Smart Classroom Technologies

What's Hot and What's Not in Ed Tech for 2015

Our panel of experts predicts what trends, devices and software will define educational technology in the coming year.

What's Hot for 2015

Every December, THE Journal convenes a panel of five ed tech leaders and asks them to gaze into the future. This year, we presented our virtual roundtable with 10 instructional technology topics, and they offered their prognostications about what will be HOT ⇧, LUKEWARM ⇔ or LOSING STEAM ⇓ in 2015. While all of our experts agreed that student data privacy will continue to be a major concern, there was lively debate in most other areas. This divergence of opinion centered on a question that districts around the country are grappling with: With such an abundance of technology options, how do educators pick the right solution and — most importantly — deploy it in a way that truly helps students learn?

The Panelists

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

As chief innovation officer for the International Society for Technology in Education, Wendy Drexler is the division leader responsible for the ISTE Standards, professional learning services, and the association’s thought leadership teams, including research and evaluation.

Christopher Harris is the director of the School Library System of the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, an educational services agency supporting the needs of 22 small, rural districts in Western New York. Harris is currently serving as a fellow for youth and technology issues with the American Library Association’s Office of Information Technology Policy.

Larry Johnson serves as chief executive officer of the New Media Consortium. 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.

Thomas C. Murray is the state and district digital learning director for the Alliance for Excellent Education. He has testified before the United States Congress and works alongside that body, the U.S. Department of Education, state departments of education, corporations and school districts throughout the country to implement digital learning while leading both Project 24 and Digital Learning Day.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) ⇧

Karen Billings: BYOD is hot given the prevalence of popular mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, student preference for using their devices, better access to the Internet at school and lower cost.

Wendy Drexler: Recent studies have shown that more than 50 percent of school-age students own a smartphone and/or a tablet, and that increase in personal access has lit a spark under this already popular movement in K-12 technology implementation. However, for BYOD to be successful, schools must plan carefully for implementation, considering how they will provide access to students who may not have a mobile device, and have proper policies in place.

Larry Johnson: The economics behind BYOD are driving interest, especially in more affluent districts where kids are more likely to have at least a smartphone, and likely a laptop as well. It is simply cheaper to fund the have-nots than to try to support everyone. IT departments are getting more comfortable dealing with a range of devices, especially if the key use is the network.

Social Media as a Teaching and Learning Tool ⇔

Drexler: While there is great potential for integrating social media into learning and teaching, there is still a lot to be done in terms of offering teachers professional learning opportunities that support its use, as well as ensuring that schools have appropriate policies in place for the use of social media with students. A 2014 survey from the University of Phoenix College of Education found that 47 percent of K-12 teachers said participation in social media platforms could help enhance their students’ education. Four out of five said they use social media personally, but a large majority (80 percent) said they’re concerned about separating their personal and professional lives and worry that they haven’t been properly trained to use social media in a professional setting.

Thomas C. Murray: The movement of Connected Educators — those educators that connect online with others around the world — will continue to gain steam in 2015. Each day, educators use Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and other tools to connect and learn from others with similar interests, curriculum, location, etc. This professional learning strategy will continue to extrapolate into the classroom, as teachers model this learning for students, while empowering their students to connect with the world through blogging, social media and collaborating with others. No longer are students simply posting their work on the refrigerator for their parents to see. Today’s students have a global audience.

Billings: I give social media a lukewarm rating given the issues around Internet safety and social interactions, including picture-sharing.  

Christopher Harris: As a concept, I love it. It just doesn't work when we try and force teaching and learning into commercial products. Facebook is great for biography projects, except that impersonating someone is a violation of the terms of service, and there is no way to infuse real instructional objectives and assessment. What is hot are custom-designed solutions for classrooms in this space. 

Digital Badges ⇔

Billings: District administrators have not caught up to the advantages digital badges offer, nor have they developed the course policies to incorporate them. They are popular in the informal learning environments: clubs, museums and some online course providers where there's more flexibility given lack of graduation requirements.

Drexler: The digital badge movement overall is still emerging and defining itself, particularly when it comes to ensuring the validity and credibility of an earned badge. As a way to earn and display learning credentials, it has great potential for education, and I am excited to see how it grows and adapts to the K-12 environment. It has the potential to be hot.

Murray: Although the concept has been around for a number of years, few districts have taken the plunge into digital badging as it requires a change in philosophy, mindset and practice. Many districts maintain an “hours-based” accountability system — which is about as effective as putting out a forest fire with water balloons. Badging requires a shift to an outcome-based accountability model, where sit-and-get professional learning goes by the wayside and what a person knows and can do is what matters most. The onus to show proficiency falls on the learner, who must be empowered to make decisions in a professional learning system that is differentiated and personalized. Unfortunately, this model will continue to hit resistance on a variety of fronts in most districts.

Open Educational Resources ⇔

Johnson: OERs are gaining steam, but not yet hot.

