School & District Management

Ed-Tech Trends, Challenges Articulated by International Panel of Experts

By Leo Doran — September 22, 2016 2 min read
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The explosive growth of makerspaces, coding instruction and online learning initiatives will continue unabated over the next five years, suggests a report compiled by an international panel of ed-tech educators and experts.

CoSN and the New Media Consortium collaborate to publish a horizon report every year. This year’s edition suggests that while schools will continue to adopt ed tech, major challenges, such as working to bridge the achievement gap and defining and implementing personalized learning, remain.

The biggest takeaway for educators?

The importance of grounding their use of ed tech “in the reality of trends and problems that tech can actually solve,” said Samantha Becker, the lead author of the report.

“Rather than just implementing mandatory tablet programs in the curriculum, think about redesigning learning spaces, think about the structure of classrooms” Becker said.

Much like last year, Becker stressed the global trend towards makerspaces, and the increasing focus on helping students use technology to actively explore and create knowledge, rather than passively absorbing it. In many respects, she says that a “flurry” of new products such as 3D printers and more accessible mobile devices are driving these trends.

With added emphasis on redesigning schools and learning spaces, schools will be increasingly challenged with rethinking the traditional role of teachers and scaling teaching innovations, according to the report.

In addition, some of the biggest challenges facing ed-tech adoption are ensuring digital equity and making sure new ed-tech initiatives are focused on bridging the achievement gap. These problems are particularly pronounced in low-income communities or developing nations where fundamental infrastructure such as electricity or broadband internet still needs to be laid.

Interestingly, the report lists “personalized learning” as one of the biggest challenges currently impeding technology adoption in K-12 education.

Becker says that the term’s “nebulous definition,” a paucity of evidence-based research, and an inability to scale pilot programs are complicating efforts to implement personalized learning program overhauls.

While defining and implementing true personalized learning might be five or more years away, coding programs are ascendant now and will continue to grow in importance over the next one or two years, according to the report.

Becker pointed in particular to Scandinavian countries, where coding is taught as a language to students beginning at age seven, as a model that much of the rest of the world is moving toward. Educators are beginning to recognize that coding is a “world language” she said.

Another important trend to watch, according to Becker, is the rebranding of major publishers, such as Pearson and McGraw Hill Education, as learning-science or learning-management companies.

While she applauds the focus these giants and their smaller competitors are putting into producing ed-tech products, Becker urges ed tech vendors to spend more time talking to teachers and educators to make sure they are building the right tools for teachers and students.

“There needs to be more conversation between business, school leaders, teachers and parents,” she said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.