What does the future hold for K-12 ed tech?

Education Dive's survey of over 150 administrators and teachers reveals challenges, priorities, successes

Technology is increasingly integrated in the fabric of K-12 education, but not all deployments are created equally.

One-to-one rollouts of tablets or Chromebooks, for example, have shown great promise when handled with care, but for every success, critics are quick to point out a Los Angeles-style iPad nightmare. And don't even get the U.S. Department of Education's Richard Culatta started on smartboards.

Of course, meeting that desire for more classroom tech comes with hurdles both budgetary and logistical. Even with the money for tech, some schools and districts still lack adequate broadband infrastructure to effectively support it.

In an industry still waiting to see what a rewrite of its largest set of federal regulations holds for the future, what the coming years hold for tech in the classroom is often even more murky. What's working for schools and districts right now? What are their concerns in the coming years? Are faculty, let alone Internet connections, ready to handle the digital workload?

That's what Education Dive set out to learn this summer from our survey of over 150 district officials, principals, and teachers. You can find our State of Education Technology survey here in its entirety. We've included three key insights below. 

Limited budgets and lack of professional development top concerns

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In a time where urban districts like those in Chicago and Philadelphia are strapped for cash and at least one small district in Tennessee has shut down over its budget, money is clearly a chief concern when trying to scale ed tech access.

On top of buying the devices and curriculum services necessary, schools and districts must also ensure faculty can effectively use them by providing training — the second-most-common concern listed by respondents. That, of course, additionally requires them to overcome any teacher resistance, which followed in third and can be as simple as having patience, providing relevant and useful PD, and making sure they understand you're not trying to "fix" their teaching.

What are schools prioritizing?

Piggybacking on the above findings, professional development and teacher resistance are set to be a primary area of focus in the coming year. Edutopia has tips for providing PD that makes a difference in the classroom, and as previously mentioned, the quality of those opportunities matters when getting teachers to embrace change. 

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Online assessments are another top priority, as standardized exams aligned with Common Core and other new standards have experienced issues during their rollouts in many states over the last few years. While vendors were held accountable in some instances, insufficient Internet connections have proven to be a stumbling block in many others. Given the high-stakes related to teacher evaluations, school grades, and funding tied to these exams, overcoming any existing hurdles is imperative — even as the federal government takes a lighter stance on standardized testing.

Which technologies are making the most difference?

Laptops and tablets are bound to have an impact on kids' learning experiences by virtue of their prevalence in schools and the amount of curricular opportunities afforded. Digital textbooks offer a more immersive experience with videos and interactive content and exercises, adaptive learning software helps students learn at their own pace, and digital dropboxes make it harder for dogs to eat homework.

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The big surprise here, though, is that respondents are seeing notable benefits from smartboards. Critics of that tech  including the aforementioned director of the Education Department's Office of Educational Technology  often point to the frequency at which schools simply "digitize" the existing experience by using such tech to do the same things they've always done, albeit via a shiny new tool. How that tech is driving results in classrooms is something to keep an eye out for as we dive deeper into the results.

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