Technology Forecast

What's Hot: 9 Major Ed Tech Trends for 2017

Education technologies are, by their nature, capricious. So it makes sense to consider what could drive innovation among classrooms for the new year. Our panel of K-12 experts weighs in.

What's Hot: 9 Major Ed Tech Trends for 2017

Our Methodology

THE Journal invited nearly two dozen education leaders to tell us where they thought specific technologies would land on the ed tech thermometer in the coming year. We received 16 responses and interviewed eight of those experts to tell us how they came to their conclusions. Those are the same thoughts we share here.

Want to take the survey yourself? Register your opinions on this publicly available Google Form at We'll make the results available in the future.

Figuring out just what will captivate educators from one year to the next is a fickle business. The thing everybody was trying one year is on the way out the next. Other movements seem to have the staying power of cork in a bulletin board — always there, always ready for some new take. So it goes forthis year too.

The use of gaming, flipped learning, banning cell phones and purchasing tablets appear to be waning, while some new movements are definitely waxing. According to the 16 education experts THE Journal conferred with, you'll be hearing a lot more about nine instructional areas in particular: active learning, augmented reality, maker spaces, Next Generation Science Standards, open educational resources, robotics and STEAM, coding and student privacy. Those last two are red hot. Among the nine, only two of those topics surfaced in last year's list too: coding and OER.


As the world turns increasingly virtual, movements such as Hour of Code have succeeded in making computer science more accessible to educators and students in every grade, said Kelly Mendoza, who manages the professional development program for Common Sense Media's education programs. "Teachers are figuring it out. It's a hot topic," she noted, conceding, "It's going to be a while before your everyday teacher is actually shifting to including coding as part of their curriculum." Part of the holdup is that coding still comes across as a "stand-alone thing." Her hope is that eventually the act of coding will be viewed as "a literacy" and "ingrained" in lessons "just like print literacy or media literacy."

Tom Redmon, a teacher at Hamilton School District No. 3 in Montana and a facilitator for LearnZillion, said he thinks the push on STEM has helped build the prominence of coding too. Once a week the students in his fourth grade pull out devices from a Chromebook cart and either practice keyboarding or coding "or a combination of the two." provides the curriculum he and his fellow teachers use for that. To the kids, he added, "it's kind of just games." But alongside that, "they are getting a strong coding background."

Even though the topic of coding is also coming up "in teacher conversation more often," Redmon said, adoption isn't moving as fast as he might have expected. "As with a lot of new innovations, particularly with technology, things seem to be slow to get started. I'm seeing teachers who are really just uncomfortable dipping their feet in. And some of it is generational. Some of it is just the teacher not being willing to put in the time to explore new options."

Cheryl Williams, interim CEO for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), concurred. One problem is that "we really don't really have the workforce to teach them that — no fault of the workforce."

Jeff Knutson, senior manager of education content for Common Sense Education, sees the subject of coding as something that teachers "can learn along with their students," in a nod to promoting the growth mindset. "It's a great way for teachers to model for their students how they approach something that's new or unfamiliar."

Besides, Knutson observed, "There are so many coding platforms now that couldn't really make it any easier for a teacher to get started and for students as well.", for example, offers free courses for teachers to use in their classes, divided by elementary, middle and high school, parsed by subject for the older students, and including lesson plans, frameworks and standards. Like Mendoza, Knutson would throw the study of coding into the category of literacy. "Code is everywhere. We live in a digital world. It's empowering if students cannot just understand that but that they can take part in it and have a place in that conversation of digital communication."

Student Privacy

Last year student data privacy concerns shot to the top of the list, considered "unanimously hot" by everybody who weighed in on the subject. This year is no different. Student privacy is still uppermost in the minds of educators, but those educators are coming at it with a bit more maturity.

"If you had interviewed me three years ago," said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), "I would have said privacy is a new trend. But I think there's been a recalibration. There's less of a breathless, 'Oh, my gosh! There's going to be all kinds of new laws and parent anger around student data.'" Now, he noted, "There's a recognition that that is a new reality. There's an expectation around privacy, a new strategy around reframing it from privacy to what I would say is trust."

