4 areas dominating the education technology landscape

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Technology is already a huge part of our everyday lives. This year, that relationship became our saving grace.

We saw technology keep many workplaces afloat, and we saw it become the foundation of our social lives (thank you, streaming services).

But one area that really would’ve ground to a halt without technology is the classroom. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of four key education technology trends:

  • Hybrid learning
  • Immersive technologies
  • Esports
  • Cybersecurity in K-12

Let’s examine each of these areas and discuss the roles they’re playing in educational institutions, practices, and beyond.

Hybrid learning to the rescue

The pandemic forced schools across the country to work tirelessly to ensure everyone had equitable access and use of digital literacy training, the internet, and technology devices to cultivate a successful online learning environment.

Currently, 25% more school districts are opting into classroom management solutions and interactive displays, according to one session at the 2020 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. These tools promote active learning from anywhere – students follow along on their own devices, while teachers can annotate work and see what students are working on.

The hybrid classroom is also driving the adoption of peripherals like:

  • USB webcams mounted on tripods.
  • Portable microphones and headsets.
  • Interactive panels for remote and in-class instruction with capabilities like stylus writing, palm erasing, moving floating elements around the screen, and timers for students to work on assignments.
  • Lighting, including key lights and ring lights.
  • Collaboration apps – Teams, Google Meet, Zoom, Promethean suite, etc. – that can share different screen elements at once, including presentations, videos, chats, and more.

Some schools were better positioned than others to deal with the shift. But no matter where they stood, this model – or at least having the ability to implement this model – will be of utmost importance moving forward.

Fortunately for institutions that may not have the means to keep up with the Joneses, they can leverage E-rate funding for necessary upgrades. This can include network improvements to handle the influx of devices or firewalls to filter content students can access.

Immersive technologies become more prevalent in the classroom

Immersive experiences are not new to the classroom. But virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are transforming online learning during the pandemic.

VR and AR are making learning more interesting, while also helping to combat isolation. Students can’t currently go on field trips, but with these two technologies at their fingertips, students can still enjoy “real-world” experiences – whether it’s a virtual field trip to a museum or a tour of ancient ruins.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are also being used to solve education-related problems. Schools are leveraging AI to automate tasks that normally require human intelligence. Examples include:

  • Voice-activated devices (Alexa, Siri, Google Home) as teaching devices.
  • Smart thermostats to save money on energy in schools.
  • Sophisticated AI systems for math tutoring and essay scoring.

Identity-building chatbots are also gaining popularity to draw out students’ interests and help them better connect with assignments they might otherwise find boring. One example I heard at the ISTE conference involved a chatbot that discovered a student was interested in immunology. So, when they were assigned an essay on the Civil War, the chatbot pushed the student toward this angle.

In addition, AI and ML are being used to identify critical issues earlier. Some schools note how implementing AI early-warning systems can help identify students at risk of dropping out, and even flag sensitive and dangerous uses of district technology.

Esports is more than a gimmick

The misconceptions surrounding esports are slowly disappearing, and K-12 schools and universities are recognizing the merits of cultivating esports programs.

The benefits of esports in education are bountiful. They include higher graduation rates, increased attendance, improved math and reading scores, increased enrollment in higher education, and advancement in career-ready development such as communication, teamwork, and high-pressure problem-solving.

Educators have also found that esports help fuel equity and inclusion. There’s no segregation by gender, age, weight, etc. Of course, while some toxicity and hostility issues do remain, it’s believed that moving to formal deanonymized teams helps address these issues.

Growing cybersecurity concerns lead to opportunities

COVID-19 has changed the K-12 security landscape more than any other event in the last 20 years. The flood of remote teaching has led to more network redesigns, which can lead to more security leaks.

There are three areas that schools must continuously address when it comes to cybersecurity in K-12: traditional IT, digital citizenship, and cybersecurity workforce.

According to k12cybersecure.com, there have been 1,075 publicly reported attacks on K-12 schools since 2016. Pandemic or not, schools need to ensure their traditional IT is secure.

Now that students are glued to their screens more than ever, it’s imperative that schools make sure they’re only viewing appropriate material. This is where digital citizenship comes into play, and it relates to information literacy, online safety, and cyberbullying prevention.

All of these create opportunities within the cybersecurity workforce. most IT staffs were overwhelmed prior to the pandemic. now their roles have grown even more complex. Oftentimes, school districts may only have one IT person. This is a need they can no longer afford to ignore.

Education technology goes from luxury to necessity

Almost overnight, technology became the key to keeping classrooms up and running during the COVID-19 pandemic. And now that schools have seen this firsthand, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle.

But with the implementation of hybrid learning, the increased use of immersive technologies, and the growing acceptance of esports in schools, comes a heavy influx of new devices that need to be managed. And this leads to a growing need for cybersecurity workers to pick up the mantle.

Technology and education currently are currently linked more than ever before – and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The question is: What’s next?