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In a recent frog program, I was part of a team that explored how educators in the U.S. K-12 education system are incorporating new technologies in the classroom to improve teaching and learning.
We interviewed teachers, principals, and state leaders to understand the needs of educators in the changing education landscape. We found that new companies entering the K-12 space are likely to face several challenges. State and local budgets are still recovering from restrictions in federal funding during the 2011-2012 school year. The selling cycle is long and often requires a custom approach for specific student populations, meaning that scaling up quickly as a new entrant is difficult. Buying at the school level is being squeezed between centralized technology mandates coming down from the district and requests for new digital technology tools bubbling up from teachers.
However, there are many elements that are key to the continued growth in K-12 EdTech spending. Overall, educators are looking to introduce more digital curriculum, testing, and tracking tools without too much added complexity. Technology is expanding the modalities of teaching and learning, yet educators fear data overload. We explore how we might design new EdTech products that meet classroom needs in useful, useable ways.
Aligning with the Common Core State Standards
‘Teachers want more time with instructional experts so they can look at Common Core standards and understand how to implement them in the classroom.’ – Middle School Principal
This 2014-2015 school year marks the full implementation of the Common Core digital end-of-year assessments for all 43 participating states. Teachers have been aligning their curriculum to ensure their students can demonstrate the skills for the new tests in a digital environment. However, prep and practice for the state tests becomes time-consuming and boring for teachers and students alike. Students, teachers, and administrators experience high anxiety due to summative testing and are asking for digital content that ties to the standards, while also maintaining relevance for students.
Check Out: The Faculty of P.S. 167 response to the question, ‘Is testing taking over our schools?’
Intelligence, Data, and Reporting for Instructional Decisions
‘The system should understand the complicated and nuanced decisions that teachers need to make. I want to get teachers more/better/faster information about understanding students.’ – Elementary School Principal
The capture of new types of data within EdTech products enables companies to create strategies around making sense of that data. Algorithms on educational data work to make the user experience more relevant. Students can benefit from data that enables a more personalized learning experience. Teachers want the data to help them make instructional decisions students with different skill levels on a day-to-day basis. And administrators need data to show them important trends across various groups of student populations, such as identifying students who are at-risk for dropping out. In terms of reporting data back to educators and students, visualizing the most relevant data in simple terms is a must.
Check Out: Chapter 3 of U.S. Department of Education’s report on learning in a digital world.
Guidance for Blended and Flipped Classroom Models
‘We’re experimenting with flipped classrooms. We did 100 modules of Khan to put all the kids together in Algebra I and get every kid in the right place at the right time.’ – Middle School Principal
The availability of K-12 online learning curriculum and practice content, like TenMarks and Khan Academy, has allowed teachers to change the way they use classroom time. Teachers are creating blended or flipped classrooms where students learn basic content at home and then apply their knowledge in class the next day. This allows for more collaborative, group-based learning in class, with the teacher acting as a facilitator rather than the ‘Sage on a Stage.’ Adoption of new classroom models is still early phase, with teachers researching best practices and experimenting with various methods. Teachers need additional guidance on how to implement new technologies for both the traditional and future-forward classroom models.
Check Out: Keeping Pace with K-12 Online and Blended Learning by Evergreen Education Group.
Transparency in Personalized, Self-Directed Learning
‘Students use Dreambox for instruction and independent lessons if they finished work really quickly. They like it as long as they don’t have to do it for too long.’ – Elementary School Teacher
The future of education is moving towards a personalized learning environment: The student drives their own learning and actively participates in the design of their own learning. Together with the teacher, the student creates a learning plan and identifies targets learning goals. The student is then responsible for monitoring progress towards mastery of content. Adaptive technologies like Dreambox and Accelerated Math are driving the trend toward personalized learning in this competency-based learning system. This can allow students to move through curriculum at their own pace, potentially testing out of subject units whenever they are ready. However, adaptive technology is just one step towards a self-directed learner. Teachers say that what happens on adaptive programs remain a ‘black box’ to them, and aren’t transparent enough for them to gain full trust.
Check Out: Integrating Personalized, Blended, and Competency Education by iNACOL.