What that requires on the part of educators, he added, is to be "more transparent about how you collect data and why you collect data."

CoSN, for its part, has introduced a new voluntary "Trusted Learning Environment Seal," intended to help school districts communicate to parents and others the privacy efforts they take to adhere to best practices related to the appropriate uses of student data.

Schools need to continue finding ways to talk about how they use data, agreed Karen Cator, president and CEO of Digital Promise. "There is so much data being collected, and we are just learning more and more about where that is, who has access to it and how it's being used." It's especially important, she said, "when we're talking about children" to be "completely aware and vigilant about privacy."

Another privacy-related effort comes from Common Sense Media, where the organization in 2016 introduced an initiative to provide privacy evaluations for the apps it reviews on its education site. According to Knutson, "No teacher ever wants to put their students at risk in any way. But part of the challenge for educators in dealing with the privacy issue is that it gets very technical really fast, to a level that can jump beyond most people's understanding."

Active Learning

Active learning has gotten a new lease. David Ross, the CEO of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), clarified that this concept is a "rebranding" of project-based learning, which, he added, used to be called "experiential learning." All of these spring from the idea that students want to do something more than simply listen to the teacher, and tech can play a role in making that happen.

Part of the movement is "flat out common sense," Ross said. "Name an adult who can sit still for 90 minutes and listen to somebody drone on. If an adult can't learn that way, how in the world can kids learn that way?"

But another aspect is that brain research also has shown that "the way people learn is to have real-life engaging experiences." He doesn't buy into the idea that a mobile world has created kids with shorter attention spans. "I have two teenage sons, and they can stay focused on something for hours if it engages them." Tech is often the way to "lure them to learning."

What's important, Ross advised, is that the active learning has to be relevant to the student and include activities "anchored in the real world and anchored in significant content, whether it's Common Core or Next Generation Science Standards."

Pulling in learning standards is an essential element to active learning because it can help provide structure, suggested ISTE's Williams. "We've been talking about this for a long time — creating your own learning. It's not just 'Let kids do whatever they want.' There has to be structure. There have to be guideposts. There has to be adult involvement."

Achieving a pure active learning classroom environment is a challenge, Williams acknowledged. "All of this is the ideal — where teaching and learning and technology intersect and where very few places can attain it because it's, quite frankly, more expensive to do than the sitting in rows in a chair and having a teacher talk." It requires funding and "highly trained professionals to work with students."

Promoting active learning isn't "saying what we did in the past is irrelevant," she said. It's just that educators need to find new ways for students to "demonstrate their learning and take in facts and actually make them meaningful for themselves."

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality, in which students experience a virtual layer on top of the real world, is heating up among teachers for one primary reason: Pokémon Go. "I play Pokémon Go every single day all over the world," claimed P21's Ross. "And I think it opened teachers' eyes to how augmented reality is something that even somebody with low-tech skills can use." If he were still in the classroom, he said, "I would use Pokémon Go to teach geography or geocaching or mapping, which is a sadly lacking skill in most schools. It has opened a tremendous door and for educators to ignore that opportunity, I think, would be a big mistake."

The cover of the New Media Consortium/CoSN Horizon Report in 2016 featured a young student wearing a virtual reality headset. Virtual reality and augmented reality were named as an important development in ed tech for K–12 with a time-to-adoption of two to three years. CoSN's Krueger said he thinks the easy and low-cost availability of Google Cardboard headsets are driving much of that interest. He points to a virtual tour of Yosemite National Park, led by President Obama. "I'm not saying that will transform learning," he said. "But it's certainly a cool use of technology for letting students visit places and experience things they couldn't normally do."

Elementary teacher Redmon isn't convinced, primarily because so many of the apps and headsets require the use of smartphones, which younger children don't have access to. Augmented reality "might be a hot thing, but it isn't going to be hot in elementary school."

