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What's on the horizon for K-12 ed tech in 2017?

4 school and district tech chiefs weigh in with their predictions and concerns

To say the least, 2017 promises to be an interesting year for K-12 education. The incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump and impending implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act alone promise to keep educators' hands full, to say nothing of ongoing tech challenges.

As educators and students gear up to finish out the latter half of the 2016-17 school year, we reached out to four district tech chiefs and thought leaders for their thoughts on ed tech predictions, concerns and trends facing administrators in the new year.

Next year, I think CIOs, CTOs and tech directors will continue the trend to focus less on devices, programs and apps and more on instruction. It's been great to have conversations about student learning and goals over whether we should purchase this device or that. I also hope to see the conversation around decentralizing the MakerSpace open up. Whereas we've been spending the past few years liberating computers from a lab setting and putting them in classrooms in the hands of students, I hope to see the same happen with maker ed. Our district is focusing on this essential question now: How can maker ed pedagogy support and enhance learning in all content areas at all grades? 

More school districts will begin to invest in cyber security from employee training to technologies geared to abate cyber attacks. The focus upon digital equity and the homework gap at districts, states, and the national level over the past few years begins to grow. This growth will drive districts and states to begin investing at a higher rate in innovative technologies or programs to provide students network connectivity outside of school. Makerspaces will become the norm in schools across the country, with the library or computer lab being converted to innovative learning labs with 3-D printers, robots, drones, circuits, LEDs, metal, tools and a variety of traditional supplies like paper, cardboard boxes and paints. The makerspaces will spark further interest in robotics programs and become a normal place in schools as opposed to a five-year fad. Robotics programs will continue to expand rapidly in schools, and given the popularity, robotics competitions begin to rival football, basketball, soccer and baseball events at high schools around the country while prompting the recognition as an NCAA sport. OK, that’s maybe a little far fetched, but the robotics competitions are ready for impressive growth in the next three years.

Among concerns, any possible impact to E-Rate from the new Presidential Administration. Increasing cyber attacks are attempting to gain student personal identifiable information, financial resources or disrupting district technology. Ransomwear is becoming even more potent and insidious. As the nation faces a teacher shortage, districts confront a unique challenge to ensure large numbers of new teachers are successful in the first years in their classrooms, but also get quality training to integrate technology at a high SAMR level into instruction. With schools driving forward on technology enriched learning, it’s imperative to ensure new teachers utilize the technology to avoid creating a digital equity gap within their school. 

Redesigned learning spaces continue to be an important trend within schools for the next five years, driven by the continued technology adoption in schools. As research illustrates the positive impact from utilizing new furniture, lighting and classroom layout, districts will align to support student-centric teaching and learning. The pedagogical shift to collaborative learning environments will support the continued purchasing of technology and furniture to support a new classroom model. As cost and limited curriculum hinder widespread adoption of these technologies, the further investment in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) curriculum development aligned to standards sets the stage for these technologies becoming widespread in classrooms within a few years. Districts continue to struggle with big data, but the industry will begin to develop effective programs to provide schools with actionable data in a near real-time for teachers and administrators to assist students.

I think [this last point] falls into all there categories, perhaps. The nation is suddenly very cognizant regarding fake news articles. The impact these articles played in the presidential election and likely are going to play in everything from politics to information knowledge is going to be tremendous this year and going forward. There is going to be a vocal call at all levels for educators to add further critical thinking assignments and text analysis to the work already going on in class. To help meet the need, schools are going to increasingly rely upon Common Sense Media for resources to build lessons around text analysis (both online and printed). I also anticipate publishers and other vendors jumping into the fray with curriculum offerings to deploy. 

I can speak to trends and changes here at Garnet Valley. We have begun developing our own Cyber Program to complement other education offerings here. We call the Cyber Program "[email protected]" We are moving to incorporate blended classes where students meet face-to-face with teachers a few days per week and online the other days. We are dipping our toes into virtual reality with Google Expeditions and NearPod VR. We have redesigned our large learning spaces (libraries and labs) into more modern, student-centered spaces. We have changed our professional development model to offer more choice. We adopted a new SIS, Alma, which has allowed our students to choose their own learning path each day and has simplified our SIS and software integrations. GV has also signed on with the U.S. Department of Education for their #GoOpen Movement with OER.

As for predictions, virtual reality will hit the classroom in a big way as prices come down. Also, we have begun to replace all our of older SMART Boards with flat screen TVs as their prices have dropped. And as more software become web-based, hopefully no more software/app downloads, which will allow schools to be device agnostic. 

Over the coming year, we're going to continue to see a battle over the meaning of "personalization." Numerous technology vendors, blended learning advocates, adaptive learning software providers and policymakers will continue to put forth the idea that "personalized learning" simply means running students through individually-chunked digital content at their own pace. The goal is for students to master more recall and regurgitation-type items in the hopes of better performance on standardized tests. The growing project- and inquiry-based learning movement, however, will rightfully argue that  comparatively  there's not much "personal" about this process of computing machines putting students through their paces. This definitional fight over instructional meanings will play out in countless permutations in schools across the country.

A second theme for this coming year will (hopefully) be the increased attention on digital equity concerns, not just regarding access but also regarding usage. Existing research indicates pretty clearly that, even when they have access to computers, traditionally-underserved students typically use learning technologies in different ways than their white, more affluent peers. For instance, they get to use technology less often to make and create, instead being pushed more often into "drill and kill" software systems designed to get them to some desired level of academic proficiency. While proponents of remedial software put forth the notion that students have to "learn the basics" before they can complete more complex work, more progressive school systems will show that students can gain necessary, foundational knowledge and skills while doing more meaningful activities that also are more engaging and interesting to students. Maybe a few districts will be brave enough to conduct internal technology usage audits and then publicly and visibly share the results.

Finally, we should see the burgeoning movement to pay more attention to the technology needs of school administrators  not just students and teachers  continue to grow. Initiatives such as the Future Ready Leadership Summits, the school technology leadership programs at the University of Kentucky and Johns Hopkins University, the new digital leadership chapter in this year's "Handbook of Research on the Education of School Leaders," and UCEA's Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE) will drive attention to this oft-neglected technology focal area. As I'm fond of saying, if we want to see changes in systems rather than isolated internal pockets of innovation, we must work with the people who are formally in charge of those systems. Our investments in technology leadership are woefully inadequate, but recent developments seem promising.

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Filed Under: K12 Technology Policy & Regulation
Top image credit: Depositphotos