When winding down from the school year, I always take a bit of time to reflect on the events of the past year—but I also make certain to keep a steady gaze toward the future. When it comes to education, a great deal never changes. Teachers remain laser-focused and dedicated to their students’ success, while students are eager to learn (albeit they sometimes conceal their enthusiasm). Yet every year, I marvel at the pace of change within the technology ecosystem of K-12 education.
I was recently asked what I thought the future of technology in education was going to look like. It was a really interesting question, and one that I am obliged to think about at a fairly regular cadence. By its very nature, technology changes at a wanton pace, and making it accessible to students, teachers, and other stakeholders is a constant challenge.
What’s the Next Big Thing?
So, what is the future? Is it some device that hasn’t even been invented yet, or just a new variation of a tablet or smart gadget?
I, for one, don't think it is. For me, the future is not about one specific device. Don't get me wrong—I love devices in the classroom and really believe that they not only support teaching and learning, but they are proving to be highly effective.
Chromebooks, tablets, and other mobile technology have become the “now.” Although, they will play a part in the future, let’s not forget that not too long ago, the iPad didn't even exist! We don't know what will be the current technology in another few years—perhaps we will see more wearable devices that support AR/VR, although I suspect that laptops and tablets will still be used in education.
It’s All About the Cloud
For me, the future is all about access—anywhere learning and collaboration, both locally and globally. And learning and teaching is going to gravitate toward being social in nature. Schools of the future will have a traditional cohort of students in brick and mortar locations, though the physical design will likely be radically different, but I believe a great number will have online-only students who live across the district, state, country, or even the world. Things are already starting to move this way with the emergence of virtual high schools and online academies. To put it another way, for me the future of technology in education is the cloud.
Technology can often be a barrier to teaching and learning when one considers equity of access. I think the cloud will go a long way to removing this barrier. Why? By removing the number of things that can go amiss. Districts will only need one major thing to be prepared for the future. They will not need software installed, servers, or local file storage. Rather, they will need a fast, robust Internet connection, thereby making infrastructure paramount to the future of technology in education.
We don't know what the new “in” device will be in the future, but what we do know is that it will need the cloud—which means that schools will need to future-proof their infrastructure the best they can. One organization making this their mission is EducationSuperHighway. They are dedicated to removing the roadblocks to high-speed, high-capacity Internet for America's schools and paving the way for digital learning in every classroom.
Securing Fast, Reliable Access
Thankfully this is happening now, because if you're making your move to use mobile technology in your school—whether it’s a Chromebook, laptop, or bring your own technology/device (BYOT) program—your connectivity must be fast and reliable. If the network is slow and things are not working properly, students and teachers will revolt. More and more, districts understand that the infrastructure has to be there before the devices. And let’s not forget, we have to help those students who may not have access at home—but that’s a topic for another blog.
But I digress. Let’s go back to the conversation about the cloud and its significance to the future of EdTech. Teachers can use the cloud to set, collect, and grade work online. Students will have instant access to grades, comments, and work via a computer, smartphone, or tablet—many schools are already doing this. Plus, services such as the educational social network Edmodo offer this for free.
This is where devices come in. All devices—no matter which ones we will use in the future—will need to access the cloud. Most likely, each student will have their own. Either a device specified by the school, or one they have chosen to bring in themselves.
Let’s face it—school classrooms are changing. Thanks to the cloud and mobile devices, technology is being integrated into every part of today’s schools. So as I look to the future, here’s what I see: sports fields, gymnasiums, cafeterias, school theatres, and even field trips becoming places to learn with connectivity, with the cloud serving as the hub of education. So whether students are offsite or in the building, teachers, students, and support staff will collectively be teaching and learning.
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