It's just a matter of time before that lack of technology dissipates, insisted Sean Nank, a math teacher at Oceanside High School in California, a member of the faculty at both California State University San Marcos and American College of

Education and a facilitator for LearnZillion. In his education courses, for example, he's hearing "a lot more people talking about using augmented reality and virtual reality in their classrooms. A year ago I didn't hear it at all."

Nank equates that technology to the early days of 3D printing in schools. "When the price got down so dramatically, you started seeing those popping up. Now for the last couple of years they're everywhere. The same thing is happening with virtual reality. The price is coming down, and interest is starting to build. I can see that coming into the classroom more because it'll be more affordable."

Maker Spaces

If there's one over-arching theme in the latest Horizon Report on ed tech, it's that teachers want to "make learners creators, not just consumers," said CoSN's Krueger. Doing so, of course, doesn't necessarily require something that runs on power or with batteries. "We could take glue and construction paper and make something," he pointed out. Yet, the "new tools" make the possibilities "so compelling." Krueger points to the "Prosthetic Hand Challenge," a program kicked off by sixth grade students in a South Carolina school to 3D print a hand for a girl their own age and has since attracted hundreds of classes from 32 countries to create hands for people around the world.

The value of that kind of maker activity, observed Krueger, is "first of all, just understanding and connecting with other people, with solving a real problem of accessibility." He noted that he's not saying "every class should be making hands," but that kind of activity is a "good way to show service" and to share their process with other kids. "They have made it so 400 schools today can do the same thing."

For teachers who are intimidated about the maker movement, Common Sense Education's Knutson said that maker spaces can start modestly and grow from there.

"A makerspace could be something assmall as a corner of your classroom or an activity that you do that encourages students to become makers, to make something with their hands."

That approach to instruction "really taps into a more constructivist style of pedagogy, and I think that teachers and students are into that," he said.

Knutson, a former teacher, described a "zine-making station" in his own classroom, where he'd encourage students to "come over and use different tools and supplies so they could make a zine to self-publish their work." Their efforts might start out with something as simple as a book layout that was stapled together along the spine. "But it was easy for students to take that and transition it into, 'Oh, now I should put a cover on this,' and 'Now I should get creative and make that cover something unique and different.' Or they'd work with different page layouts. So all of a sudden, students could get really creative not just with the message that they're communicating but with the medium. It can turn writing into more of a multi-dimensional activity for students."

Knutson's colleague Mendoza agreed that maker spaces don't require technology or even dedicated resources. "I was talking with a school district that has maker 'carts,' which I'd never thought of. It doesn't have to be a complete overhaul of your classroom. You could have a cart with some materials and activities and create stations for your students." The main point, she asserted, is to "get students up and actually trying and tinkering and problem solving through the making."

But the maker movement will never really get a strong hold in K–12, said P21's Ross, until the learning experience is more "codified." Accomplishing that means finding ways to help teachers and kids "create around significant content in math, history, science, whatever."

Past conversations with Dale Dougherty, considered by some to be the "father" of the maker movement," have convinced Ross that the movement is too enthralled by its "anarchic focus" to operate well in the "practical policy world of public schools." In order for the movement to make a "deep impact on K–12," he said, "some organization has got to bridge that gap and cross the chasm."

Next Generation Science Standards

Whereas the term "Common Core" seems to have become anathema to governors and parents alike around the country, Next Generation Science Standards haven't suffered the same ignominy. In fact, it's a topic that's truly heating up, according to education experts who commented for this article.

ISTE's Williams suggested that the naysayers haven't hit upon NGSS in the same way as Common Core because "it's much less volatile" and it has avoided the wrath of people who don't like the "notion of judging teacher effectiveness by how the kids in their classes do."

Teacher support will play an influential role in how successful the science standards turn out to be, added high school teacher Nank, who is married to a high school biology teacher. "With my degree in math, I can teach Algebra I and Geometry, I can teach Algebra II and Pre-Calculus. I can teach integrated or segregated courses. But in science you have subject-specific credentials. If you have a credential in biology and NGSS wants you to integrate it, what does that mean for your entire teaching career?" he wondered. "Can a person in biology teach a course that integrates biology and chemistry? And the person in chemistry — can they teach a course that has chemistry and biology? What about a person who has physics? How do you integrate that?"

