Though recent technological advances in education have led to greater student engagement and a reduction in time spent on testing, K-12 still faces significant challenges over the next five years. The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K-12 Edition, published by the New Media Consortium and the Consortium for School Networking, highlights what politicians, education experts, school administrators, and teachers should focus on to best serve students.

Solvable Challenges: Those That We Understand and Know How to Solve

  • Authentic Learning Experiences–Schools need to focus on contextualizing lesson plans in real-world scenarios. The report explains, the term authentic learning is seen as an umbrella for several important pedagogical strategies that have great potential to immerse learners in environments where they can gain lifelong learning skills; these approaches include vocational training, apprenticeships, and certain scientific inquiries. Schools can incorporate authentic learning experiences by growing community partnerships, promoting apprenticeships and engaging students in citizen science, which involves a partnership among volunteers, amateurs, and trained scientists. By having students take part in projects that actually affect their communities, as opposed to hypothetical or simulated exercises, students become more engaged and gain a deeper understanding of the material at hand.
  • Rethinking the Roles of Teachers–In the old education model, teachers were the sole diffuser of knowledge. Through lectures and slideshows, teachers engaged in a one-way communication model with students. They shared the knowledge and students took notes and memorized. However, with the increasing adoption of technology into the classroom, this model no longer exists. Teachers now act as mentors and guides, according to the report, and help students gain knowledge from a variety of sources–online lectures, interactive lessons and collaborative exercises with fellow students, and conducting research. Because the role of the teacher is shifting, professional development and teacher training also needs to adapt. The report explains that these evolving expectations are changing the ways teachers engage in their own continuing professional development, much of which involves social media, collaboration with other educators both inside and outside their schools, and online tools and resources. Pre-service teacher training programs are also challenged to equip educators with digital competencies amid other professional requirements to ensure classroom readiness.

Difficult Challenges: Those That We Understand but for Which Solutions are Elusive

  • Advancing Digital Equity–As technology continues to spread in classrooms, the digital divide between students becomes more obvious. Pew Research reports that 5 million households in the U.S. with school-aged children do not have high-speed broadband service. As school work shifts from paper worksheets to online portals and research moves from encyclopedias to Google Scholar, students without access to the Internet at home run the risk of falling behind. However, both the government and private business are trying to shrink the divide, the report explains. President Obama’s ConnectALL and ConnectED initiatives promises high-speed broadband and technology access for all Americans, at home and at school. Additionally, with its Google Fiber, the tech giant is enabling greater access in low-income areas by providing connectivity to entire cities.
  • Scaling Teaching Innovations–In education, innovation will typically come from the classroom. However, that is at odds with the bureaucratic nature of most school districts where change must come from the top. Additionally, given the heavy emphasis on test results, teachers have little incentive to innovate with new technology and go off the lesson plan, in case the technology doesn’t improve test scores. The lack of incentives to innovate can have dire results. In addition to students not getting technology that could help them learn, the report explains that many educators become frustrated by the rigid confines of a school that is in desperate need of transformation. Scaling pedagogical innovation requires adequate funding, capable leadership, strong evaluation practices, and the removal of restrictive policies–a tall order for the majority of K-12 public schools, which are receiving fewer resources, the report acknowledges.

Wicked Challenges: Those That are Complex to Even Define, Much Less Address

  • Achievement Gap–New education technology can be scary for teachers and administrators. While innovation only happens when someone is willing to take a risk and try something new, the bureaucratic nature of most U.S. schools means change typically comes from the top. Additionally, with so much riding on test scores, teachers have little incentive to try something new that may not improve scores. Scaling pedagogical innovation requires adequate funding, capable leadership, strong evaluation practices, and the removal of restrictive policies. The reality, according to the report, is that many teachers are not prepared to lead innovative, effective practices, and there are many systemic factors that must be addressed to resolve this complex issue.
  • Personalizing Learning–With technology comes the ability to personalize lesson plans and education. Teachers can now use apps, games, and other technology to education students on their level. Previously, teachers were limited because there’s only one of them, but many students. Now, with different pieces of technology, the teacher can essentially be in 20 places at once, educating each student individually. However, there are barriers to adoption. One major barrier, the report explains, is a lack of infrastructure within school systems to support dissemination of personalized learning technologies at scale. Compounding the challenge, the report continues, is the notion that technology alone is not the whole solution; personalized learning efforts must incorporate effective pedagogy and include teachers in the development process.

The report also highlights key trends in education industry, as well as new technologies that will shake things up over the next five years.

Also from The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K-12 Edition:

Virtual Reality, Makerspaces, and Online Learning on the Horizon for Education

Redesigned Learning Spaces, Collaborative Learning on the Horizon for Education

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.