Advice, secrets, and opinions on digital learning and the future of education as told by five ed tech thought leaders
The wonderful world of education technology is evolving so quickly, it’s often hard to keep up with all the new trends and products that are being adopted by schools and educators. Ed tech conferences like ISTE are hubs for information sharing and inspiration sparking. Fresh from this year’s gathering in San Antonio, we caught up with five faces in education who are at the forefront of innovation in the classroom.
We emailed out questions that are always on our mind at eSpark and the cause of frequent online debate, and these five ed tech thought leaders got back to us:
In your opinion, what’s the most exciting thing happening right now in digital learning?
ADAM: I think the resurgence of the maker movement where students are increasingly able to make great work that has meaning to them and the world is a huge win and is possibly the most exciting thing in digital learning. I think it is less about learning and more about sharing what was made and created by internalizing and then externalizing something learned. Learning to code or building things with your hands is not a new concept, but the accessibility that we have to these low cost creation tools and the myriad platforms available to share our work makes this the most exciting thing in the current digital learning process.
DAVID: What excites me most is that we are starting to recognize the enormous potential that information and communication technologies have for making us all, teachers and learners, more resourceful, relentless and habitual learners. In a time of rapid change, success and prosperity comes from continued and effective learning. Learning is the new literacy. It replaces the old. it’s “learning-literacy.”
JON B: I think flipped learning is taking the world by storm. I really do believe that it’s the most exciting thing happening. It’s catching on because it’s caught the heart and minds of teachers. So much of what’s been happening with technology in education digitally has not really caught on with the regular teachers because the regular teachers haven’t seen how technology can impact student learning as much.
KEVIN: Individualized and personalized learning that is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week from mobile devices.
JON S: The most exciting thing happening in digital learning right now is the willingness for districts to get technology into the hands of students. Whether through district purchases, passing bonds, or BYOT, making technology available for students to use is becoming less of an obstacle.
Technology versus textbooks:will there ever be a winner?
ADAM: Is this still a battle? Technology offers us so much more than static words and text and with so much change in the world it seems foolish that schools are still unable to move textbook money into other areas of spending. That is not to say that books are not valuable and that some textbooks are not excellent. Some are, but when we look at the advantage of sharing content digitally and offering collaborative note-taking, curation of related links and resources – not to mention the multimedia experiences that can enrich all aspects of learning and engagement, it is hard for me to see books holding up to the low-cost of digital content that can offer a richer experience based solely on the medium it is served up on rather than the content. In short – it would be easy to digitize textbooks, and many have done just that, but it is the real benefit and indeed the challenge as well to offer an immersive learning experience that utilizes the best of what technology has to offer – not just the “bells and whistles” but the functionality that it can offer for all learners.
DAVID: Hopefully the winners will be the students or learners. I fear that digital textbooks will simply be digitized textbooks, continuing the practice of feeding our children prepackaged and sanitized content. Students who must learn to question and evaluate information, need to have access to questionable information. Whatever replaces the old textbooks must be conversational, where learners not only interact with the book but actually contribute to it. What I would like to see is a platform where teachers (and learners) actually construct the textbooks, adapting it to emerging resources, changing times and individual needs.
JON B: I think the writing is on the wall- it’s going to happen. We are headed to digital textbooks some day, but it’s going to be a long time. I think the whole rights issues have just become so huge that I’m not sure we’re going to solve that any time soon. I don’t know if there’s a winner–Amazon sells more Kindles than Books now, that’s true. So that writing is on the wall, but I don’t know when that will officially happen.
KEVIN: I don’t believe published paper text books to be a sound investment when there are dynamic and interactive digital options that can always be easily updated. While I may personally prefer the freely-available openness of the Internet and its vast array of resources, I understand the need for grade-level appropriate, self-contained, subject-specific digital texts. That said, I worry about student families and institutions being beholden to expensive publisher costs for eTexts.
JON S: I don’t know if there will be a winner in the textbook battle, but there sure should be. Digital textbooks are the way to go for students and I think the choice should be made in favor of students, and not publishing companies.
What’s going to be the next big thing in ed tech?
