The past couple of years have arguably been some of the most consequential in the history of educational technology. Schools went through a massive experiment in remote and hybrid learning, they invested billions of dollars in new technology to expand 1-to-1 computing programs nationwide, and they experienced a rising number of cyber threats.
What will 2023—and beyond—have in store? Here’s a look at what’s “in” (hot and relevant) and “out” (falling out of favor and or not considered good practice) when it comes to education technology.
1. Using tech to help students catch up academically
Remediation: Schools invested billions of dollars in COVID relief funds to help students make up academic ground lost during the pandemic—including digital programs focusing on remediation. In fact, a significant portion of teachers—at least 50 percent who teach 8th grade reading and math, and at least 65 percent who teach 4th grade reading and math—spend at least part of every week working on remediation, according to the surveys of teachers conducted as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. Remediation often entails teaching below-grade skills in order to give students a foundation for more-advanced content. But some experts argue that it does not work because students continue to fall farther behind their peers.
Acceleration: Acceleration gives students the minimum background knowledge and skills they’ll need to access a particular grade-level concept even if there are gaps in their learning from the previous year. This is different from remediation, in which educators try to catch students up on all of the content they may have missed learning the previous year. The goal of acceleration is to help students stay on grade level, reviewing only the concepts that are most important to learning what comes next. A 2022 study from TNTP, a nonprofit, and Zearn, a digital math program, found that students whose teachers chose to accelerate rather than remediate got through more grade-level content this school year, and that students struggled less, as measured by repeated attempts on the same problem.
2. Virtual/hybrid learning no longer a high priority
Full-time remote learning: At the beginning of the pandemic, nearly every school district offered some form of virtual learning. Educators knew the arrangement wasn’t as effective for most students as in-person classes. But some students—including those with different learning styles or preferences—benefitted from online learning. Still, once the pandemic began to ease and schools returned to in-person learning, districts began to quickly scale back their virtual learning offerings.
Pinning achievement declines on virtual learning: Many districts are now ditching virtual learning. In fact, one-third of a sample of 100 large and urban districts in the country report they are ending their remote learning programs for the 2022-23 school year,according to an analysis by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. They are doing this, in part, because of research that shows students did not do well academically in remote learning environments. In many circles, remote learning is being blamed for troubling drops in reading and math achievement scores.
3. The evolution of 1-to-1 computing
Rapid expansion: When the pandemic hit, it became imperative that every student in a school district had a device to learn on, whether that be a Chromebook or an iPad. Thanks to federal funding, districts that didn’t already provide a device to every student were able to buy a lot of new devices and hand them out to students. But after students returned to school buildings, the urgency of expanding 1-to-1 computing has slowed.
Sustaining current programs: Now that the mad dash to provide 1-to-1 computing opportunities for students has slowed and because federal relief money will soon run out, experts say it’s time for school districts to think about how they’ll be able to continue using all the technology products they purchased during the pandemic. District leaders will need to think about the ongoing costs of repairing and replacing devices and of continuing to develop teachers’ skills. Some ed-tech experts say school districts are not thinking ahead about these challenges and that could put them in a difficult spot in three to five years when they have to find the money to begin replacing thousands of school-issued learning devices.
4. Tough choices on what tech to use
Purchasing new products: The use of educational technology products has risen dramatically over the last two years. The average number of tech products school districts access in a given month has almost tripled over the last several years, according to a report from LearnPlatform, an education technology company that helps districts measure the use and effectiveness of their digital products. But that flurry of purchasing is slowing.
Culling the roster of tech tools: District leaders have realized that having a wide array of tech products can complicate professional development, student data privacy, cybersecurity, and more. Now they are thinking about which tech tools to keep. They need to understand what’s being used and how to make evidence-based decisions about which ones to keep. An increasing number of districts are being much more strategic about getting rid of the tech tools that don’t show clear evidence that they improve students’ academic performance and/or make teachers’ jobs easier.
5. Balancing innovation with burnout
Requiring teachers to master new tech tools: Because of their extensive experience with remote and hybrid learning during the pandemic, teachers now have a deeper understanding of how to integrate technology into instruction. Many teachers have said that their new aptitude with technology has been highly beneficial for teaching and learning. They’ve also said that the increased focus on digital teaching skills has prompted them to try new tools and strategies. But what they want to do is put those new skills to work with the technologies they now know how to use—they do not want to be forced to pick up yet another tech skill at a time when they are feeling overwhelmed by helping students catch up on “unfinished learning,” picking up extra duties due to teacher shortages, and dealing with students’ mental health challenges.
Easing teacher tech fatigue: Teachers are simply getting tired of using technology constantly. They already have a lot on their plates. They don’t want to throw more tools into the mix and figure out how it works with their pedagogy. In response, some administrators are now giving their teachers some breathing room, by not mandating tech use or by providing other kinds of support. But those administrators also point out that some teachers are very excited about the new tech skills they have acquired and want to put them to use learning how to use new technologies in teaching and learning. Finding that balance will be a continuing challenge in 2023 and beyond.