Google, gaming, and going mobile: Today’s 5 tech trends

Trends point to a handful of major ed-tech focus areas that grab educators’ attention

ed-techA few years ago the education world found itself entranced by the iPad, a powerful tablet that promised to revolutionize one-to-one programs and revitalize teacher engagement with technology in the wake of sweeping mobile device adoptions. For years, the iPad seemed to dominate educators’ discussions. Now, that storm seems to have passed, as educators and ed-tech enthusiasts are broadening their horizons and looking to the future.

Last week, a group of educators from California and across the U.S. converged on a Napa Valley high school for the Fall CUE 2014 Conference, centered around a theme of next-generation learning.

Here are 5 takeaways from the sessions, tweets, and conversations that came up time and again during the conference, and which offer a revealing glimpse into the types of technology and interventions educators are turning to now.

(Next page: The five ed-tech conversations dominating educators’ conversations)

1. Google is everywhere. Glancing at the conference schedule, observers might be forgiven for wondering whether Google is now the new Apple. Although that claim may be tenuous at best, given that Google, in one way or another, has always been a classroom mainstay, there were an uncanny number of sessions devoted to Chromebooks, Google Classroom, Apps for Education, and deep dives into niche tools (think Google Drawing or the social studies godsend, Google Tours). More than a few hours were devoted to picking apart every facet of Google Apps for every conceivable classroom environment. Simply put, a solid integration framework across a range of platforms seems to be pushing Google into more classrooms and onto more educators’ lips than ever before.

2. But the iPad isn’t going anywhere. Given that, at last count, schools have invested more than $400 million getting iPads into student hands, it would be rash to expect them to drop of the radar so precipitously. Now that the initial gold rush has died down, educators are looking at more intentional uses. Some speakers hailed from districts with renowned iPad success stories and were eager to share their stories; others promoted sessions that went “beyond giving you a shopping list” for apps. These days, educators appear likely to embrace the iPad’s strengths, accept its weaknesses, and engage in thoughtful discussions on finances and the merits of sharing devices.

3. Games have arrived—-in a big way. Gaming and gamification have bubbled just under the ed-tech surface for years, even cropping up on the New Media Consortium’s trendsetting Horizon Report from time to time. The snowball growth of Minecraft in the classroom, however, may finally be helping to tip the scales. While Minecraft was on many educators’ minds at the conference, attendees also listened raptly to a teacher speaking in a large auditorium who described infusing her middle-school classroom with “XP” and level-ups—-terms closely associated with role playing games. Indeed, GameDesk’s Lucien Vattel, a conference keynote speaker, built his talk around the benefits of experiential learning, the brain science behind fun and lasting memories, and gaming’s facility for teaching difficult concepts to students while removing what he called the “fear of failure.”

4. Reaching students outside class. Curricular shifts—-such as the Common Core and a greater emphasis on STEM skills—-have made learn-by-doing technology a relatively easy sell for educators, and much was made of novel ways to reach students through after-school clubs and passion projects. Trendy tech and buzzworthy terms-—think maker spaces and 3D printing—-certainly commanded their share of airtime, but educators also discussed coding clubs, robotics competitions, and ways to engage girls in STEM subjects. Adapting famous concepts from tech behemoths was also a hit, and educators learned how to apply Google’s 20 percent time idea in the classroom, and training students to staff school Genius Bars, as a way to teach students valuable skills and relieve beleaguered IT departments.

5. The focus is still on students. At a time when so much technology and potential for learning is at students’ fingertips, speakers and attendees kept consistently focused on how technology can best benefit students. Keynoter and educator Diana Laufenberg pushed her audience to think creatively and critically about their strengths as educators and how they can use those strengths to best reach students through inquiry-driven, project-based classrooms. Elsewhere, educators discussed how best to engage students in learning in ways that were both authentic and relevant to students, and which taught them how to apply the skills they were learning to real-world situations. That last point was an idea later echoed by Laufenberg in her closing keynote. “It’s not what you know,” she told attendees, “but what you can do with what you know.”

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