Ed Tech Trends

The 10 Biggest Trends in Ed Tech

Our panel of experts declare which products and practices are heating up, and which are losing steam.

This article, and an exclusive video interview, originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's December 2013 digital edition.

Hot or Not 2014

The one guaranteed constant in educational technology is change, and the pace of that change is definitely accelerating. So as we approach the new year, T.H.E. Journal pauses to survey the ed tech trends on the horizon. As in previous years, we have assembled a distinguished panel of five experts, including several from our advisory board. We asked them to consider 10 topics related to instructional technology and predict whether each topic will be HOT ⇧, LUKEWARM ⇔, or LOSING STEAM ⇓ in 2014. We compiled their responses to come up with an overall trend line. There was unanimous agreement on some topics and less consensus on others, but taken together, their responses paint a compelling picture of what to expect from ed tech in 2014.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) (HOT ⇧)
Tom Murray: The bottom line is that all schools in the country already are BYOD. Students are bringing the devices. It's whether or not these districts choose to embrace the learning tool that makes the instructional difference. Companies continue to develop and provide new mechanisms through mobile device management and other avenues to protect a district's infrastructure, calming some of the security fears of district technology directors about BYOD.

Larry Johnson: In early studies, the act of a student using his or her own device for learning has proven to increase productivity and engagement. Tablet computing has accelerated the pace of BYOD, especially in schools, where these smaller, less-expensive devices are seen as a better option than traditional laptops.

Karen Billings: In our most recent Vision K-20 Survey, 48 percent of education leaders in secondary schools said students were allowed to bring their own devices into classrooms. Almost all respondents said the usage would grow. BYOD brings student-computer access closer to the 1-to-1 program, and schools believe they can save some money by not having to furnish the computers. It will require more network expertise in the schools and acceptance by the school leaders. But it's a movement with real momentum.

Ann Lee Flynn: While I believe an increasing number of districts will allow students to utilize their own devices as learning tools, the practice continues to raise questions of equity and does not address the need for sufficient devices to support online assessments. The growing momentum to shift from print to digital resources, often housed in the cloud, makes it incumbent on district leaders to recognize that each child must have a device and the connectivity to access resources from home--just as students from a prior generation would have had access to traditional print textbooks.


Social Media as a Teaching and Learning Tool (HOT ⇧)
Flynn: Platforms designed to replicate many of the experiences offered through public social media outlets will expand as teachers embrace instructional practices that provide students with more authentic opportunities to engage with experts, provide feedback to one another, or collaborate with peers around the world--yet within a safe environment, especially for younger children.

Mark Stevens: Social media is expanding learning beyond the school day with content and meaningful interactions on specific topics. When combined with meaningful engagement, social media technology can be a powerful tool to reinforce learning, establish effective communication abilities, and provide the career and life skills every student will use in the 21st century.

Billings: It is a natural way to involve students over 13 years of age in more writing--and in using the social media tools they like or are already widely used by their peers. It gives students a window to the world beyond the classroom and a platform on which to express themselves and build their own knowledgebase and place.

Murray: Connected educators are revolutionizing professional development on a daily basis. I believe that this transformation will continue as educators begin to see the power of connecting online through platforms such as Twitter. "Personal learning networks" are helping people connect to inspire, encourage, challenge, and grow as educators.

Digital Badges (LUKEWARM ⇔)
Murray: Although [badges are] out of the comfort zones of most districts at this point, I believe that in 2014, we will start to see progressive school districts move to a badge-based system for professional development. An overwhelming move towards competency-based education is already occurring for students, and I believe this will begin to occur for teachers as well.

Flynn: The concept is growing in acceptance as a way to acknowledge that learning happens beyond the traditional classroom. Badging serves to validate the importance of after-school programs and other informal learning opportunities. For badges to be formally recognized by education policymakers, many more conversations are needed that establish some degree of consistency, define the rigor represented by badges, and determine how they are administered. Otherwise they will remain on the fringe.

Johnson: A key aspect of gamification is to build in easy-to-reach incentives, and badges are a simple way to bring that idea to learning. In most academic settings (and even training), however, badges have not found fertile ground. One of the challenges is determining how badges relate, if at all, to traditional credit systems.

Stevens: The ability for the teacher to provide incentive is an important part of keeping students motivated, and offering students a method to recognize each other also has the potential to build personal and learning connections. But as with any new technology, badging has its detractors when misused. If it is not linked to learning activities, it could undermine learning and have no value.