Capturing Learning through Diffusion of Technology
‘I want a hand-held portable device to take anywhere to use for lesson plans, grading, capturing student artifacts, and tracking data with the ability to share with other teachers and parents.’ – Elementary School Teacher
Technology within the physical classroom will continue to move beyond tablets and smartboards to include digital touchpoints like wall-sized screens, IoT sensors, and gesture recognition. A visualization showing the classroom technology trends predicts more ‘studio’ or grouped interactions as well as virtual learning environments over the next 25 years. Artificial intelligence will start to take a more prominent role in personalizing learning for student interests and needs. Digital feedback from touchpoints will provide teachers with more insights about the learning and performance of each student. Already, technology is enabling kids to play with real objects that are reflected in the digital world, like in this cool video from OSMO. Teachers are aware of new technologies and want portable technologies but admit that funding for new tech is hard to come by. They also don’t want to become overwhelmed by irrelevant feedback in this new data-rich world.
Check Out: Follow a young girl of the future as she wakes up and attends school in A Day Made of Glass video by Corning Glass.
Providing Opportunities for Deeper Learning Skills
‘It’s not about just evaluating the right answer but the process – Critical thinking and using the right strategy.’ – High School Teacher
Making insightful connections across subjects. Explaining the ‘why’ behind answers. Creating well-thought-out arguments based on analysis of multiple sources of data. These are the types of skills that students will be increasingly measured by in the U.S. The Hewlett Foundation defines deeper learning as a combination of four skills: Communication, Critical Thinking, Content Knowledge, and Learning How to Learn. Common Core is the first step towards measuring these skills. However, digital technology will continue to drive emphasis deeper learning in three main ways: 1) Making content more individually relevant to students, 2) Opening up new access points to learning and feedback, and 3) Providing tools for students to create and collaborate within groups in new ways.
Check Out: How Digital Learning Contributes to Deeper Learning by Getting Smart.
Active Gamification and Competition
‘Games, simulation, videos, art-based stuff, giving them a task. Like we did a Minecraft 3D model of a prison. I think kids are motivated by competition.’ – Middle School Teacher
Gamification methods are being used in classrooms to boost student interest. ClassDojo is a popular program used by teachers to reward students for good behavior through student avatars. GoNoodle videos are also popular to re-energize younger students with brain breaks and physical activities for the whole class. Teachers agree that adding a competitive element to the classroom increases engagement. However, kids often become bored and disengaged when playing educational games alone on the computer or tablet. Instead, kids are more motivated by active, hands-on activities with some friendly competition among classmates or between classes.
Check Out: Students use Minecraft to build and explore with features designed for classroom use.
Gaining Credibility with School Pilots
‘Make sure that teachers are there every step of the way.’ – Elementary School Teacher
A current barrier to adoption for many new EdTech products is credibility. There is no certification for digital product quality or effectiveness. Teachers can look at reviews from places like What Works Clearinghouse that publishes on the effectiveness of digital learning tools. The EdSurge Index also posts product reviews and an ecosystem product index. However, teachers mostly rely on word-of-mouth from co-workers and look to adopt products into their classrooms that have been recommended by peers. Schools want to pilot products to see proof of student improvement before purchase.
Check Out: iZone test bed for iterating on new EdTech products in schools with real students.
Interoperability of District and School Tools
‘The problem is we’re getting the data in so many different formats in many different places. I want to go to one place.’ – High School Teacher
Districts are purchasing district-wide technologies such as Student Information Systems or Learning Management Systems in order to store and track student profiles. Social collaboration or grading tools like Haiku and Edsby are also commonplace at the district-level. At the school-level, solutions are often cobbled together from many different players to meet the specific needs of the student population. Schools hand-pick technologies and then face the challenge of integrating new products with their current systems. Interoperability and exchange of information between EdTech products is a necessity.
Check Out: SIIA’s Primer on K-20 Education Interoperability Standards.
Collaborative Teacher Training
‘Professional development with active student participation and closure activities so teachers leave with something to do. Collaboration in PD is key.’ – Middle School Principal
Teachers are motivated to engage in professional development that targets their individual needs and interests. Yet most of our professional development today is video-based in a large group setting. Additionally, training for new technologies is typically viewed by principals as costly and time-consuming, so they look for products that teachers already know or are simple to learn. Professional development for new products is challenged with needing to be relevant to individual teachers, take up little time, yet be very memorable and actionable.
Check Out: EdSurge’s PD product profiles in their guidebook on professional development tools for administrators.
Top recommendations for products in the US K-12 EdTech market:
- New Models & Skills: Build to enable new teaching methods where students are working more collaboratively with peers in the classroom.
- Data: Capture student data to provide relevant feedback and design for interoperability with district-wide systems.
- Effectiveness: Iterate development in the classroom with educator and student feedback.
Caroline is a frog strategist in Boston, MA.