The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report 2016 K-12 Edition reads like a state of the union for educational technology outlining key trends, significant challenges, and important developments in the field. Its evaluation of trends and developments as short-term (1 yr or less), mid-term (2-3 years), and long-term (4-5 years) are reasonably assessed. So too is categorizing challenges as solvable, difficult, and “wicked”. Much good information is included here. Organizing each trend into bite-sized pieces with a sort of preamble; Overview; Implications For Policy, Leadership or Practice; and then substantial For Further Reading offerings to further explore each subject.
An element of professional practice that I’ve been wrestling with over the course of this year has to do with professional development for k-12 teachers. There is much to get excited about in this report and some trends are already underway. However, at the risk of injecting a cynical note into the discussion, I’m not sure how many of these trends will become embedded in American practice until we address professional learning. Through 47 pages of the NMC/CoSN report, professional development is mentioned 11 times. In fact, “Rethinking the Roles of Teachers” is a significant challenge addressed in the report as a “solvable challenge”, even if it is buried midway into the report and is the second of only two challenges the authors consider solvable.
I would argue that no trend mentioned in this report can be implemented without significant professional learning for teachers and administrators alike. The dismal quality of much American k-12 PD, little budgetary support, and teacher attitudes towards it will all have significant impact on whether and which trends come to live in any given school or district. As such, professional learning and “Rethinking the Roles of Teachers” is the lens through which I will read this report.
Of the trends outlined in the report, those I think will gain traction in the next five years include collaborative learning, students as creators, rethinking the roles of teachers, personalizing learning, and online learning. They are likely have the best chance of taking hold in American education if for no other reason than they fit within the current paradigm and do not require technology necessarily to provide powerful learning experiences. Collaborative learning, project- and problem-based learning, and personalized learning are already a part of teacher vocabulary. Online learning is gaining traction via flipped classrooms and blended learning. With this foot in the door, technology can be incorporated in ways that modify and redesign extant units and lessons. With some shifts to what they offer, professional learning providers deliver can accomplish such modification and redefinition of existing lessons and in the process realign teachers away from teacher-centered instruction and towards new roles as guides and facilitators. PD providers need to present learning such that teachers receive “hands-on experiences … to help integrate technology in the classroom [and] create agile environments that support the development of professional learning networks where educators can seek guidance and inspiration from peers and around the globe as they rethink their pedagogies and curricula” (p. 24). Through their own hands-on experiences, teachers learn as we want their students to learn in the digital age. With such experiences, teachers are more likely to transfer their experiences to their students. Back in their classrooms, then, teachers facilitate experiences that extend students’ collaborative learning out through digital networks, empower them as creators of content and not must consumers, teach them to recognize and pursue their own interests and learning goals, and do more and more of all these activities online.
Impact on Educators
I predict that online learning will become a path to personalized learning not just for students, but for teachers too. I predict that over the next few years, teachers will figure out they can completely personalize PD, learn anytime/anywhere, at their own pace, and not have to contend with one-size-fits-all PD. I am especially excited about the prospects for digital badging. As it becomes increasingly popular, more and more educators will be able to extend their personalized, online learning even farther as they accumulate only the skills and content knowledge needed for their own specific professional learning needs. In fact, some states are already experimenting with digital badges as a way for teachers to maintain their credentials along side CPDU’s and potentially even in place of them. When these trends take off, online learning for both teacher learning and student learning will become de rigueur.
Good for Schools
All these changes will be good for schools, yes. But mostly, they will be a boon for students and learning. Young people are so disconnected from their school experiences right now. Many teachers teach for compliance and completion because such work is easy to grade and translates into easy measurables like GPA’s and graduation rates. But completion and good grades do not equal learning. And compliance and completion methods are mostly divorced from the kinds of social learning young people are used to doing with and without their networked devices when they are not in school. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to getting more technology-based methods in the classroom is getting teachers to see themselves as facilitators and not experts. The image of themselves as experts keeps many teachers from trying things they don’t think they know well enough to teach. This is especially so with technology given how vast a landscape it is and how constantly and rapidly it changes. Prior to the digital age, it was a little easier to operate with the expert mindset. But the internet age has given us access to the sum of human knowledge and there is no way anyone can know all of it. The mobile age has given us a multiplicity of ways to access that knowledge and ways that are persistent. There is no way to be expert in all affordances either. In a blog post for a previous class I wrote about this very subject.
“As Bryan Alexander said in the Teaching and Higher Ed podcast, ‘There’s a lot of churn. But …overall we were right. We hit on the web as a major feature of literacy and learning. And that’s a good thing. We didn’t identify a horrible monster. We identified a really powerful platform for human expression and connection, with flaws, with problems. But that’s a major stride forward for the human race…. Teachers are hired to be experts and we can’t be expert in everything online. Therefore they have an extra layer of anxiety to participate in the social world of the web and they’re not the expert. They’re average users. And that is very hard and threatening. That’s why teachers have had a hard time using the web for teaching and learning.’ Yet we have to push through that anxiety and not only take our place in the digital world, but also guide the younger generations to their own critical and constructively participatory place in it as well. And as we do, let’s keep in mind ‘There’s too much to master. No one can master it all.’ So ‘grab one particular corner of it [like Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, etc.] and get comfy with it.’”
Once we can get to this point as a profession — where teachers shed their self-perceptions as experts and dive deep into their “one particular corner” of the internet or social media to feel “comfy” with it — then many more of these trends stand a chance of sticking. Then school will again be a place of interest and joy for our students and not a drill and kill testing mill.
Another significant shift needs to occur around what kind of PD is prioritized. For any of these trends to become a meaningful part of teaching and learning, teachers need to seek more learning about how to incorporate the broad concepts each of these trends represents and how technology plays a role in each. They need far less PD that is merely training for specific apps. Indeed, teachers already in the classroom will need quite a bit of focused, long-term learning so they can become “guides and mentors, modeling responsible global citizenship and motivating students to adopt lifelong learning habits by providing opportunities for students to direct their own learning trajectories” (p. 24). If administrators and teachers prioritize professional learning to focus on a limited set of student-centered outcomes that map to and differentiate for teacher learning needs, then these trends have a chance of taking root. The extent to which schools sustain limited PD over time and partner with PD providers who deliver quality learning experiences will also impact success. But where professional learning is piecemeal, random, low-quality, one-off, and conference-based, I don’t see any of the trends in the report taking root in any consistent way that is beneficial for all learners.
PD Issues in Ed Tech Video