Harris: Although currently losing steam, OER is going to come back in a big way. For the near future, however, we are in the dip between an initially great idea and everyone realizing that it is a lot of work. Discoverability of resources and alignment to classroom learning are key features currently lacking. Educators need a higher platform for organization and discoverability so people can more easily contribute and use the resources.

Drexler: With tight budgets and the implementation of new, more rigorous learning goals, such as the Common Core State Standards, an increasing number of educators are turning to open educational resources to support classroom instruction, as well as to personalize learning for students.

Billings: OERs are still hot, especially for the teachers who like finding the right materials and incorporating them into their class lessons. OERs are not so hot for those who need the structure and support from curriculum materials typically provided to teachers in better economic times.

Murray: Open educational resources have simply become a way of life. Today’s students expect resources to be free, high-quality, relevant and updated in real time. Although these resources remain useful, much of today’s content already includes resources in this category.

Tablets Are Hot, Desktops Are Not

We asked our panelists to pick one computing device that is definitely hot and the one that is definitely not. Here’s what they said.

Tablets ⇧

Johnson: Los Angeles schools aside, there are lots of great examples where tablets have been introduced with great success, especially in primary grades. 

Billings: Because of their mobility, consumer popularity, decreasing prices and the increasing number of apps that focus on learning, tablets are hot.

Drexler: Today’s learners were swiping and “tapping” before they were talking, so the tablet environment is a natural one for them. Plus, simply because they are mobile, tablets increase the opportunities for learners to collaborate and for teachers to work with them individually and in small groups. Because the industry recognizes this potential, the number of high-quality learning apps for tablets is growing every day.

Desktops ⇓

Murray: Mobility is king. These dinosaur-type devices serve a purpose in computer labs and office spaces, but have little to no use in a classroom setting where flexibility is key.

Billings: Schools are buying more laptops, netbooks and tablets than desktops. 

Johnson: [Desktops] are the old industrial model, where schools buy and maintain the technology, control it and march students in to use it. Outside of schools, computing is personal, and the notion of sharing a laptop is outdated. People want to customize their devices for both work and play, and to have their choices of tools and resources for learning. There is little to justify schools maintaining computer labs based on desktops anymore.

E-Portfolios ⇔

Harris: These are a great idea, but we all know that in the large majority of schools, portfolios aren't going to suddenly replace bubble sheet standardized testing. The best bet here is to hook portfolios up with digital badging as the way to document and demonstrate mastery.

Billings: E-portfolios are gaining ground in states where they are placing an emphasis on career technical education and in districts where they have focused on career and college readiness. 

Drexler: Student portfolios are nothing new. They provide an authentic way of measuring learner outcomes, whether in a K-12 classroom or a professional learning environment. What’s new is the increasing number of technology tools for e-portfolios. Students can now create a collection of their work spanning their entire educational career — in a cost-effective and easy-to-access way.

Learning Management Systems ⇓

Johnson: Yawn. We really need fewer salespeople and more innovators in the LMS space. While they allow some useful functions (gradebook, class rosters) their major shortcoming is their inability to adapt, especially at the course level.  Everyone — teachers, students, administrators — is unsatisfied with LMSes in their current form, and many are adamant about it. Satisfaction, as measured in a recent major study Education Growth Advisors for the Gates Foundation, is in the single digits across all users and all major LMS platforms. 

Harris: Can we all please finally admit that full-feature LMS offerings are just way too complicated to use? Google Classroom, on the other hand, provides an “LMS light” that a teacher can actually implement in a hybrid or traditional classroom. Sure, the full power of a bloated LMS has a time and place; it just isn't in most of today's classrooms. Real-world schools need a less-is-more system for their LMS.

Murray: Many districts continue to roll out large-scale LMS implementations, with only small percentages of teachers fully using these collaborative tools as intended. The potential in this area is vast, but remains generally underutilized in 2014. The saturated market makes tools plentiful, but high-quality professional learning options difficult, thus leading to wide-scale implementation that is all over the map.

Billings: “LMS” is losing steam as a category name, but e-learning platforms are gaining ground as the category name and because the platform provides access to resources that educators want. Resources can be anything from e-textbooks and full curriculum solutions to those supplemental products that teachers find and believe would help their students, including websites, lesson plans, research databases, etc.

Learning Analytics ⇔

Harris: Until we can show parents that we are able to make informed changes in instruction based on the data that we already have, I don’t think that we are going to get much support for gathering even more data. Privacy concerns aside, how are schools and teachers going to be more effective by increasing the information overload they face? This movement is about gathering data when it should be about increasing understanding of students. Real understanding has never been gained through questions that can be answered on a bubble sheet.

Billings: Administrators and many educators want the data that is provided. However, with student privacy concerns, mostly from parents, instructional leaders are cautious about implementing. Parents believe that the school service providers will use student information to advertise or sell other products to the students. That is not something the providers can do legally, anyway.

