It’s been a banner year for the marriage of K–12 education and technology.
The majority of schools report they meet federal requirements for internet access, investment in data-fueled adaptive learning tools has skyrocketed and more teachers than ever believe that classroom technology is key to preparing students for the future.
In 2017, leaders also sought to tackle digital equity issues, as well as boost the professional development and training needed for educators to innovate with classroom technology and create personalized learning experiences.
These were the trends that shaped the year.
1. K–12 Leaders Continue to Further Connectivity
Without internet access, much of today’s schooling would be virtually without innovation. All of the tech trends that permeated school districts this year did so because those districts had strong network infrastructures in place.
But networking still remains a trending topic that schools will have at top of mind for years to come.
In terms of equal access across schools, EducationSuperHighway data revealed this year that more schools than ever are meeting the Federal Communication Commission’s standards for minimum internet connectivity. Last year, 88 percent of school districts reported they met the standard, up from just 30 percent three years before.
Much of this increase in connectivity has been because of extensive E-rate funding. A survey of E-rate applicants conducted by consulting firm Funds for Learning found that 79 percent of schools and libraries participating in the program credit their faster connections to the funding.
But, even if 100 percent connectivity is met, experts say that networking will continue to be a moving target for schools.
“Five years ago, the discussions were more about getting the connections in place. Now, it’s about capacity,” said John Harrington, CEO of Funds for Learning.
Digital equity outside of schools has also emerged as an issue that school leaders will need to tackle if they want their innovative learning initiatives to succeed.
This year, companies such as Google and Sprint have stepped up to help students in the 5 million households without internet access. Google Fiber plans to test cheap, wireless high-speed internet in about 24 metropolitan areas, while Sprint’s 1Million Project pledged to connect 200,000 high school students each year for five years.
“Education is the foundation for our society to prosper, and the internet is an incredibly powerful tool for learning,” said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure in a statement.
Experts such as CoSN’s Keith Krueger indicated that school leaders will need to continue to foster partnerships with businesses and local government to make sure students can access digital tools outside the walls of their schools.
2. Support for Personalized Learning Initiatives Grows
With surveys finding that about half of schools have rolled out one-to-one device programs, personalized learning has emerged as an attainable goal for schools. When Cicero Public School District 99 rolled out Chromebooks to their 12,075 students, teachers noted that students were then able to take charge of their own learning and boost their outcomes at their own pace.
This year, the popularity of adaptive learning tools, which use data to help students with their personalized path, also grew, with Noodle Markets reporting that school districts are tripling their spending on such tools.
However, despite the surge in interest to create personalized learning opportunities, a study found that many teachers struggled with implementing such initiatives because of a lack of time or support from district leaders.
Some innovative state leaders have already set out to provide a supportive environment to foster personalized learning gains. For example, the entire state of Rhode Island is seeking to spark innovation from educators to help define a successful personalized learning classroom.
“You say personalized learning and 30 people in the room have eight different definitions of what that means,” said Richard Culatta, the former director of the state’s Office of Innovation and current CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education.
By using the state as a lab, Culatta said he has high hopes that the leaders can create a definitive answer to how schools can use technology to empower students and support teachers.
3. Shifting Professional Development Offerings to Improve ROI
A lack of teacher training and professional development emerged in many tech surveys from 2017. Education Week’s annual Technology Counts survey even found a digital divide between high- and low-income teachers in terms of technology training.
While the need for professional development is huge, school districts often cannot be sure that they are making the proper investment of time and money. To ensure this return on investment, some school districts are sending their educators to get industry certifications.
Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools recently made sure that all 138 of its educators were Google Certified to make the most of its one-to-one deployment of HP Chromebooks and G Suite for Education.
“We looked at the skills we wanted our teachers to have, and the certifications were how we made sure they got them,” said Mike Daugherty, the director of technology and information systems in the district.
In addition to Google, companies such as Microsoft, Adobe and Autodesk also have certification programs, so schools can be positive the investment they are making matches up with the technology in the classroom.