If the answer is no, he replied, "What resources do we need to bring to bear to these teachers to enable them to be ready to teach an integrated type of science course?"

Ultimately, all kinds of changes could happen as NGSS gains momentum, affecting "what it looks like in the classroom, what teachers should do differently, what it looks like for students, what the curriculum looks like and the pedagogical strategies." Nank's hope is that addressing those kinds of questions will "be the center of the conversation very soon."

Open Educational Resources

As teachers seek out new digital content, open educational resources (OER) serve a useful purpose — they're free or low-cost. But the problem is hunting down the good stuff. Right now the most common way teachers find lessons is through Google, said elementary teacher and LearnZillion facilitator Redmon. Next on the list is Pinterest. While those sites are portals into all kinds of free materials, he said, the results don't necessarily get vetted the way they should before they're used in the classroom. "I don't think that's happening as much as it should. And I think there's a lot of low-quality stuff out there."

Redmon would rather see teachers head to sources such as his own, LearnZillion, or Engage NY, where there's much more curating of lessons happening.

ISTE's Williams, who serves on an education advisory board for the National Park Service, is impressed by the extent of educational materials made freely available by federal agencies. "The Library of Congress archives, the Park Service, NASA — they've developed all this stuff that's free that could be resources for teachers and schools if they knew they were there."

Math teacher Nank recalled piloting an iPad program in his district where four teachers spent thousands of hours developing assessments and curriculum. Thankfully, he asserted, those days are gone. "Quite honestly, there are not enough hours in the day for teachers to do everything they need to do for their classroom and their students and still fulfill the technology they know they need in the classroom. OER is the perfect remedy to get those types of resources in the students' hands without over-burdening the teachers. Every minute you spend on the technology is a minute that you lose for planning, grading and interventions and working with the students."


Alongside coding and maker spaces, robotics as a learning tool is on the rise. What's helped bring it into more schools is falling costs, Nank said. "It's starting to be affordable for a lot of people to be able to do it."

Plus, he said, robotics "captures" students' motivation and attention so much more than coding on its own. "If you give them a reason for learning the technology and integrate it into what they're already interested in, that's where it's really going to start to take off."

Common Sense Education's Knutson said the pick-up is occurring because of the proliferation of robotics hardware. "As we see the consumer market become more infused with maker space robotic toys and tools, we're seeing educators find applications for those things and move them into the classroom." Popular products he cited include Wonder Workshop's Dash and Dot, Ziro robotics kits and Lego Mindstorms as good places for teachers to start.

"It's a great combination of the learn-to-code movement and the maker movement," Knutson said. "It brings together all of the excitement around the learn-to-code movement and adds to it a physical component that's really compelling and engaging for kids."


Even as the arts as a lone discipline is on the wane in K–12, primarily due to funding issues, STEAM — science, technology, engineering and math with the arts mixed in — is on the rise. More cynical observers might suggest that the arts have become part of STEM to follow the money. "Sure! We want to get on that bandwagon," suggested ISTE's Williams. But more importantly, the arts "can be a gateway to all kinds of fact learning," she said. For example, "Music is very mathematical."

Likewise, Williams noted, "When we concentrate too much on the hard cognitive things without understanding the importance of appealing to the emotive side of who we are as learners, then we miss a whole entry point. We narrow students' experiences, and we narrow people's views of the world."

She said she also believes it can help broaden the appeal of STEM. "I worked for years on women's issues. We know that for whatever reason we've had a hard time attracting female students to some of these areas. But if you can appeal to them or draw them in from an arts standpoint and involve them, it makes it a richer field."

Although Nank is a math instructor, he's convinced that "without that A in STEAM, you're not going to get innovation." In a master's level course on research methods that he teaches, he gets a lot of students who are arts or music teachers beginning work on their theses in his class. He often hears them comment on how disconnected they feel from the rest of the STEM activities in their schools. So the key to STEAM succeeding is "getting the 'A' to really be a part of it, as opposed to the STEM [teachers] basically having their own part and then the A being kind of off to the side, not truly integrated." Once that integration happens, Nank said, "then I think it will be really hot."