Murray: Conceptually, the use of learning analytics gives districts longitudinal data for staffing, budget, professional learning and visioning. At the classroom level, instructional information can personalize learning for students. Although great in theory, few districts actually use such analytics in this capacity. The possibilities for the instructional use of data to personalize learning remain great, but districts must first have a data-literate staff that have the proper training and tools to achieve such outcomes. Predicted progress in this area is positive, but pedagogically there is a long journey ahead.

Augmented Reality ⇔

Harris: It’s all about the hardware, so nothing much to see right now. Oculus Rift looks promising as a tool for immersive field trips and that type of experience — also as a way to view data sets like walking through a virtual library of e-book covers.

Drexler: Through wearable technologies, such as Google Glass and Oculus Rift; hardware-based systems such as zSpace’s immersive virtual reality; and a growing number of augmented reality apps, this technology has the potential to put previously inaccessible creative learning experiences in students’ hands.

Murray: Much of the augmented reality being used in classrooms serves as the “wow factor” or is instituted to show off the latest shiny toy or app. The potential is high, but districts must dig deep into the instructional benefits, and they will need a wider range of tools and content types for AR to have a major impact in instructional practice.

Personalized Learning Is Hot, Game-Based Learning Is Not

We asked our experts to pick the learning models that will have the biggest effect in classrooms in 2015. Here are their answers.

Personalized Learning ⇧

Murray: The combination of educational technology tools and software that adapts to student learning needs finally makes true classroom differentiation a reality.

Harris: The secret to success is that teachers can move toward 1-to-1 teaching and learning even before the arrival of 1-to-1 devices. Teachers can make use of digital content accessed through labs or the library to provide students different reading and research experiences. The idea of a class novel should be long gone; this is the age of personalized reading — or at a minimum extension of reading and learning from a common seed text.

Game-Based Learning ⇓

Harris: Sure, I may have a series of books coming out from Rosen Publishing in January about teaching using modern board games, but right now so much of the focus on game-based learning is just not cutting it. Meaningless video games that digitize worksheets and gamification concepts built around stickers and points fail to address the real power of play as a natural form of learning. This will be hot, but first we need to spend some time going deeper into play theory and the real science of game design to make sure that the products we are bringing to the classroom are authentic games with real engagement. 

Billings: Mostly because of the category name, game-based learning is not hot. Curricular-based simulations take time and don't fit well into school time-based classes.  

Drexler: It’s difficult to call one learning model “hot” and one “not.” For example, blended learning environments — where students learn in both online and traditional classroom environments — provide many opportunities for personalized learning. Adaptive learning is by its very nature personalized learning, and game-based learning can easily have the qualities of adaptive, personalized and blended learning.

Student Data Privacy Concerns ⇧

Drexler: Major consumer data breaches, such as those with Target and Home Depot, have shined the spotlight on data privacy overall in 2014, and student data privacy has certainly been a big part of the discussion. With the advent of new legislation, such as California’s Student Online Personal Information Protection Act, and numerous ed tech companies and organizations implementing new policies and pledges regarding student data privacy, concerns about this important matter are — thankfully — here to stay.

Murray: With both the House and the Senate looking to introduce or move bills in early 2015, and dozens of states already taking matters into their own hands, this area remains undoubtedly hot moving into 2015. In an effort to get ahead of this issue, SIIA and others worked to create a Student Privacy Pledge , following a convening by U.S. Reps Jared Polis, D-CO, and Luke Messer, R-IN. Whether or not this pledge will appease those sounding the privacy alarm remains to be seen. Regardless, the issues of privacy, security, third-party contracts, possible revisions to FERPA, a parent’s ability to “opt-out” and the need for district transparency of all of these issues will keep this topic at the forefront for months to come.

Johnson: It is actually too hot. We need to keep this focused on learning, and not let the conversation be redefined in the political arena, where it seems to be heading.

Harris: With districts running keystroke logging programs, video surveillance of computer use, and filters that decrypt secure traffic and block secure searches, students are incredibly vulnerable. Students’ needing to log into a secure site to check a work schedule for their job or manage their bank account can be risky or impossible at school. Then there are the real concerns about students who need to search for information to answer questions about their sexuality or find resources to respond to a sexual assault. Forget school record privacy: The real worry for me is the data that students deserve to keep private as they attempt to engage in digital life. Again, it is those without unfiltered access at home or via mobile that suffer the most.

Apps for Learning ⇔

Drexler: Whether an iPhone app that allows students to build vocabulary skills, or a complete curriculum program application, apps — when they are high-quality — provide educators with powerful tools for integrating technology into learning and teaching.

Billings: The resources are there — lots of them. The issue is one of finding them and vetting them. 

Murray: Like AR and LMSes, apps have the potential to personalize learning for each student, yet remain underutilized and underplanned. What remains prevalent is a hodgepodge of apps, used with little vision or focus at random points throughout the instructional day. Once carefully aligned with a district’s written curriculum and used instructionally with a purpose and with laser focus on a specific skill or competency, these tools will begin to meet their full potential. What’s gaining a foothold in some districts has light-years to go in others.