Trends | December 2012 Digital Edition | Feature

For the Year Ahead, What's Hot and What's Not in Ed Tech

Our panel of experts determines which ed tech devices and practices are heating up, and which are losing steam, in 2013.

This article originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's December 2012 digital edition.

The Panelists

Meg Ormiston is a former classroom teacher and curriculum coach who works as a professional development specialist and speaker. She is the author of four books, including Creating a Digital Rich Classroom: Teaching and Learning in a Web 2.0 World.

John Kuglin has more than 35 years of classroom experience. He has worked for McREL, the University of Montana, and NASA. He currently heads Kuglin Consulting, where he helps schools develop 1-to-1 learning programs and speaks nationally.

Gail Lovely, a former classroom teacher and administrator, currently focuses on both technology and early learning. She presents nationally at conferences and provides professional development and consulting services to school districts and ed tech companies.

Eric Sheninger is a principal at New Milford High School in Bergen County, NJ. A NASSP Digital Principal Award winner in 2012, he speaks regularly on the innovative uses of social media and technology.

Susan Brooks-Young is a former teacher, site administrator, and technology specialist currently working as a consultant helping school leaders refine their role in implementing instructional technology and mobile learning programs.

January brings many opportunities for change. Politically, we get a fresh start, with a new Congress, a new term for the presidential administration, and new leaders on the local level. Another school semester begins. A new wall calendar goes up, featuring pictures of kittens or rustic New England scenes.

The new year also allows district technology leaders and innovators to reflect on how the rapid pace of technological change is impacting what happens in their classrooms. Instructional technologies that were all the rage a year ago (netbooks) can be swept aside by this year's favorite (iPads). Discerning which new developments are truly effective and which are just fads is the toughest challenge.

T.H.E. Journal recently convened five experts who spend their days in the trenches helping school districts understand the impact of technology on teaching and learning. We asked them to consider 10 topics related to instructional technology and give us some predictions as to whether they will be Hot, Lukewarm, or Losing Steam in 2013. We compiled their responses to come up with an overall trend line. On some topics there was unanimous agreement and on others quite a disparity, but their in-depth commentary provides great food for thought. And all five will be speakers at the FETC 2013 conference in Orlando, FL, held Jan. 28-31.

Software in the Cloud: HOT

Ormiston: Many districts are concerned about the transition to software in the cloud, but it has been my experience that teachers and students transition very easily. Google Drive/Documents is the leader in productivity software that is quickly being adopted by districts large and small. BYOD districts, in particular, are exploring cloud-computing solutions to help all students get on the same page regardless of the device in their hand.

Sheninger: As WiFi becomes more accessible to schools and families across the country, access to software in the cloud increases as well. For many schools and educators, this has become a cost-effective means to provide a variety of tools across buildings and districts. Making things even more appealing is the increasing number of applications that allow users to create dashboards to organize all downloaded cloud-based software.

Lovely: Software in the cloud is here to stay, but one thing that has slowed the progress is the sometimes-sudden change or disappearance of popular cloud-based software. It is becoming more important than ever for educators and others to pay attention to the revenue models of software. Examining how software is funded can inform how likely the tool is to be stable and have longevity.

Common Core Online: HOT

Ormiston: The Common Core State Standards have teachers everywhere scrambling to redesign lessons and restructure curriculum. The shift is huge for most teachers--specifically in having students demonstrate what they know with digital tools. In my experience, a large group of our teachers do not have the technology skills that are underpinning the standards. My concern is that the ambitious goal of all-online testing comes at the same time that desktop hardware is aging in districts. Logistics will be a concern for many districts as they scramble to find the equipment and create a schedule to funnel students in and out of computer labs.

Sheninger: The most daunting task for schools is to ensure that the technological infrastructure is in place that will allow for the testing of all students. This reality will force school districts to allocate precious financial resources to purchase computers and install WiFi at the expense of staffing, professional development, and other resources. As schools scramble to ensure that buildings are equipped to test all students according to mandates associated with the Common Core, the next challenge will be preparing for these assessments with not much insight on the process. The result will be increased profits for the testing companies and, unfortunately, an emphasis on preparing students for these exams, because many states have and will continue to tie the results into new teacher evaluation systems.

Kuglin: As more and more curriculum departments align their learning resources to the Common Core, the next step will be to create the systems for implementation, including content management and new methods of assessment. Mobile devices will play a role in Common Core assessments as teachers begin to understand the power of BYOD and use student devices for immediate feedback through apps like Socrative for just-in-time formative assessments in their classrooms.

iPads: HOT

Lovely: I believe this form factor is the tool that could finally infiltrate early learning and begin to make technology a more integrated tool for teaching and learning with our youngest learners. Is the iPad the only choice in this area? No, but as the first to critical mass it has an advantage that will be difficult to overcome. Price will be the determining factor for many, and that is the main caution with the growth of this device.

