study at the University of California at Berkeley, just five exabytes is enough to store all the words ever spoken since the beginning of time!
Soon it will be commonplace for individuals to own multiple terabytes of storage (one terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes). Fully digitized, the 17 million books in the Library of Congress represent about 136 terabytes of information. So then what? What does it mean for K12 education?
An alarming reality for K12: Despite the radical transformation of data storage and information access, there has been no associated transformation of K12 education. Alarmingly, there may be no sector of society where technology has had less impact. That's because K12 education persists in operating on the premise that to have school, you must physically co-locate teachers, students and curriculum materials. Teachers and students are assigned to stand-alone, self-contained school buildings that house paltry collections of mostly outdated curriculum materials. With rare exceptions, digital technologies and interactive communications are still largely peripheral to the primary activities of the typical school day. The premise that co-location is required is invalid, and we need to stop spending inordinate amounts of time, energy and money to maintain it as our fundamental operational structure.
Time to get serious: It's time to leverage the incredible power of today's technology and rethink the way schooling takes place. For example, is there any reason we shouldn't move to a master/apprentice model of teaching? Why does every fourth grade math class need to be taught by the resident fourth grade teacher? Virtually free storage, plus high speed communications, plus Web 2.0 technologies make it possible for master teachers to work with many apprentice teachers to teach many more students more effectively. I'll flesh out this radical innovation and others in future columns, but I need your help: let me know what innovations inspire you, what you're doing or would like to do to make schooling significantly more effective for far greater numbers of students. We'll bring the publishing power of this company's media assets to help build momentum for the best ideas, to, in effect, launch School 2.0.
Today everyone is talking about Web 2.0 technologies and how they are promoting personalization and interaction online to deliver what you want, when and where you want it, and in a form that invites your participation. Let's work together to tap the power of technology to do the same for education-let's build School 2.0. DA
Daniel E. Kinnaman, email@example.com, is the publisher.