ADAM: I don’t own a crystal ball, but I think we are going to see big push back on the standardized testing movement that has gripped the country. We have so many great tools to help students created artifacts of learning and yet they are still largely assessed by bubbling in circles with a pencil. It is not only a strange rift from the advances we have made with technology and education, but it is an area that I think we likely be shaken up pretty soon. Alternative assessment in the way of a digital portfolio is likely going to be more commonplace as students create more and more awesome content and stuff, the sharing of this content and the way it will be assessed is my prediction for the next big shift. I think that there will continue to be more devices in schools by way of BYOD or whole district adoptions of tablets, but this is not as major a shift as the embracing of a way to qualitatively assess real student work and growth.
DAVID: Impossible to say. But I am starting to wonder if augmented reality might be maturing into something that may be useful to education. Of course tablets are going to continue to surprise us. It’s a tech that keeps evolving, thanks to the creative efforts of app designers. Finally, I am excited that we are starting to understand the value of gaming as a mechanism for learning. It goes much deeper than simply awarding badges for good work. There is much to game design that educators are just now starting to understand. If this moves forward.. Well, that excites me.
JON B: I’m getting pretty exciting about two things: the maker movement and also 3-D printing. Those are kind of related really, but 3-D printing is going to revolutionize a lot of things as people get a hold of how we can print anything 3-D. It’s pretty amazing as we can make things that we couldn’t before. It’s going to be a really dramatic, cool thing.
JON S: The next big thing in educational technology is going to be something that we have not even thought of yet. It could be virtual learning becoming more prominent, or it could become new tech tools like LiveSlide.
If you could give one piece of advice to teachers about how to integrate technology in their classroom this fall, what would it be?
ADAM: I think the best piece of advice that I have to offer with technology integration is that we should work with one new tool/site/app at a time. This way as an educator we can understand what works and what doesn’t and see if the benefit is worth the hassle of working on it some more. I think that it is hard to look at an article online these days or attend a session on edtech without seeing a barrage of sites, apps, and gadgets. Many of them may be great – but the best way to make smart choices and remain sane is to really explore one at a time.
DAVID: Don’t! Don’t integrate technology. Integrate information. But acknowledge and embrace the FACT that our prevailing information environment is networked, digital, and abundant. Work toward using:
- Information in your classroom that comes from outside and begs to be questioned (networked),
- Information that you and your students can manipulate and make something new with (digital),
- and Information that is seemingly unlimited and help students learn to communicate in an overwhelming infoscape.
Empower students with networked, digital and abundant information and invite them to SURPRISE you.
JON B: Well, it would not be about technology. I think they need to realize that teaching is a human event and it’s about human interaction. That’s what teaching’s always been about, and we need to figure out ways technology can leverage and make that human interaction better and more efficient, and it can time shift a lot of the direct instruction and allow for a deeper and more meaningful human connection. You must start with the human connection piece, and then technology then can enhance that and make it better.
KEVIN: Don’t hesitate because you think you have to be the controlling expert. Start small and learn alongside your class. Most importantly: Have fun!
JON S: The biggest piece of advice that I could give to educators trying to integrate technology this fall is to get on Twitter. If I ever have questions about something, or want to collaborate, the first place I go is to Twitter. I can get and share ideas with teachers from around the globe wherever and whenever I want. It is a must for teachers to connect.
What’s your best kept ed tech secret?
ADAM: I don’t have any EdTech secrets. I think that one of the reasons I am able to work in this space is by sharing everything I have and know with others. It is easy to do and I sincerely hope that educators and students will continue to share of themselves – both when they do great work as well as openly talking about what they did wrong. This sharing allows others to learn from us (both failures and success) as well as to help us out. Twitter and other PLNs is not a secret, but it may seem that way for people that are not connected yet. So connect if you are not already, and continue to share.
DAVID: The best kept secret is the relationship between learning and play. Play can be hard. It can be hard work. But it’s real. You play for reasons that mean something to you, the individual learner. We need to recognize the worth of playfulness in establishing learning lifestyles in our classrooms.
JON B: My best EdTech secret? I’m sitting here at my computer looking at multiple monitors; I am so much more efficient when I have more than one monitor. I don’t know if that’s an edTech secret, but…that really makes me work better, so we’ll see if it helps others multitask better.
KEVIN: If there is an “EdTech secret”, it’s that people are the most significant ‘technology’ and that learning occurs best when powerful connections are made. Technology is simply a tool to help teachers extend their reach and for students to access content, investigate, share, and produce demonstrations of their understandings.
JON S: My best kept EdTech secret is that I really don’t know anything at all about Word, or Excel. I am a complete novice, and just ask the students for help most times when formatting a paper or spreadsheet.