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Six technologies that soon could be in your classrooms

The fourth annual K-12 Horizon report lists six technologies likely to appear in schools in the next five years.

Looking into educational technology’s crystal ball for the fourth time, the annual Horizon Report for K-12 education has listed six emerging technologies that schools are likely to adopt in the near future.

Some of the technologies, like mobile tech, might seem like no-brainers—but will students be immersed in augmented reality within five years ? According to the report, even the most future-proofed classrooms ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

The report, produced by the New Media Consortium (NMC), the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and the International Society for Technology in Education, uses a qualitative research process designed and conducted by NMC that engages an international body of experts in education, technology, and business around a set of research questions designed to expose major ed-tech trends and challenges and to identify emerging technologies with a strong likelihood of adoption in pre-college education.

“Educators, administrators, and practitioners across the world use the report as a springboard for discussion around emerging technology,” said Larry Johnson, CEO of NMC and founder of the Horizon Project. “As this is the tenth year of the NMC Horizon Project and the fourth year of the K-12 series, this report also offers an opportunity to think how some of these technologies have unfolded over time.”

He continued, “What we see is that there continues to be long-term channels along which educational technology is evolving. These have affected, are affecting now, and will continue to affect the practice of teaching and learning in profound ways for some time.”

In the next year

According to the report, mobile devices and apps, as well as tablet computing, are ripe for adoption now—largely because  schools are rethinking their standing policies on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs.

Educators have already realized the value of mobile devices and apps, such as the ability to graph complex mathematical equations, or storing and sharing notes and eBook annotations. Other potential uses for mobile devices and apps include their use as embedded sensors, cameras, and GPS technology.

Tablet computing allows for one-to-one learning with a touch interface and provides high-resolution screens, as well as the ability to share content, images, and video.

The report notes that many educators prefer tablet computing to mobile devices such as smart phones, because they are viewed as less disruptive and provide more feature-rich tools.

In two to three years

Game-based learning is on the mid-horizon, explains the report, because games are starting to become even easier to integrate into the curriculum, while also providing engaging content for students and allowing for collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

However, the report notes that “until a way is found to marshal resources more effectively in support of game-based learning, it will remain on the mid-term horizon.”

Another mid-horizon technology is personal learning environments (PLEs), which the report describes as any collection of resources and content that students have chosen to use in directing their own learning, at their own pace.

“The conceptual basis for PLEs has shifted significantly in the last year, as smart phones, tablets, and apps have begun to emerge as a compelling alternative to browser-based PLEs and ePortfolios,” says the report.

The only barriers to adoption, says the report, is that PLEs rely on a system of enabling technologies, such as cloud computing and mobile devices that make the PLE environment portable, networked, and personally relevant—components that schools might not have yet.

In four to five years

According to the report, augmented reality doesn’t just belong in Star Trek anymore, and “this intuitive doorway” to data can be easily attached to real-world objects, settings, and processes in a way that facilitates a deeper understanding of what is being seen.

Already, history and science museums use augmented reality to show visitors the science behind a phenomenon as it happens, or what a building looked like centuries ago as they view it through the camera on their smart phones or tablets.

However, the lack of school-based examples lands this technology on the far horizon.

Natural user interfaces is another technology on the far horizon, which make the technology we use “far simpler and easier to use than ever before,” says the report. Natural user interfaces react to touch, movement, voice, and even facial expressions.

Smart phones, gaming systems (such as Xbox Kinect and Nintendo Wii), and virtual assistants, such as Siri, use natural user interfaces. This technology, explains the report, can allow for collaborative work and is especially beneficial for the autistic, blind, and deaf.

The report states that the high level of interest and investment in both of these areas are clear indicators that they are worth following closely.

Of all the technologies mentioned in this year’s report, it’s interesting to note that three also were mentioned in the 2011 edition: mobile devices, which were on the same horizon last year, but now include apps; and game-based learning and PLEs, which have both moved up from the far horizon to the mid-horizon.

The report emphasized that it’s not just an interest in technology that influences the adoption horizon. Rather, key trends over the last year make these technologies candidates for adoption.

Key trends include (in order of importance):

  1. The inclusion of online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models in K-12 education;
  2. The changing role of the educator, owing to the abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the internet;
  3. The embrace of BYOD policies owing to shrinking school budgets and lower cost of personal technology;
  4. People’s expectation to be able to work, learn, and study anytime, anywhere;
  5. The growing importance of digital skills and the changing definition of the digital divide; and
  6. The emphasis in classrooms on real-world and project-based learning.

However, just because different technologies are poised for classroom adoption, the report notes that there are still numerous challenges facing their widespread adoption, and that local barriers are “many and significant.”

Major challenges include (in order of importance):

  1. The lack of digital media literacy curriculum in teacher education;
  2. The lack of many schools and educators to acknowledge, and incorporate, informal learning;
  3. Personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology practices;
  4. A resistance to any profound change in “the K-12 education system”;
  5. Life experience and real-world learning are still undervalued and are not occurring often enough; and
  6. Traditional learning metrics cannot currently measure learning that takes place outside of the wall of a classroom.

The full report, which is currently available to NMC and CoSN members, will not be available for nonmembers to download until June 14, when it is officially released at the NMC Conference at MIT.

In the full report, each section is introduced with an overview that describes what the topic is, followed by a discussion of the particular relevance of the technology to teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in K-12 education. Several concrete examples of how the technology is being used are given.

Each section also closes with an annotated list of suggested readings, and additional examples that expand on the discussion in the report.

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