Looking Up in 2017

The nine topics covered in our main article aren't the only ed tech categories on the rise for 2017. Panelists also mentioned these three areas of interest.

Learning analytics and applied research. The current emphasis on data-driven decision-making via dashboard is being overshadowed by work in neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology. Those research areas, in turn, are driving more insight and understanding about the subjects of learning and brain development "and the importance of environment on learning," said Digital Promise's Karen Cator. "Those are the kinds of findings that will drive the development of education technology products in the future. I think we're at the leading edge of that."

Social-Emotional Learning. Under the new rules of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), each state has to come up with its own accountability system, which may include a "fifth indicator" chosen by the state for assessing student success. The same regulations include a "focus about social-emotional learning," said P21's David Ross. "It's literally in the federal law. Every state is trying to figure out, how do I teach social-emotional learning?"

Asked to describe it, Ross said, "Nobody can. It's a catch-phrase." But at its essence, he explained, "It's about attitude towards self and school. Do I believe I can succeed? It's about perseverance. It's about positive outlook. It's about all these things that everybody believes are important for career, life and school, but nobody's really sure how to teach or assess it."

That's why this is the year, he noted, we can expect to hear more about the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), which has already drawn participation from major districts in nine states, which are working together to create tools for embedding social and emotional learning into their assessment efforts.

Media Literacy, News Literacy, Information Literacy. A recent report from Stanford confirmed what many teachers already knew: Students have trouble judging the credibility of information they find online. That's just one clue, said Common Sense Education's Kelly Mendoza, that the need for heightened attention on media literacy is crucial. "We're in the wake of the issues about truth and fiction around the presidential election and determining what is truth and what is fiction. That's difficult even for an educated adult. There's the whole issue around fake news." All of this, she added, "is alarming. If you think about it, teens are always connected. They may be on social media platforms, and a lot of those platforms have content that may be news and it may be promoted or sponsored or fake news."

Fortunately, with this renewed interest comes a wealth of digital resources that can help educators integrate media literacy into their curriculum. "At the core of media literacy is critical inquiry, the questions that you ingrain as a teacher into anything you're doing," Mendoza said. "It could be a research assignment, it could be that you're showing a video and you ask these questions about the video content you show. It could be that they're reading a textbook or article, and you embed critical thinking as a normal part of your instruction: Who wrote it? Why did they write it? What is the message? Is it trustworthy? How can I tell that? What sort of points of view are represented or missing?"

Our Experts

Karen Cator is the president and CEO of Digital Promise, a nonprofit focused on transforming education "through technology, innovation and research." Formerly, she was the director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

Jeff Knutson is the senior manager of education content for Common Sense Education, a nonprofit that supports educators navigating "the worlds of digital media and technology." Prior to that he was a high school teacher in language arts and English language learning.

Keith Krueger is CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a nonprofit that works with K–12 school system technology leaders in North America.

Kelly Mendoza manages the professional development program for Common Sense Media's education programs with a specialization in digital literacy and citizenship. She was also one of the original developers of Common Sense's K–12 "Digital Literacy & Citizenship" curriculum. Prior to that she produced online education resources at the Media Education Lab through Temple University.

Sean Nank is a math teacher at Oceanside High School in California and a member of the faculty at both California State University, San Marcos and American College of Education, where he teaches master's level education courses. He also serves as a facilitator for LearnZillion, a company that produces digital curriculum and offers professional support to educators making the transition to digital instruction.

Tom Redmon is a fourth-grade teacher for Hamilton School District No. 3 in Montana and a facilitator for LearnZillion.

David Ross is the CEO of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), a nonprofit that delivers educational consulting services to states through collaborations with practitioners from education, business and government. Previously, he served as senior director for the Buck Institute for Education, which provides professional development focused on project-based learning.

Cheryl Williams currently serves as the interim CEO for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a nonprofit that supports educators in transforming their instructional practices for a "connected world." Previously, she was the executive director of the Learning First Alliance.