It can be tricky keeping up with the rapid pace at which education technology is evolving.
Teachers are now using artificial intelligence to differentiate lessons and create grading rubrics in a matter of seconds. K-12 schools are now subject to more cyberattacks than any other sector. And the number of technology products that districts use in a given month has nearly tripled in the past few years.
But one way to get ahead is to look ahead. So, Education Week reached out to experts on classroom technology, artificial intelligence, data privacy, and cybersecurity to ask for their predictions on the biggest changes, challenges, and opportunities coming to education technology this year. Seven experts weighed in on what educators should be on the lookout for in the near future and how to prepare for the impact they will have on K-12 education.
The experts’ responses, below, have been edited for length and clarity.
1. Prioritize critical thinking and nurture face-to-face learning
Mark Breen, the chief technology officer for Vail school district in Arizona:
As technology continues to evolve at a rapid, exponential rate, education faces an array of changes, challenges, and opportunities in the months and years ahead. The advancement pace is accelerating, with significant breakthroughs in areas like AI, nanotechnology, machine learning, and robotics/automation. These innovations, still in their early stages, offer immense potential for enhancing effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.
Among the numerous challenges accompanying these opportunities, two, in particular, resonate with me, especially in the context of education. First, as technology progresses to automate tasks and provide ready answers, maintaining our role as critical thinkers in society becomes paramount. It is essential to educate our students on engaging thoughtfully with emerging technologies, understanding their civic implications. Second, and perhaps more crucial, is the need to intentionally nurture in-person and face-to-face interactions in both our professional and personal lives. While technology can paradoxically connect us more than ever and yet isolate us, we must remember that high-quality relationships are foundational to the human experience and deliberately model that to our students.
2. Build up cybersecurity defenses and determine the risks and rewards of generative artificial intelligence
Keith Krueger, the CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, a professional association for K-12 technology leaders:
There is no doubt that cybersecurity will be a top priority for district technology leaders, CIOs, and CTOs. It has been the No. 1 challenge for the past several years, and the K-12 sector is the most targeted for ransomware attacks. Given the substantial amount of student and employee data, coupled with the fact that education is considered a “soft target” for cybercriminals, this poses a significant problem for the education sector.
Annually, [our Driving K-12 Innovation series] identifies the top three trends in Hurdles, Accelerators, and Tech Enabler categories. The leading Tech Enabler for 2024 is Generative AI. The question arises: How can education harness the opportunities presented by Generative AI while effectively mitigating the associated risks? Engaging in this conversation is essential for educators, policymakers, and the public to collectively shape the future we desire.
3. Prepare for more sophisticated use of technology by educators at all levels
Karen Hawley Miles, CEO of Education Resource Strategies, a national nonprofit that partners with K-12 districts to solve challenges around strategic planning and resource use:
Technology will rapidly change K-12 education in four big ways:
- AI tools that help personalize lessons to support English/language arts and math are getting better every day—including supporting multilingual learners.
- Individual teachers are already using technology to support lesson planning, provide student feedback, and assist with grading. This use will become even more widespread.
- More districts across the country are going to use online and hybrid courses to provide more advanced and richer course offerings available to all students.
- Tools are emerging that support families in understanding and tracking a student’s growth in knowledge and skills. These tools will gain more widespread use and provide more opportunities to customize or provide resources specific to supporting that student’s further growth.
The last year of federal recovery spending provides an unprecedented opportunity—especially for districts serving students with the greatest needs. But districts must seize this moment to support schools systematically and strategically, investing in technical assistance and change management to evolve traditional ways of organizing schooling.
4. Pump the brakes on AI exuberance
Lisa LeVasseur, executive director and research director, Internet Safety Labs:
Clearly, it’s the tsunami of all things “AI.” The thing that we don’t talk enough about is how surveillance and AI are different sides of the same coin. AI relies on surveilled data for both the training and the real-time automated decisionmaking and/or other kinds of generated content. So, if I say that AI is the grand challenge in K-12 education for 2024, then I’m also saying student surveillance is the grand challenge. Perhaps the greatest challenge for 2024 will be to pump the brakes on technology adoption and improve software vendor management.
The world finds itself in a flurry of exuberance over “AI,” largely with an attitude of fire, ready, aim. People aren’t spending adequate time defining the problems they’re trying to solve with exciting new tools. [...] I would like to encourage schools to fight the FOMO, or urge to be an early adopter or the incorrect belief that new technology is the answer to all your problems. We don’t fully understand and can’t properly manage the tools we have; we shouldn’t press the accelerator. Schools are leaning into tools that surveil students for a variety of purposes and this is leaving students with a disturbing lack of privacy.
5. Understand the implications of a heightened focus on evidence-based decisionmaking by school districts
Joseph South, Chief Innovation Officer, ISTE/ASCD:
The education landscape in 2024 is likely to witness a growing reliance on competency-based credentials for educators in education technology. There is an increasing number of individuals entering the classroom without completing a traditional educator preparation program at a university, a trend that has been propelled by teacher shortages.
In 2024, we anticipate a heightened focus on evidence-based decisionmaking by school districts in regards to procuring education technology for their classrooms. New requests for proposals (RFPs) requirements should be established that incorporate third-party validations, such as the ISTE Seal or outcome-based contracting, allowing school districts to place greater emphasis on the quality and impact of ed-tech solutions.
6. Learn how to use AI as a thought partner
Heather Esposito, district instructional technology coach, Cherry Hill school district, N.J.
The biggest opportunity lies in reshaping and redefining assessment. Pivoting to authentic assessments where students engage in experiential learning will be key. During the process vs. product focus on assessment, students can collaborate with AI as a thought partner in various stages as this will help prepare them directly for their future: a future where their partnership with AI is a certainty. The challenge lies in the shift from teacher-directed teaching and learning to student-focused learning experiences.
7. Design AI in education around the needs of teachers
Shantanu Sinha, the vice president and general manager for Google for Education
As more advanced AI becomes increasingly prevalent, expect education tech companies to value the role of the teacher more than ever and increasingly build with their needs in mind. AI has the potential to save teachers time and help them reach every student with more personal learning. There will be more innovation in ways to enhance productivity, creativity, and help create novel learning experiences for students.