3 Trends to Watch in Ed Tech
The technology behind Bitcoin has important implications for education. Here’s how.
if students left high school with a secure, permanent digital record
of all their accomplishments — their academic achievement,
extra-curricular experiences, community service and more — that
followed them throughout college and into the workplace. Every new
degree, certification, digital badge or other honor they earned
throughout their lives would be added to this record like links in a
chain, and these credentials would be tamper-proof to give employers
some assurance that students actually earned them.
technology exists now, and it’s being used by a small but growing
number of colleges and universities around the world to empower
students by giving them ownership of their official record. K-12
education is likely to follow soon.
technology is called “blockchain,” and it’s the same technology
used by Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies to keep a secure and
reliable record of financial transactions. In the academic world,
blockchain is being used to link students’ educational records
together — and it’s poised to revolutionize the credentialing
ability to recognize all kinds of learning experiences throughout a
student’s education, and have that record follow the student, is
very exciting,” says Samantha Adams Becker, a futurist in residence
at Penn State University and a consultant to the Consortium
for School Networking
(CoSN). “Blockchain has the potential to seamlessly connect K-12
with higher education, careers and professional learning.”
is one of many technologies that Becker and other edtech experts are
watching closely as part of a new CoSN initiative to help K-12
superintendents and chief technology officers lead innovation in
the project will produce a series of three reports each year about
emerging issues that could affect teaching and learning.
first report, released
in January 2019, focused
on the “Hurdles” holding back K-12 innovation. The second report,
released just last week,
on “Accelerators” driving changes in K-12 education. The third
report, expected in June 2019, will highlight five “Tech Enablers,”
or emerging technologies that can help schools overcome the chosen
hurdles and put the accelerators into practice. A toolkit for
K-12 leaders will tie these reports together with practical guidance
for integrating the technologies in question.
initiative is led by Becker, who managed the Horizon Report series
for the now-defunct New Media Consortium (NMC). The yearly Horizon
Reports explored the top technology trends affecting education. NMC
issued two Horizon Reports each year: a higher-education version and
a K-12 version that was produced in conjunction with CoSN. The
higher-education technology group EDUCAUSE now produces the higher-ed
version, and the “Driving K-12 Innovation” series will build on
the work that began with the K-12 version.
Chief Executive Officer Keith Krueger describes the new initiative as
“more holistic” in nature than the Horizon Report series. Instead
of creating a document that was downloaded only once a year, “we
are trying to create a year-round conversation about technology’s
role in driving K-12 innovation,” he says.
with the Horizon Report series, an advisory
consisting of nearly 100 edtech experts will convene in an online
community to discuss the challenges, opportunities, and emerging
technologies affecting K-12 education. The advisory board will then
choose the hurdles, accelerators, and tech enablers to be featured in
the advisory board will have the final say in what the reports will
focus on, Becker says one of the technologies the group will be
discussing is blockchain — and how it could transform credentialing
in the future.
blockchain is a secure ledger of transactions in which each block
builds on the previous one, making the entire chain immutable. When
used for financial transactions, it records who sent the currency,
who received it, and how much it’s worth. The same concept
underlies the use of blockchain for academic credentialing.
the use of paper or digital transcripts, schools are the keepers of
this information — and students (or former students) must undertake
a slow and often expensive process to access these records or share
them with prospective employers. The promise of blockchain is that it
will allow students to maintain their own official academic record in
a way that is safe and cannot be tampered with — while also
building on this record throughout their professional life.
software company called Learning
built a toolkit of open-source components that any developer or
school can use to create, issue, view and verify blockchain
credentials. This toolkit is available free of charge at
how the process works: Using a mobile app, students would add a
school to their list of credentialing institutions, just as they
would add friends to an app. This would send the school their name,
email address, and a public key that is unique to each student. Once
the school has this information, it can begin to issue credentials as
these are earned. When a credential is issued, a record of the
transaction is added to the blockchain — and both the school and
the student have an official “copy” of the transaction. When
students later apply for college or a job, they would simply submit a
link to their certificate, and the college or employer would use an
independent blockchain verification service to verify the
this process, students no longer have to request a copy of their
transcript — which is more convenient for both students and
technology is already in use at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology,
Carnegie Mellon University, Southern
New Hampshire University,
New Mexico Community College,
among other institutions. Learning Machine CEO Chris Jagers says it’s
only a matter of time before K-12 schools are using it as well.
records are extremely relevant for K-12 education, in particular the
high school transcript,” he says. “Giving students their official
record in a blockchain-secured format would ensure they have a
permanent record of their accomplishment, which is useful when
applying for college or employment.”
Technologies to Watch
blockchain, Becker says, other technologies that K-12 leaders should
watch for include…
are systems that allow people to interact with computers through
bodily sensations or movement. A haptic interface sends
an electronic signal to a computer based on different movements or
sensory interactions. Each signal is interpreted by the computer to
execute a process or action. In turn, the interface also sends a
signal back to the human body, such as an electronic vibration. When
you feel your phone vibrate as you get a text message, that’s an
example of a haptic interface.
interfaces have important implications for learning, although cost is
still a barrier to adoption in K-12 schools. In higher education,
haptic interfaces are widely used in industrial and medical training.
For example, medical students can perfect delicate surgical
techniques via computer, feeling what it’s like to actually suture
blood vessels or make precise cuts. In Portugal, K-12 students and
engineering freshmen have been using a haptic device to
feel the elastic force on a spring.
that we’re seeing handheld devices proliferate in K-12, the
touchscreen technology we’re using is only going to evolve and
become more sophisticated,” Becker says. “It makes sense that
haptic interfaces will find their way into K-12 schools, because the
technology is all about trying to interact with an object or device
encompasses virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and “mixed”
reality, which combines a physical and augmented learning experience.
AR is a technology that layers computer-generated enhancements on top
of existing reality, while VR is a fully immersive experience in a
a long time, the hype surrounding these technologies outpaced their
usefulness in the classroom. But now they’re beginning to make a
real impact on teaching and learning, as hardware costs have come
down and new applications have emerged that put extended reality
within the reach of most schools.
instance, extended reality technology can take
students to places they can’t physically travel to
and help them visualize abstract concepts, such as bringing
chemical elements to life.