Sending children off 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 that their child’s school is up to speed, but it’s difficult to be certain, especially when the education your children are getting is so different from the one you remember.
Fortunately, parents now have a crib sheet from the International Society of Technology in Education. Their recently released Horizon Report identifies six technology trends that are reshaping education both today and tomorrow. 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 has a dreamy name that makes it sound mysterious. The term actually refers to software you can access even if it’s not stored on the device you are using. If you use Facebook, Google
Docs, or Flickr, you’ve done cloud computing. Schools are realizing that instead of purchasing expensive software that quickly goes out of date, they can give students better access to a wide variety of up-to-the-minute tools by pointing them toward the cloud. Kerpoof.com, for example, introduces young learners to powerful creativity apps that allow them to tell stories, draw pictures, and produce videos that can easily be shared with classmates. At Ilabcentral.org, students can do virtual science experiments using equipment that might be unavailable at their schools.
Mobiles are devices that allow computing on the go. Laptops and smartphones qualify, but many educators are especially excited about tablet PCs, and Apple iPads. These devices give students and teachers flexibility in when and how they use technology. Some high schools now present incoming freshmen with a tablet that will store every book the student uses as well as classroom presentations and assignments. Mobiles can also be used in laboratories, on field trips, or in performance spaces.
If you want to turn your own mobile device into an educational tool for your child, check out the reviews of educational apps at the International Educational Apps Review (iear.org).
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 are stepping it up with games that simulate complex environments ranging from cells (Immune Attack) to disaster relief (Evoke). Although some teachers aren’t comfortable with the open-ended nature of games, many find that a well-chosen game engages and motivates young learners in ways other instructional methods can’t match. As most parents already know, kids can become deeply immersed in games and, as a result, they master content, sharpen problem-solving skills, and, in many cases, develop collaborative strategies that mirror the skills they will need in the workplace.
Open content got going a decade ago when MIT put all of its courses online. Now K-12 educators are beginning to see advantages in sharing classroom materials at sites like Thinkfinity.com, a site that includes thousands of free lesson plans, or CK-12, a site that lets teachers customize textbooks by picking and choosing science materials they think will be most effective with their students. Students too have access to open content at websites like neoK12.com. Among other things, Open Content makes learning available regardless of a student’s location so it is ideal for students who are home-schooled or unable to attend school because of travel or illness. It also helps students master a new set of 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 will learn.
Next Three to Five Years
Learning analytics provides teachers with more precise information about what and how children are learning. 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. As a result, each student receives math instruction that matches his or her learning style and focuses on what he or she needs to know next. Instead of being swept along into a confusing lesson about how to add mixed numbers, the child who needs extra time to master fractions gets it. Although it has critics who worry that data mining can be misused, Learning Analytics also has passionate supporters who believe it can be used to help both teachers and students improve performance.
Personal learning environments (PLEs) grow out of the fact that every student learns differently. One child absorbs new ideas by listening. Another instantly grasps anything that is presented in a chart or graph. A third does best with a captioned video. PLEs encourage students to think about and engage with learning materials that work best for them. The role of teacher changes dramatically because educators function as guides who point to the materials they need. A glimpse into how this works is available in a YouTube video made by a seventh-grade student who uses Symbaloo to organize her learning (go.nmc.org/oltyt).
Obviously, schools and individual teachers vary enormously in their willingness and ability to adopt these 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 seem more knowledgeable at the next parent-teacher conference. To learn more about what’s on the horizon, visit ISTE at iste.org
— Carolyn Jabs, M.A., has written about families and the Internet for over 15 years. She is the mother of three computer-savvy kids. Visit her @ growing-up-online.com.