Newest NMC/CoSN Horizon K-12 Report Emphasizes Kids as Creators

Over the next year K-12 will be placing more emphasis on coding as a form of literacy and on students as creators. Schools that don't already have makerspaces will want to get them and online learning will start to look like something that's typical rather than out of the norm.

Those are the "short-term" trends and technologies that surfaced in the 2016 K-12 Edition of the NMC/CoSN Horizon Report. This annual publication charts a five-year horizon among school communities around the world, summarizing the latest research and discussions of a group of 59 technology and education experts working with the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

The report shares six "key" trends, six "significant" challenges and six "important" developments in educational technology, all of which are positioned for their likely impact on the core missions of schools. The report is intended to help education leaders with their strategic technology planning.

Coding surfaced as a short-term trend, the report noted, not just to address the expected proliferation of jobs in computer science, but also because programming skills "have proven to bolster problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking skills," highly rated 21st century skills that can be applied to multiple aspects of college and career development. The report references federal and corporate support for initiatives such as's Hour of Code, which has "sparked a micro-learning movement, serving nearly 263 million people since its inception in 2013."

The move to spur students as creators is an attempt to shift the gaze of students away from display screens as consumers and help them become creators. As the report noted, "Many educators believe that honing these kinds of creative skills in learners can lead to deeply engaging learning experiences in which students become the authorities on subjects through investigation, storytelling and production."

Mid-term (over the course of two to three years), the education community expects to see more focus on collaborative or cooperative learning and deeper learning approaches. Collaborative learning brings students and teachers together for group or peer-to-peer activities, with an emphasis on four "principles": The learner, not the teacher, is at the center of the activity; interaction is a vital ingredient of the work, as is working in groups; and the learning tackles the development of solutions to "real problems."

The concept of "deeper learning" ties back to those 21st century skills: mastering content that engages the student in "critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and self-directed learning." Students gain an understanding of how their learning fits into the world or their daily lives through the use of problem-, project-, inquiry- or challenge-based learning.

In the long-term (four to five years), the redesign of learning spaces and rethinking how schools work are expected to be top of mind. As the report pointed out, with the advent of new teaching models that highlight student-centered and collaborative learning, the formal classroom set-up needs to be revamped to allow for more active learning activities.

The reinvention of the classroom paradigm will be reflected on a larger scale with a rethinking of the "entire school experience." As the concepts of competency-based learning gain acceptance, for example, standard bell schedules could be replaced with learning structures that allow for more fluidity among student movement.

On the technology front, while makerspaces and online learning are near-term developments, mid-term will see greater use of robotics and virtual reality. In the long-term artificial intelligence and wearable technology will come to the forefront.

The report also attends to the challenges inherent in technology adoption. These are divided up into those problems that are "solvable," the ones that are "difficult," and those that are "wicked." On the solvable level are figuring out authentic learning experiences and rethinking the role of teachers. More difficult are the issues related to advancing digital equity and scaling teaching innovations. At the most complex end of the scale are two issues: addressing the overall achievement gap and personalizing learning. Both challenges, the report stated, come down to schools needing "ongoing leadership around devising solutions for disadvantaged students."

"Teachers, administrators and policymakers worldwide will use the report to inform critical conversations and develop progressive strategies to meet the needs of today's learners," said Samantha Becker, NMC's senior director of publications and communications and co-principal investigator for the report, in a prepared statement. "This edition reveals that more schools are implementing active learning approaches, transforming pedagogies and teachers' roles in the classroom. We're excited by how technology is enabling more students to apply creativity and critical thinking to address global issues."

This year's report is accompanied by a digital toolkit, really a planning document, hosted on the CoSN website. That document provides "ideas and resources" intended to help the district or school community hold meaningful discussions during its planning process. Sections cover how to promote and hold events, such as community workshops or smaller focus groups, and then how to follow up after the event has taken place. The bulk of the toolkit provides discussion questions for each of the trends referenced in the Horizon report.

As CoSN CEO, Keith Krueger, explained, "The toolkit will better allow school leaders to talk about these technologies right in the backyards of their communities."

The report and toolkit were financially supported by Share Fair Nation, which delivers professional development for educators, under a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation.

The Horizon report is available for download with registration on the NMC website.

The toolkit is available for download with registration on the CoSN website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.