Kuglin: iPads will continue to dominate the tablet market, especially in the K-12 space. The 7½-inch iPad is already a reality. It comes in at a price point just too tempting for schools to overlook for use in their 1-to-1 programs.

Ormiston: Unfortunately, there is usually a race to budget, fund, and order iPads in a vacuum. Curriculum should be leading the charge by demonstrating what students will be able to create to demonstrate what they know as a result of their instruction.

Tablets Other Than iPads: LUKEWARM

Brooks-Young: Anyone who thinks iPads have a lock on classroom use of tablets is mistaken. It's true that adoption of other tablets has trailed iPads significantly, but it's premature to dismiss Android OS devices out of hand. The number of apps available in Google Play was a deterrent at one time, but that gap is closing rapidly. More recent OS upgrades make Android devices as easy for end users to operate as an iPad. Once a manufacturer figures out how to get tablet size and pricing right, Apple will need to step it up to retain its current stranglehold on the market.

Ormiston: Just this week I had 100 teachers in a BYOD session. About half of the group had laptops, and the rest of the teachers had tablets. Out of the tablets only two were non-iPads. Although that is not a scientific study, it was repeated week after week this summer as I conducted tech camps all over the country. The Kindle Fire users experienced trouble in locating apps that were similar to what was available for the iPads. At the end of the session, they reported that they love reading on their Kindles, but they wish they had brought another device that made it easier to navigate the internet.

Kuglin: Other tablet makers will continue to gain a share of a growing market, but the bulk of the tablets used in K-12 will remain Apple. Recent lawsuits favor Apple's dominance. In addition, with the lead Apple enjoys in the number of apps it has available for its devices, it will be difficult for others to make a meaningful impact on this market.

The Flipped Classroom: LUKEWARM

Kuglin: Teachers need to work in three environments today: 1-to-1; blended learning, which is a combination of on-site and online instruction; and the flipped classroom, which is a new method for combining the first two elements. Initial results from pioneering efforts with this technique are indicating substantial gains in student achievement. It's time for all educators to look at this transformation in delivering instruction to our connected students.

Brooks-Young: I'm seeing indicators that a growing number of educators are backing away from flipping classrooms--at least as originally promoted. And I'm not at all sure that this is a bad thing, because I worry that the flipped classroom movement may actually be doing more harm than good. Lecture is not the best strategy for helping students grasp information, yet flipping relies heavily on this approach to instruction. In addition, many students are spending hours viewing online lectures that are very poor quality. Fortunately, folks now seem to be taking a deep breath and stepping back from the easy fix.

Lovely: Wow, this idea is not new, but it is certainly a buzzing topic in social media, conference session menus, and elsewhere. My opinion is that this is not likely to grow as much as some might think. In a still digitally divided world, not all students go home to connected homes and places appropriate for study, so this seems doomed to fail as a large-scale movement.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): HOT

Ormiston: BYOD is spreading like wildfire in our middle schools and high schools, and it is dribbling into our elementary schools. If our goal is to prepare students for college and career, we all need to help students understand how to use their personal computing devices appropriately. We need to take the IT department out of the management of devices and help students understand how they need to manage their own computing experience.

Brooks-Young: Financial issues may be turning the tide in favor of BYOD. Schools simply cannot afford to keep purchasing technologies with life spans of three years or less. More sophisticated infrastructure makes it possible for IT staff to protect the network and sensitive data while giving online access to students and teachers who are using personal devices.

Sheninger: As more districts face the grim reality of budget cuts, we are seeing a dramatic rise in the number of schools that have chosen to implement BYOD initiatives. BYOD programs assist schools in teaching digital responsibility and empower students to use their devices productively. A BYOD environment is also more aligned with the real world that we are preparing our students to succeed in. When moving in this direction, it is important to ensure that the wireless infrastructure is in place to support BYOD, policies are developed, an equitable environment is established in the case that not all students have and/or bring their devices on a given day, and professional development is provided.


Sheninger: The textbook as we know it will soon be extinct. In addition to stale content, the relative cost and weight of textbooks are also major drawbacks. Who in their right mind would want a student to carry around four or more heavy textbooks when they all could be loaded onto one tablet? I know what the students would prefer! It is only a matter of time before the digital textbook industry creates a textbook that can be cost-effectively consumed on a variety of devices.

