I had the pleasure of attending the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in DC earlier this month...and as I’ve said before…these big signature education events are a good occasion for me to connect with our customers and partners in one place. It’s also an opportunity to see broader industry trends and how they've evolved year over year. I like to review those trends and gauge how we are aligning and providing technology solutions to meet the needs and challenges of our schools.

This year’s NECC was no different in many ways…the sheer amount of enthusiasm for technology was evident. The real change I felt this year is that schools, administrators, teachers, etc. are starting to take much deeper action in terms of true transformation around how to use data more aggressively. As opposed to just building data repositories, the focus and shift of this year’s show was much more about how that data is going to drive a change in teaching and the way in which we assess students.

I also saw transformation in the way in which schools are trying to use curriculum and content. There were lots of different models on the show floor around new learning resources, as well as learning repositories. Digital learning is becoming much more of a reality in schools as seen with the recent decision in California to scrap traditional textbooks. Schools and vendors are thinking hard about how to create more immersive learning environments using technology.

The reality of the down economy was a broad theme at the show that was both a source of concern and hope. In many ways, schools have used the economy shift to reset thinking, to reprioritize and to focus on the things that are most important and that will truly drive differentiation in their classrooms. We are all thinking more about how we can build and grow better teachers, how we can create rich and immersive learning environments for students, and how we can use school resources more effectively. The stimulus is giving schools hope, not just from a monetary perspective, but from a leadership and focus perspective. Combined with the commitment in our country and from leaders as high as the President of the United States…people are optimistic change will happen.

With these trends in mind, I see four areas for schools to focus on in the next year.  First, acquiring rich data transparency and education analytics solutions around student achievement, test scores, curriculum needs that will help educators map to state standards and students’ career aspirations. Having that repository and toolset is going to be the #1 priority for schools.

Second, this new analytics technology will require schools to have an all-inclusive, secure student identification system. So many schools have student IDs and unified student records…but that unified student record is just an ID...schools are not using that ID to the fullest potential to log into everything…to connect the experiences across communication and collaboration content.

Third, there is a need to create true digital learning environments to capture the hearts and minds of our students. Whether you have a traditional online school where students are taking classes electronically, a blended environment with digital curriculum that supplements classroom instruction, or just an environment where learning is enhanced by using electronic textbooks and/or collaboration tools via new technology…incorporating new ways of teaching to transform the learning experience and outcomes of our students is super important. From a technology perspective, we certainly see a proliferation of a wider range of devices…natural language devices, touch devices, smaller computer form factors, Netbooks, etc…that drive new experiences in classroom. And looking at the bigger picture, we will see a shift to cloud services and how schools balance between on-premise and off-premise technology solutions.

Finally, as the assessment debate goes on, schools will continue to be laser-focused on how to prepare students and how to arm them with 21st century skills to make sure they are ready for the workforce.

We have a lot of homework to do this summer while our kids are out on break. What change do you want to implement this next school year?