The 2022-23 school year is shaping up to be a big year of challenges and transitions for educational technology. Schools are facing increasing threats of cyberattacks, they are struggling to figure out how to use all the new technology they acquired during the pandemic in meaningful ways, and they are trying to figure out how to help students become more thoughtful and responsible digital citizens.
The list of ed-tech challenges facing schools this year is a long one. But here are five big ones:
The threat of a cyberattack is now a real one for everyone
Attacks on school districts are growing more sophisticated and the hackers are demanding higher sums of money, said Doug Levin, the national director of the K12 Security Information Exchange. Vendors who work with K-12 schools are also increasingly likely to be the target of an attack.
And, to complicate matters, insurance companies are raising insurance rates for districts and asking them to put in place a long list of safety measures—such as multi-factor authentication for use of tech tools—before even offering a policy to a district.
Education technology leaders are keenly aware of these issues. For the fifth year in a row, members of the Consortium for School Networking, the association that represents district ed-tech leaders, listed cybersecurity as their number one concern. And an overwhelming proportion—83 percent—of CoSN member districts surveyed in June said that they will be expanding cybersecurity initiatives this school year. What’s more, nearly two thirds—62 percent—will be spending more on cybersecurity this fiscal year, up from about a third who reported budget increases in 2020.
This could be the school year that at least one school district finds itself unsure of how it will continue to serve students following an attack, Levin predicted.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this school year, we see a school district that experiences a significant cybersecurity incident” that turns into an “existential crisis,” he said, “because they will not be able to restore their systems or they won’t have the funding necessary to continue operations, and they’re not going to have insurance to bail them out.”
Making effective use of all the new digital learning tools
Even though most districts have put the brakes on their virtual or hybrid learning programs or scaled them back significantly after the return to in-person learning, they should still be thinking about how to continue to make use of all the new devices purchased during the pandemic, said Joseph South, the chief learning officer at the International Society for Technology in Education.
Case-in-point: During the pandemic, virtual meetings gave busy parents a new option for connecting with their child’s school and teacher. There’s no reason that shouldn’t continue, South said. What’s more, with remote technology, schools can bring in experts in nearly any field to speak to their classes, or connect their kids with peers in schools around the globe.
“One of the things that I really hope that we hang on to as we move out of remote learning, is the power of technology to expand that learning community around the child and give them lots of resources,” South said.
Putting in place plans to sustain the expanded use of technology
Billions in federal pandemic relief money allowed school districts to purchase millions of new laptops, tablets, hotspots, and even 3D printers and interactive whiteboards. There was a huge jump in the number of districts offering 1-to-1 computing programs. Some school systems tripled or even quadrupled their fleet of devices.
The problem: Those devices are only going to last so long—maybe four or five years—and it’s highly unlikely the feds will kick in another hundred billion or so for districts to replace them. While some districts are already crafting sustainability plans, plenty of others are not paying attention to that looming problem.
It can be tough to get district leaders focused on a problem that won’t become obvious for a few more years, said Keith Krueger, the executive director of the Consortium for School Networking.
“People have a lot of money coming into the system over this coming school year, and then there’s going to be a huge cliff,” Krueger said. Given that reality, “I think getting the attention of the superintendent and chief financial officer and the school board, it’s hard.”
Creating effective professional development when teachers are feeling ‘tech fatigue’
If sustainability is the looming challenge ahead, professional development is the perennial issue all tech leaders must think about every year, experts said.
The good news: The vast majority of teachers—nearly 90 percent—said their tech skills improved during the pandemic, with almost half of teachers saying that they got “a lot” better with tech, according to an Education Week Research Center survey taken in March of 2021.
The bad news: Educators—and even students—aren’t necessarily in a good state of mind to tackle more technology use. They’re still exhausted from having to master so much, so quickly. In fact, an Education Week survey, taken in December of 2021 showed that nearly two-thirds of educators said they were experiencing some form of “tech fatigue.”
Part of the problem: The professional development that many teachers experienced during the pandemic was the educational equivalent of “emergency PD,” South said. “It was like someone busting out a first aid kit to stop the bleeding.”
Now, teachers need to learn how to master teaching with digital tools in more meaningful, effective, and sophisticated ways. “They need to be really focused on how to use those technologies in the most effective ways possible,” South said. The upside: Once teachers figure out how to use the tools to improve student learning, they’ll have made a lasting shift, he emphasized.
Some of the technologies that districts purchased during the pandemic are “gonna wear out and get obsolete and disappear, and then the investment is gone,” South said. “But if you invest in the capacity of the teachers, then your investment is permanent and sustained, no matter what technology comes next.”
Teaching students to use the internet in healthy and responsible ways
Some teachers have been tempted to scale back their students’ use of technological tools—and limit screen time—due to concerns about the overuse of technology over the past few years.
But taking that approach too far would be a mistake, South warned.
Instead of a list of “don’ts” when it comes to technology—particularly social media—schools need to give students a list of do’s, South said, such as, “Do use technology to become informed. Do use technology to develop a balanced view of the world. Do use technology to create inclusive spaces.”
“When the entire conversation about digital citizenship is focused on how scary the internet is, and all the bad things that can happen on it, we’re really creating fear around a technology that’s extremely powerful for doing good,” he said.