Open Educational Resources (OER) (LUKEWARM ⇔)
Billings: All educational resources require some initial investment of money or time searching for them, then a longer and recurring cost for professional learning and support to make a systemic impact. If the only reason an educator is using OERs is that they are free, the students will not be best served. But if it's because the OER materials are the best they can find for their students, then everyone wins.

Murray: OERs will soon be used so widely in K-12 that they won't be considered special anymore. They are so embedded in the daily culture of digital and blended learning that they should be deemed "normal," just as web 2.0 tools are now a way of life.

Flynn: The United States lagged behind other nations in its acceptance of OER for K-12 until the recent economic downturn. While the initial boost was driven by a desire to save money, educators soon discovered a wealth of adaptable resources to enhance their instructional practices, therefore laying the foundation for a trend destined to grow.

Stevens: OER is a conduit to materials that can enrich and educate students and learning. But buyers beware: The rapid increase in the quantity of resources available significantly compounds the issues around selecting the best options. Many sites provide reviewers who validate the material and check its efficacy, but there still remain large deposits of outdated, untested, and otherwise poor-quality resources that will force teachers to waste a lot of time sorting and evaluating to determine what is suitable for their classroom.

Johnson: OER, despite decades of work on metadata schema, is not an easy place to find the content you need.

Desktop Computers (LOSING STEAM ⇓)
Stevens: Seriously, I thought desktop computers became extinct with the demise of the PalmPilot and luggable laptops. As learning is increasingly becoming mobile and sites implement responsive design to accommodate all technological forms, the days of a computer nailed to the desk have to become an era of days gone by.

Johnson: We are in the midst of a complete transformation in the devices we use. Desktop computers for schools have none of the personalization that makes mobile computing so rich. This is a technology on the way out.

Flynn: Although these workhorses of education labs and libraries still serve a purpose in key locations or for specialized applications, they should no longer be the dominant learning device for K-12 students when the concept of learning has become increasingly interactive and can happen anytime, anywhere. The flexibility afforded by other computing devices makes the usefulness of these machines pale by comparison.

Billings: Every market report shows a decline in the purchase of desktop computers for all the reasons we could have predicted when smaller and mobile devices came out. Desktops will be used in schools for some time because they're there and perform useful functions for students. However, when schools purchase new hardware, it won't be more desktops.

iPads (HOT ⇧)
Murray: iPads will remain hot for 2014, especially as Apple moves to a more education-friendly iOS in the near future, allowing for easier back-end management than previously available. Yet I urge schools to take a long, hard look at the rationale and vision prior to purchase. I fear districts are buying certain devices as much for public relations as for classroom transformation. A well-designed and implemented plan, with proper professional development, will yield incredible results. However, many districts are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars with little to show for it and no long-term vision.

Billings: While Apple has a terrific advantage because of the tablet's critical mass and number of learning programs, many teachers are facing the reality of finding appropriate resources for their students, and then acquiring and licensing them in a way that the district typically procures material.

Johnson: The real value in iPads is the enormous quantity and variety of cheap or even free, high-quality apps that run on them. Compared to laptops, they are not really a low-cost alternative, but they are exquisitely mobile and personal. So where the interest is in personalized learning, they are being adopted in large numbers.

E-Portfolios (LOSING STEAM ⇓)
Johnson: This is the faux technology that will never die. The concept is flawed at the core: that students will want to build a portfolio hosted by their institution. Where the focus is not on the platform but on building a body of work and showcasing it online, they are effective--but that is hard work, and not for everyone. This is definitely not the panacea that proponents make it out to be.

Billings: Graduating gives a student some credentials, but doesn't show potential employers what the graduate can do. That's the key benefit of an e-portfolio for a student. However, with the emphasis on accountability and focus on curriculum standards and assessments, the e-portfolio will have a tough hill to climb to get into mainstream use and acceptance.
Murray: E-portfolios have tremendous potential that may never be fully realized. As our nation races towards high-stakes testing as the supposed key indicator of student learning, portfolios will begin to lose perceived value. Although e-portfolios can be meaningful when well designed, the ability for schools to use them to showcase student learning is losing steam fast. The political reality of our time is stifling this type of educational investment.

Flynn: Variations of e-portfolios have been discussed for years, but continue to be slow to gain any real traction among K-12 educators. However, the focus on personalized learning, the growth of digital resources, and the creation of learning artifacts that are increasingly stored in the cloud are all contributing factors that could finally spur their growth.


Learning Management Systems (LUKEWARM ⇔)
Murray: Blended and cyber learning continue to gain a stronghold in districts across the nation, and as they do, resources such as Schoology, Blackboard, Moodle, Edmodo, Haiku, and others will continue to make inroads in the K-12 arena.

