Technology Trends in Education
Sending children to school is an act of faith. How can you be sure they will learn what they need to know, especially in a world where technology is so important and changes so quickly? Parents want to feel confident the school is up to speed, but it's difficult to be certain when the education your children get is so different from the one you remember.
Fortunately, parents now have a crib sheet from the International Society of Technology in Education. The group's recently released Horizon Report identifies six technology trends reshaping education today, tomorrow and in the future. Just knowing the jargon for these innovations may give you more insight into what's happening at your child's school. Here's an overview.
What's happening now
Cloud computing sounds mysterious, but it simply refers to software you can access online that is not stored on your computer. If you use Facebook, Google Docs, Flickr and many other popular sites, you've cloud-computed. School administrators realize that instead of purchasing expensive software that quickly goes out of date, they can offer students better access to up-to-the-minute tools via cloud computing.
Kerpoof (www.kerpoof.com), for example, introduces young learners to powerful creativity apps that allow them to tell stories, draw pictures and produce videos they can easily share with classmates. At www.ilabcentral.org, students can do virtual science experiments using equipment that might be unavailable at school.
Mobile devices allow computing on the go. Many educators are excited about tablet computers, such Apple's iPad. These devices give students and teachers flexibility in when and how they use technology. Some high schools provide incoming freshmen with a tablet that stores every book the student uses, as well as classroom presentations and assignments. Mobile devices can also be used in laboratories, on field trips, in performance spaces and during community service projects. If you want to turn your mobile device into an educational tool, check out the app reviews at the International Educational Apps Review at www.iear.org.
What's coming soon
Game-based learning has come a long way. Early educational games like Math Blaster and Reader Rabbit were dull drill-and-practice exercises that peppered students with right/wrong questions. Now educators offer games that simulate complex environments ranging from cells (Immune Attack) to disaster relief (Evoke). Although some teachers aren't comfortable with the games' open-ended nature, many find a well-chosen game engages and motivates young learners in ways other instructional methods can't. Young people can become deeply immersed in games and, as a result, master content, sharpen problem-solving skills and develop collaborative strategies that mirror the skills they will need in the workplace.
Open content got going a decade ago when Massachusetts Institute of Technology put all of its courses online. Now K-12 educators see advantages in sharing classroom materials at sites like Thinkfinity (www.thinkfinity.com), which includes thousands of free lesson plans, or CK-12.org, a site allowing teachers to customize textbooks by picking and choosing science materials. Students also have access to open content at websites like NeoK12 (www.neoK12.com).
Open content makes learning available regardless of location, so it's ideal for students who are home-schooled or unable to attend school because of travel or illness. It also helps students master essential skills related to finding, evaluating and using new information. Perhaps, most important, it encourages students to take more responsibility for when and how they learn.
In three to five years
Learning analytics provides teachers with more precise information about what and how children learn. Unlike high-stakes tests, which give an annual snapshot of what a child has mastered, analytic tools allow teachers to evaluate as they go.
For example, the School of One program uses data about what children have learned to create customized daily schedules. Each student receives math instruction that matches his or her learning style and focuses on what he or she needs to know next. Although critics worry data mining can be misused, supporters of learning analytics believe it can help teachers and students improve performance.
Personal learning environments are based on the knowledge that every student learns differently. One child absorbs new ideas by listening. Another grasps information presented in a chart or graph. A third does best with a captioned video. Personal learning environments encourage students to engage with learning materials that work best for them. Educators point to the materials a child needs. To see how this works, watch a YouTube video at http://go.nmc.org/oltyt made by a seventh-grade student who uses Symbaloo to organize her learning.
Schools and teachers vary in their willingness and ability to adopt new technologies. Still, knowing about them may help you make sense of what's happening - or not happening - in your child's classroom. At the very least, you'll be more knowledgeable at the next parent-teacher conference. To learn more, download the entire ISTE report at www.iste.org/learn/horizon-report.aspx.
Carolyn Jabs has been writing about families and the Internet for more than 15 years. She is the mother of three computer-savvy kids.