There's no shortage of tech trends impacting K-12 classrooms today. Many are still making the transition to device-driven, digital resource models and figuring out how to best use open educational resources (OER), and innovations like makerspaces are reaching maturity and gaining structure to fulfill their worth beyond just the "wow" factor of their tools.
With educators and students entering the latter end of the 2017-18 school year, we reached out to four district tech chiefs and thought leaders for their perspectives on what will have the biggest impact and where school leaders should exercise caution.
Blended and personalized learning continue to drive device adoption
Talking ed tech trends in 2018 requires a recognition that those innovations that have shaped the classroom for the past few years are continuing to evolve and mature. And for as many schools and districts as have taken the dive on adopting device programs and implementing personalized and blended learning strategies, still more are continuing to test the waters and figure out what makes the most sense for them — if they've begun to make those moves at all.
In Pennsylvania's Garnet Valley School District, Samuel Mormando, the director of Technology, Innovation, and Online Learning, says the district's Blended Learning Committee has defined its strategy as one that combines the best of both traditional and digital instruction in a way that boosts engagement and maximizes teachers' time with students to deliver personalized learning. The idea is ultimately to give students more agency via some level of control over when, where, how and at what speed their learning occurs.
For teachers, they gain more control over the design of their classrooms and are able to better innovate and learn new skills as they develop.
"School districts that are not prepared to offer online and blended learning options for students will experience increased competition for enrollments from a variety of public and private online providers, including charter and cyber charter schools," Mormando adds, noting how important progress on that front will become for public schools as school choice options expand.
With devices now becoming standard in most classrooms, educators need to "move beyond isolated usage," such as making a movie trailer at the end of a unit of study, adds Brianna Hodges, the director of digital learning for Stephenville Independent School District in Texas. "Leveraging mixed reality to transform learning opportunities elevates metacognitive connections, offers equitable experiences for all learners, and deepens understanding through experiential and tangible lessons," she says.
On that front, Robert Craven, educational services director for Tustin Unified School District (CA), notes that he sees 2018 bringing a greater deal of thought to the intersection of curriculum and technology. "With so much of the new Common Core- and [Next Generation Science Standards]-aligned curriculum coming to market reliant upon 1:1 technology, conversations between the education services division and technology department are more important than ever," he says. "It’s extremely important for education services to investigate the curriculum in depth as some of the new curriculum is exceptional both for the instruction and utilization of technology while other curriculum is little more than a PDF of traditional work books."
Tech administrators will need to ensure that digital curriculum offerings work equally well in the classroom and at home.
Makerspaces and mixed reality also grow toward maturity
With the rise in focus on STEM, makerspaces have become entrenched in most schools and districts that can afford them. But like device programs, they've also matured beyond their initial "wow" factor, says Craven.
"Fortunately, with the professional development available, the variety of high-quality products, and the wealth of curriculum ideas, the STEM and makerspace movement is ready to evolve into an important curricular school program bearing results," he adds.
That STEM support will also see computer science programs continue to grow, says Thomas C. Murray, the director of innovation for Future Ready Schools and co-author of "Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow's Schools, Today."
"It's imperative that districts continue to focus on traditionally underserved populations in this area — both our females and students of color," Murray says, noting that computer science education initiatives have had the support of both the Obama and Trump administrations.
Likewise, though not quite at the same stage yet, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will likely find a better educational foothold this year as prices for headsets become more reasonable and more content providers enter the market. "The Google Expeditions program is a great example of VR and AR making a positive classroom impact," Craven says. "With additional companies and technologies coming to the market, multiple opportunities abound this coming year to bring VR and AR into the classroom."
"Research indicates that interactive, active experiences with technology are what accelerates learning, and this is one of those opportunities," Murray adds.
Digital portfolios will provide more robust metrics
While not carrying as much of the "wow" factor as other tools mentioned, digital portfolios stand to give educators a "360-degree view of learning," Hodges says. These tools go beyond the writing samples of the traditional portfolio to include multimedia content like videos, interactive photos, audio tracks and other elements. And they can create a lasting, positive digital presence for learners across all grade levels.
"I personally recommend extending the influence by purposefully implementing portfolios for administrators, principals, teachers and learners of all sizes and ages," she says. "We each have a powerful voice to share within the education ecosystem. It's time to share and brand our narratives."
Caution remains around personalized learning solutions
Of course, it's not all roses. While "personalized learning" continues to be a buzzword-du-jour, Murray warns against one-size-fits-all solutions from vendors simply looking to profit off of the trend.
"Although leveraging adaptive technologies makes sense, the notion that a student's needs can be met solely based on a particular platform is misguided and short-sighted," he says, noting that while such platforms can support efforts to personalize learning, they can't replace valuable social-emotional and live learning play experiences that provide a more robust education for students.
His concerns were echoed by Hodges. "While many of these software programs are incredibly effective," she says. "there is a great temptation to find a 'solution for every situation,' transforming the learning environment into an automated '21st century' version of sit-and-get through mixed and matched playlists."