Billings: Not hot as a category as we used to know it five to 10 years ago, but it is clearly growing as the base component of mobile learning tools, where students can access resources a teacher provides and collaborate to share the resources they find and knowledge they build.

Stevens: The ability to create flipped classrooms is possible through the effective use of LMS technology. Increasingly, teachers are finding that online tools that help to provide the basic structure of a lesson can result in improved student performance. An LMS also can be used to connect parents to their child's learning, assist in reviewing materials at home, post questions in an interactive forum, and serve as platform to integrate community and resource elements, thus establishing a truly extended learning opportunity.

Johnson: The major LMS providers have been consolidating for years, to the point where only a handful of providers control the marketplace. Innovation and development are way behind sales growth in terms of priorities, with the result that they are monolithic enterprise systems that try to meet every request a salesperson hears, but please almost no one.

Learning Analytics (HOT ⇧)
Murray: The implementation of Common Core, a continued governmental push for high-stakes testing, and the implementation of value-added metrics will continue to force districts to compile and analyze data to inform decision-making. Yet the pool of high-quality data warehouses in the K-12 arena is extremely limited at this point.

Johnson: The challenge is that there really isn't that much actual data on learning in traditional classrooms. Far more data exists about online learning, so these programs will be the first to see real learning analytics. We're in a lull as the science develops, but it is coming.

Flynn: Much money has been spent to collect data, but not as much thought has been given to how it can effectively be used to improve instruction. Even though the use of "Big Data" is expanding across other industries, administrators need to be vigilant in addressing the concerns raised about the collection of student information and be proactive in educating and informing parents and community members about how it will be used to support learning.

Billings: Its growth is being spurred by the rise in online learning, huge improvements in computing power, an increase of student-related data, and of course the emphasis on accountability--as well as the desire to provide personalized learning for students.

Game-Based Learning (LUKEWARM ⇔)
Stevens: This is where Grand Theft Auto meets Dick and Jane. Games posing as learning adventures can impact positively on problem solving skills, motivation, and engagement. Reinforced with classroom activities and linked back to actual instructional content, these game-based activities can fortify and sustain learning goals.

Johnson: As tablets and smartphones have proliferated, game-play has become a portable activity that can happen in a diverse array of settings. The issue is that, other than for preschoolers, educational games are really not very engaging. Although way more nascent than in military or industry settings, the gamification of education is gaining support among researchers and educators who recognize that it is well established that effectively designed games can stimulate large gains in productivity and creativity among learners. Still a long way off from widespread adoption, though.

Flynn: Today's emerging school leaders are the first generation of gamers and, as a result, more open to exploring the concept of how games can support learning. While students appear to be engaged, it will take solid research that demonstrates increased mastery of content to build a strong enough case to establish wider acceptance of games among the education community and, more importantly, across the general public, who often cite a desire to return to the basics and instructional approaches they remember from their classrooms.


The Panelists

Karen Billings is vice president of education for the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA). She drives strategic direction, programs, and initiatives for the 180 company members focused on providing technology products and services to the K-12 and postsecondary markets.

Ann Lee Flynn has served as director of education technology for the National School Boards Association since 2001. She designs conference programs and school district site visits for board members and administrative teams active in the Technology Leadership Network. She helped establish the "20 to Watch" and Technology Innovation Showcase recognition programs, which honor emerging education tech leaders and companies, respectively.

Larry Johnson serves as chief executive officer of the New Media Consortium, an international not-for-profit dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies. The NMC's dozen-year exploration of technology use in education, the Horizon Project, informs strategic technology planning for educational institutions in more than 175 countries.

Tom Murray serves as the director of technology and cyber education for the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, PA. A former middle school assistant and elementary school principal, Murray was the 2012 recipient of the Blended Schools Network Leadership Award.

Mark Stevens is the general manager for NEA Academy for the National Education Association Member Benefit Corp. Among other things, he is responsible for development of professional products, management of the marketing and sales of the NEA Academy (e-learning), and the NEA Professional Library.


OS or Oh, No?
As a bonus question, we asked whether these four operating systems are hot, lukewarm or losing steam. Here's the consensus of our panel, with a few quotes thrown in:

• Windows: (LOSING STEAM ⇓) According to Larry Johnson, Microsoft's operating system is "down, seriously. Worse, few care."
• OS X: (LUKEWARM ⇔) Tom Murray says, "Until OS X Mavericks is released and evaluated, the upward or downward trend is yet to be determined."
• iOS: (HOT ⇧) Murray adds, "Any new release such as iOS 7 immediately falls into the Hot category by default."

• Android: (HOT ⇧) Johnson concludes that Google's OS is "up in market share, flat in innovation."