Lovely: Paper-based, hardcover, expensive textbooks are on the decline. Electronic versions of textbooks are on the rise. But in many subjects and many grade levels, there is growing interest in replacing the textbook with resources that are not designed in the traditional textbook format of 1) read information; 2) answer questions; 3) discuss (maybe); 4) take test; 5) move to next chapter.

Brooks-Young: In 1913, Thomas Edison predicted that textbooks would soon be obsolete in schools. Clearly that hasn't happened. I'd like to say that textbooks are losing steam today, but I don't think that's the case--yet. Large textbook publishing companies are resisting moving to eTextbooks that go beyond PDF or similar formats, and this isn't good enough. Over time this will be a losing battle, but for now it's not possible for a school or district to replace all paper textbooks with eTextbooks.

Social Media as a Teaching and Learning Tool: LOSING STEAM

Ormiston: Finally, I am seeing a trend to include social media as a teaching and learning tool. Most educators are staying away from Facebook, but they are pinning resources on all types of topics on Pinterest. Educators who take the time to learn the language of Twitter can see the value of this platform for personal professional development. Once they use Twitter with colleagues, many teachers start using it with students in creative ways. Teachers at the elementary level are using a Twitter-like environment called TodaysMeet. This free website allows the teacher to create a room and students can join the discussion without a need for logins or passwords.

Brooks-Young: Why use social media? Because it is an opportunity to teach and model digital citizenship behaviors that cannot be taught as effectively using other approaches. Someone needs to be helping students learn effective, appropriate use of whatever social media tools are currently in widespread use. Social media also offers chances for students to experience accessing a worldwide audience, whether it's peers or experts in a field they are studying. And expertise in social media is rapidly becoming a workplace skill that can help students make themselves more marketable when they enter the workforce.

Lovely: I believe most learning is social, so social media certainly has a fit in education in some places and in some roles. In the United States, however, the concerns with filtering content and avoiding advertising will limit how much public sites (such as Facebook and Twitter) will be used in some classrooms and will encourage the growth of "educational" media sites and tools. The challenges here will be how the protected environments can still provide authentic, social experiences and spaces to the educational user.

E-portfolios: LUKEWARM

Ormiston: Teachers need to create a digital portfolio detailing their work professionally. This portfolio will become important because many states are revamping the teacher-evaluation process. Administrators will be looking for evidence of professional growth in district-sponsored professional development as well as the growth made by the teacher seeking personal professional development. Students also should be creating digital portfolios filled with the multimedia projects they have created in various classes. This portfolio should include links to the social media sites they are using. This portfolio should be on a public website, not in a closed community that will be deleted upon the student's graduation.

Sheninger: Many teachers have had success in using Evernote to create e-portfolios for their students. I am afraid, however, that as more states move toward evaluating teachers based on the standardized test scores of students, the desire to use these forms of authentic assessment will not be there. Many teachers will ultimately feel the pressure to teach to the test and they will see e-portfolios as a "what could have been" and an investment not worth their time.

Lovely: E-portfolios are on the rise--whether this is intentional or not. Each Facebook page is a kind of informal, social e-portfolio; a blog is another form of informal e-portfolio, and of course the myriad of electronic tools we use that create electronic products adds to this collection. The intentional, thoughtful creation and curation of an e-portfolio with reflection built in is easier than ever due to the wide and growing assortment of tools and resources available.

Interactive Projectors and Whiteboards: LOSING STEAM

Ormiston: Many districts I work with have stopped purchasing large numbers of interactive whiteboards (IWBs). Many classrooms are already outfitted with the whiteboards, but administrators are reporting that the boards have not changed instruction. They are seeking professional development sessions to help teachers use the features of the software. When I attend education conferences, I try to visit the exhibit hall and look for trends and new products I should be aware of. Over the past year I have noticed a dramatic decrease in the booths dedicated exclusively to the demonstration of IWBs.

Brooks-Young: Teachers will continue to use projectors for a variety of purposes, but IWBs are losing steam. One issue with this technology is that it promotes teacher-directed instruction under the guise of engaging students. Teachers may be able to engage one student in a hands-on activity using an IWB, but that leaves the rest of the class watching and waiting for a turn--hardly a paradigm shift for classroom instruction.

Lovely: This is a mixed bag. The specialized surface interactive display may be waning. It is limiting and creates an image that is too small for many settings. Interactive displays that are projector-based or otherwise don't require a specialized surface may be more popular due to the increased flexibility, visibility, and usability at a lower cost. The ultra-short-throw interactive projectors now available for a much lower cost with brighter displays and fewer shadows are enticing. The loyal users of some platforms may find that the software they are using on a specific system would be better served on another platform or display tool. If current providers such as SMART and Promethean began to sell their software to run on any interactive device, we would see a surge in the movement away from specific "boards" to more interactive projectors.