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6 Technology Challenges Facing Education

Despite increasingly widespread adoption of technologies in virtually every aspect of K-12 education, significant challenges are preventing widespread effective implementation. According to researchers, though some of those challenges are systemic and some related to the technologies themselves, teachers and education leaders share in the blame as well.

"The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition," put together by the New Media Consortium as part of the Horizon Project, identifies key emerging issues in education technology using primary and secondary research and input from an advisory board comprising "internationally recognized practitioners and experts" in ed tech. Among those issues are challenges that represent significant constraints on the adoption of technology in education.

In past reports, those challenges have centered largely on reluctance on the part of administrators and teachers, lack of preparation, and lack of support or funding. This year's findings followed largely along those lines as well, though some new challenges were identified as well.

Challenge 1: professional development. Key among all challenges is the lack of adequate, ongoing professional development for teachers who are required to integrate new technologies into their classrooms yet who are unprepared or unable to understand new technologies.

"All too often, when schools mandate the use of a specific technology, teachers are left without the tools (and often skills) to effectively integrate the new capabilities into their teaching methods," according to the report. "The results are that the new investments are underutilized, not used at all, or used in a way that mimics an old process rather than innovating new processes that may be more engaging for students."

Challenge 2: resistance to change. Resistance to technology comes in many forms, but one of the key resistance challenges identified in the report is "comfort with the status quo." According to the researchers, teachers and school leaders often see technological experimentation as outside the scope of their job descriptions.

Challenge 3: MOOCs and other new models for schooling. New in this year's report, new models for teaching and learning are providing "unprecedented competition to traditional models of schooling." In particular, the MOOC (massive open online course) — probably the hottest topic in higher education right now — was identified as being "at the forefront" of discussions about new modes of delivering K-12 education.

"K-12 institutions are latecomers to distance education in most cases, but competition from specialized charter schools and for-profit providers has called attention to the needs of today's students, especially those at risk," according to the report.

Challenge 4: delivering informal learning. Related to challenge 3, rigid lecture-and-test models of learning are failing to challenge students to experiment and engage in informal learning. But, according to the report, opportunities for such informal learning can be found in non-traditional classroom models, such as flipped classrooms, which allow for a blending of formal and informal learning.

Challenge 5: failures of personalized learning. According to the report, there's a gap between the vision of delivering personalized, differentiated instruction and the technologies available to make this possible. So while K-12 teachers seem to see the need for personalized learning, they aren't being given the tools they need to accomplish it, or adequate tools simply don't exist.

Challenge 6: failure to use technology to deliver effective formative assessments. The report noted: "Assessment is an important driver for educational practice and change, and over the last years we have seen a welcome rise in the use of formative assessment in educational practice. However, there is still an assessment gap in how changes in curricula and new skill demands are implemented in education; schools do not always make necessary adjustments in assessment practices as a consequence of these changes. Simple applications of digital media tools, like webcams that allow non-disruptive peer observation, offer considerable promise in giving teachers timely feedback they can use."

Emerging Trends and Opportunities
In the context of those challenges, the annual NMC Horizon Report identified emerging technologies that will have a significant impact on education in the near term, mid-term, and long term. It also identified key emerging trends, which we reported in our earlier preview of the 2013 report.

To recap, the report's authors identified five key trends impacting education over the next five years. Those included:

  1. An increasing shift toward blended learning, online-learning, and technology-driven collaborative learning;
  2. The growth in the potential of social networks to allow teachers to engage students online;
  3. Openness of educational resources and technology is "becoming a value";
  4. BYOD is becoming more common as the cost of technology drops for students; and
  5. The role of the educator is being challenged as resources become more accessible on the Internet.

Emerging Technologies
The report also identified the technologies that will have a palpable effect on education over the next five ears, broken down by near term (one year from now or sooner), the mid-term (two to three years out), and the long term (four to five years out).

In the near term, cloud computing was identified as the top trend. The report cited several examples of its use in teaching and learning, including cloud-based 1-to-1 programs using Chromebooks and computing platforms that allow for shared desktops. It also identified the use of the cloud in K-12 IT infrastructure.

Also in the near term is mobile learning. According to the report: "Because of their portability, flexibility, and natural, intuitive interfaces, mobiles are especially enticing to schools, and a growing number of them have turned to tablets as a cost-effective strategy for one-to-one learning — a systemic solution in which every student is provided a device that can be used to support learning in and outside of the classroom. In many regions of the world, students come to class already familiar and comfortable with the technology. At the end of 2012, the Daily Mail reported that 75% of ten-year-olds in the UK, for example, own a mobile device, and the global average is approaching 50%."

I the mid-term, NMC identified learning analytics — the use of data and analytics to customize education for individual students — and open content (also known as open educational resources) as significant technologies that will impact education. The report characterized OER as essentially the opposite of cumbersome, expensive, and quickly outdated textbooks.

"Educators are taking advantage of open resources to expand their curricula with media-rich tools and texts that can be used and adapted to specific lessons," according to the report. "Formerly bound by the framework of standardized course materials, teachers now have access to a wealth of digital information that they can use to meet district expectations."

In the longer term, four to five years, the two technologies identified in the report were 3D printing and virtual and remote laboratories. Both are currently in use in several districts in the United States and are not technically new; but, according to the report, they are about to become more mainstream, in particular in the context of improving STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math). In the case of 3D printers, physical models of fossils or proteins or molecules or other objects can be whipped up on the fly, allowing students to interact with them. In the case of virtual and remote labs, schools that lack resources to buy costly equipment will be able to fill in the gaps with less costly alternatives, allowing students to engage in experimentation, even if that experimentation isn't direct.

The complete report, "NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition," will be available to the public Wednesday on NMC's site. A preview and additional information about the report is available now. For more, visit nmc.org/publications/2013-horizon-report-k12.