Let’s face it: the rest of the world’s organizations and institutions are taking advantage of new technology and are leveraging it to maximize operational efficiency. So why should educational technology for schools be any different? While much progress in education technology has been made, there is so much more to be done. The rapid and constant pace of change in technology is creating both opportunities and challenges for schools.
The use of technology allows schools to have greater access to online courses, blended learning, educational resources, hands-on multimedia content, the use of social networking, as well as other rich content for personalized learning and professional development. At the same time, the rapid change in technology creates significant challenges for schools. Many schools are unable to keep up with digital innovations because they don’t have the proper infrastructure. Others spend their time playing catch up, while others just don’t have the funds to update their systems, creating a digital divide among schools and districts.
Private schools, independent schools, charter schools and even entire school districts can all benefit from taking an online approach to managing school operations. But the rapid evolution of educational technology makes it increasingly challenging to determine what works best.
Below is a look at some of the hottest issues and trends in educational technology as published by Education Week, September 2011, and how they are creating opportunities and challenges for K-12 schools.
Schools and districts battle to keep up with the ever increasing demands to upgrade their technological infrastructure. But the demands themselves have changed during the past decade, from a focus on simply gaining connectivity to finding enough bandwidth to run more complex applications in classrooms, such as streaming audio and video.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, 97 percent of schools across the country had Internet connectivity as of 2010. Far fewer, however, were able to successfully meet the need for higher speed access, the FCC said, citing that demand as one reason it unveiled its National Broadband Plan in March 2010. In October of the same year, it also revised E-Rate, the federal program that subsidizes school purchases for Internet connectivity and allows schools to use E-Rate dollars to gain connectivity.
Because technology infrastructure needs vary widely between districts, and indeed between schools within the same districts, the federal government’s perceived desire to focus its efforts as a facilitator of infrastructure access has become somewhat controversial among education technology advocates. And while chief technology officers generally say that school infrastructure is improving, many openly doubt that capability will catch up with demand, since new digital tools used in education are requiring ever-increasing amounts of bandwidth.
In building an infrastructure many schools are also trying to streamline their processes. Schools and districts are turning to outside vendors and experiencing widespread adoption of online solutions that offer programs from Common Core preparation and online courses, to online registration, SIS systems, managing student data, reporting, etc.
Online learning is on the rise in schools all across the country. Students now have a long list of choices when it comes to e-learning. The menu of options often includes full-time, for-profit virtual schools; state-sponsored virtual schools; supplemental online learning courses offered by brick-and-mortar schools; and charter schools presenting a hybrid option of digital material coupled with face-to-face instruction.
The International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, estimates that more than 1.5 million K-12 students were engaged in some form of online or blended learning in the 2009-10 school year. At the end of 2010, supplemental or full-time online learning opportunities were available in at least 48 of 50 states. (iNACOL, 2010).
Options for full-time virtual schools are growing. Students from kindergarten through high school can seek out online schooling opportunities, which usually include virtual teachers and a combination of synchronous and asynchronous online learning (Education Week, June 15, 2011). These schools are starting to focus more on the issue of socialization for their students and some are incorporating more face-to-face instruction into their array of services to allow for student interaction both online and in person. They’re forming clubs, holding proms, and creating school newspapers.
But full-time virtual schools also face the reality that for many students with two parents working outside the home such a scenario is not an option. Such students often cannot tap into full-time online schools for that reason, and virtual school providers acknowledge that their version of education works best, particularly in the lower grades, when an adult is present to assist.
In addition to courses that offer an online instructor, some researchers suggest that students have the most success with hybrid or blended education. A growing number of brick-and-mortar schools are now tapping into e-learning for a variety of reasons. Some schools say it saves money and allows them to offer a wider variety of courses, including Advanced Placement classes. Others say it can help with scheduling conflicts when a face-to-face class is provided only at a time when a student already has another obligation. In addition, online courses can provide highly qualified teachers for classes otherwise not offered by a school.
So where are traditional schools getting these online courses? Some are developing their own, others are purchasing them from for-profit vendors and a growing number are able to tap into state virtual schools or state-led online learning initiatives. Some schools find it easier to use courses developed by a state-run virtual school, since it is already aligned with their state standards.
Increasing access, growing acceptance, and decreasing cost are all helping to make the use of mobile devices a popular and increasing trend within the world of educational technology. While the digital divide between the affluent and disadvantaged still exists, mobile devices have the potential to close it, at least in terms of access.
According to the “Horizon” report, game-based learning will be widely adopted by mainstream classrooms within two to three years (New Media Consortium, 2011). Instead of educational software, e.g. Math Blaster or Reader Rabbit, students and teachers are much more likely to incorporate Web-based educational games into classrooms, which are often available for free.
Some educators hope that games and simulations will provide a way for students to picture themselves in career paths they may otherwise would not have chosen, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, and some argue that games and simulations offer students a way to connect what they are learning in class to (simulated) real-world situations in a safe and low-cost environment (Education Week, March 17, 2011).
Researchers have also found that games and simulations may help students learn by helping them visualize processes they otherwise could not see, such as the flow of an electron or the construction of a city. Games can also promote higher-order thinking skills, such as collaboration, communication, problem-solving, and teamwork (MIT, 2009; National Academies Press 2011).
However, creating a healthy marriage of an engaging and entertaining game with educational objectives and goals is a challenging process that has yet to be perfected. And finding the time and resources to train teachers who may not be familiar with game-based learning is a challenge for most schools. Despite these challenges, many educators and researchers are committed to developing educational games and incorporating game-based learning into classrooms across the United States.
Many schools are no longer debating whether social networking should play a role in education. Instead, that debate has shifted to what social networking tools work best and how to deploy them (Digital Directions, June 16, 2010). Some schools are using mainstream social networking tools, like Facebook, for everything from promoting school events to organizing school clubs as well as for more academic purposes related to assignments and class projects.
But educators wary about security, advertising, information-sharing, and social interaction in such an environment are often seeking out social networks designed specifically for learning instead. These sites, like ePals and eChalk, are more restrictive, often allowing teachers and school officials to limit not only who can join, but who students can talk to and interact with. Some educators also say students seem to take these sites more seriously and treat them with a more academic focus and tone than they would a site they routinely use for socialization with their peers. These sites also often provide safety features that can detect foul language or bullying phrases and alert a teacher (Education Week, June 15, 2011).
Many educators say the academic benefits of social networking are real. They allow students to work cooperatively on projects in an online environment that feels familiar to students. Teachers often report that a student who does not speak up in class will be more engaged on a social networking site and that these sites allow instructors to extend the school day.
Technology tools are also making it quicker and easier than ever to create digital portfolios of student work—a method of showcasing student progress that experts say increases student engagement; promotes a continuing conversation about learning between teachers, parents, and students; and extends academic lessons beyond school walls (Education Week, March 17, 2011). New social networking tools to aid this are being developed and updated regularly.
All on all, effective technology integration is achieved when its use supports curricular goals. It must support four key components of learning: active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts. For more information on the issues and trends in educational technology visit Education Week.
Let us know what types of technology your school or district uses to enhance curricular goals.