The Latest Trends in Educational Technology

Technology has made its way into all aspects of our lives—and that includes K-12 classrooms.

With the move to remote learning in the spring due to COVID-19—and districts taking all kinds of approaches to opening their schools this fall—educators are recognizing the benefits of EdTech as a teaching tool more than ever. In our 6th Annual Educator Confidence Report (ECR), published in collaboration with YouGov, 73% of educators said the COVID-19 distance-learning experience has moved education closer to fully realizing the potential of technology in instruction.

In addition, half of educators say they feel confident in their ability to use EdTech resources in instructionally effective ways. But technology alone isn’t enough for instruction. In the survey, 61% of teachers said they worry policymakers will increasingly view EdTech as a replacement for teachers. ICLE Associate Partner Weston Kieschnick notes in his tweet below that face-to-face instruction should (and will) remain critical in the future.

Online teaching may be temporary for many educators, but there will always be ways to integrate technology into lessons. Even so, technology can’t replace great teachers.

Current Education Tech Trends

Let’s take a look at the latest trends in educational technology and how they are impacting the roles that teachers and administrators play with their students.

1. Big Data in Schools

With the increased use of digital tools in the classroom, teachers and education leaders have more access to data about their students and their academic progress than ever before. This helps teachers differentiate instruction in the classroom—a topic I’ll dive into further in a moment—but it’s also beneficial in other ways, including for education leaders.

As blog contributor Dustin Bindreiff wrote, administrators can use data to simplify the monitoring of student attendance and work completion, evaluate student engagement, analyze teacher motivation and engagement, and track staff attendance and turnover. Education leaders could face challenges when using analytics to improve their school or district; for example, they may have too much data and not enough time to sift through it. But if used in the right way, big data can make a big impact.

2. Differentiation and Personalization

Differentiation and personalization go hand in hand with big data, which can shed light on how well students understand the topics covered in the curriculum. Adaptive technology can give them the extra instruction and practice they need.

As experts noted during an EdTech panel at this year's ASU+GSV Summit, differentiation is more important than ever due to many schools’ transition to remote learning this year. This is especially true as students need to catch up on the instruction they missed out on in the spring, when schools suddenly closed. Lessons that are tailored to meet students’ individual needs are essential—and EdTech can make this a reality.

Many online learning programs offer students scaffolding and feedback. HMH's Waggle uses adaptive technology to give students hints or additional support as they progress through lessons. The program can also accelerate instruction for more advanced learners.

3. Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is making its way into some classrooms, allowing teachers to take their students on a journey and actually see what they’re learning. HMH, a Google partner, offers 360-degree virtual experiences for students in HMH Field Trips, enabling them to explore the world—both past and present—without leaving their classrooms. Teachers have the ability to monitor where students are in their journey, control the images students see, and pause trips as needed to provide additional explanation.

4. Digital Assessment

In the Educator Confidence Report, nearly half of educators said they leveraged online assessments in the switch to distance learning. To help in this transition, HMH’s Waggle now includes an adaptive benchmark assessment to measure student achievement. Even online programs such as Kahoot!, a game-based learning website where teachers can create multiple-choice quizzes for students, are gaining popularity.

Despite the transition to the virtual classroom, the need for assessment hasn’t changed, though the remote environment does present unique challenges, as HMH Education Research Director Dr. Vytas Laitusis wrote in a recent blog post. Regardless, assessment provides helpful data that teachers can use to tailor their instruction. Teachers need to be aware that remote administration may slow student response time. They should determine whether timed assessments are really necessary under these circumstances.

Teachers can also use video or phone conferencing to check in on students and ensure they understand lessons and tasks.

5. Combining Asynchronous and Synchronous Instruction

ICLE Associate Partner Weston Kieschnick recommends that teachers incorporate both synchronous (live) and asynchronous (self-paced) instruction into their curriculums in a remote learning environment. It’s important, he says, to increase the number of “touch points” between a student and the teacher so that they are in constant communication. This means offering “drop-in hours” at different times each day where teachers answer any student or parent questions.

Students and families should ask themselves, “Are there three virtual asynchronous opportunities where I’m going to receive virtual instruction from my teacher? Five minutes or less; sweet-spot video content,” Kieschnick says. “And then do I have two virtual synchronous opportunities where I can pop in the classroom?” And teachers must work to provide that for an optimal learning experience.

In the ECR, teachers cited videos from instructional programs or open sources—such as TeacherTube, TED Talks, and Khan Academy—as the most effective digital educational materials they have used for distance learning. Resources like these can be beneficial to teachers looking for ways to engage students through asynchronous instruction. The same can be said of digital games and activities, as the ECR reveals.

"How can you bring in a tool like Padlet, or a tool like Edpuzzle or a content mapping tool like Popplet or Quizlet?" Wieschnick says. "That's the stuff that I find really cool—when you bring in third-party content."

6. Print Materials Moving Online

This year’s ECR found that roughly two-thirds of educators used digital versions of print instructional materials during remote learning. Four out of 10 educators said they also used “a digital-based core curriculum resource for one or more core subjects.”

7. Prioritizing Student Access to Technology

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some school districts have prioritized student access to digital devices—for instance, by providing laptops and tablets—so that students can complete their coursework remotely. This is also important for educational equity, or to meet the needs of those students who may not have access to these devices or internet at home.

At the ASU+GSV Summit panel, Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, says her district went from having a 1:4 device-to-student ratio in the spring to being much closer to a 1:1 ratio today. While districts may still encounter difficulties in terms of providing access to what all students need, COVID-19 has brought the issue of the “digital divide” to the forefront of conversations in the K-12 education world today.

8. Use of Social Media

Social media can be valuable both for educators’ professional development as well as in instruction. We have discussed on the blog how teachers use different platforms for professional learning purposes, including Instagram and Pinterest for posting and sharing images and resources; Twitter, to explore educational trends; LinkedIn, to build their networks; and Facebook, for a combination of all of those reasons.

In our Educator Confidence Report, 15% of educators reported that they use social media and other online communities for student learning. This can be a helpful way to interact with students’ families. And as we detailed here, teachers can also start a class blog through social media, analyze social media posts as part of lessons, or take students on a virtual field trip.

These education tech trends will undoubtedly impact your teaching in this most unusual school year. It's important for teachers and education leaders to stay up to date with new technology in education as it continuously evolves, especially in this time of remote learning, where the use of EdTech is more common and more essential. By doing so, you can ensure your students are receiving the best instruction possible, but remember that technology alone can never replace teachers themselves.

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Looking for more examples of current EdTech trends in K-12 education? Download the Educator Confidence Report for a full list of digital tools teachers are integrating into instruction.

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