Where education technology will — and won’t — take us by 2024

Third-grader Jojuane White, 8, listens along as he learns to code while Microsoft attorney Staci Pies, left, speaks to him on an iPad with Ron Madison, instructional technology support staff member, during Microsoft's
Third-grader Jojuane White, 8, listens along as he learns to code  Microsoft’s “Hour of Code” on Dec. 10, 2013 at Brownell/Homes Elementary School in Flint, Mich. (AP Photo/The Flint Journal-MLive.com, Jake May)

What’s the future of education technology? Venturing an educated guess is Larry Cuban, a high school social studies teacher for 14 years and a district superintendent (seven years in Arlington, VA), is professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, where he has taught for more than 20 years. His latest book is “Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change without Reform in American Education.” This post appeared on his blog about school reform and classroom practice.

 

By Larry Cuban

For the past four years, I have offered predictions of what I see around the corner for high-tech in K-12 schools (see posts from Dec 26, 2009; Dec. 30, 2010; Dec., 29, 2011; Dec. 27, 2012).

But not higher education. So I venture one now.

Last year, was the year of the MOOC. Hysterical predictions of the end of higher education and the transformation of teaching soared through cyberspace and media (see here and here). And then just a few weeks ago, Sebastian Thrun, one of the “godfathers” of   MOOCs who sang the siren song of a revolutionized higher education, warbled goodbye to MOOCs. But MOOCs continue to thrive although the rhetoric has been dialed back (For an overview of the past year for MOOCs in a distinctly skeptical voice, see here).

For those who see MOOCs as a fine example of the Hype Cycle (as I do), I would put MOOCs in the “Trough of Disillusionment” in 2013. Over the next decade, however, I do believe, as others suggest, that there will be a slow crawl–see here–up the Slope of Enlightenment as community colleges and state universities, but not elite institutions, figure out how to incorporate MOOCs into revenue-producing degree programs (there are less than a handful now for the bachelors and masters degrees). No MOOCS, however, for K-12 public schools.

For public schools in 2013, reports of Los Angeles Unified School District largest (and most expensive) adoption of  iPads in the  United States overshadowed monthly announcements of  districts buying tablets for kindergartners. Vendors continued to tout interactive whiteboards, clickers, and devices  engaging children and increasing academic achievement. Policymakers mandated online courses for high school graduation. Blended learning, including “flipped” classrooms, spread across the country. Moreover, teacher bloggers told anyone who would read their posts how they integrated the use of new devices into daily lessons, including ways to accommodate English and math Common Core standards.

Where once limited teacher access to new technologies  doomed innovative electronic devices (recall film projectors, radios, instructional TV, computer labs in the 20th century), in 2013 policymakers have been largely victorious in getting laptops, tablets, and hand-held devices into the hands of most teachers and students.

With all of the above occurring, one would think that by 2024, age-graded schools and the familiar teaching and learning that occurs today in K-12 and universities  would have exited the rear door.

I do not think so. Getting access to powerful electronic devices for all students and teachers is surely a victory for those who believe in better technologies solving teaching and learning problems. But access does not guarantee use, especially the kind of use that vendors and ardent technophiles seek.

For nearly three decades, I have written about teacher and student access to, and instructional use of, computers in schools. In those articles and books, I have been skeptical of vendors’ and promoters’ claims about how these ever-changing electronic devices will transform age-graded schools and conventional teaching and learning. Even in the face of accumulated evidence that hardware and software, in of themselves, have not increased academic achievement, even in the face of self-evident truism that it is the teacher who is the key player in learning not the silicon chip, enthusiasts and vendors continue to click castanets for tablets, laptops, and other classroom devices as ways of getting test scores to go higher (see The_Impact_of_Digital_Technologies_on_Learning_FULL_REPORT_(2012) and here).

Amid that skepticism, however, I have often noted that many teachers adopted the latest information and communication devices and software not only for home use but also to become more efficient in planning lessons, using the Internet, grading students, communicating with parents and other educators, and dozens of other classroom and non-classroom tasks. Nor have my criticisms of policymakers’ decisions to purchase extensive hardware (far too often without teacher advice) prevented me from identifying (and celebrating) teachers leading classes in computer graphics, animation, and computer science as well as classroom teachers who have imaginatively and creatively integrated new devices and social media seamlessly into their daily lessons to advance student learning.

My allergy, however, to rose-colored scenarios of a future rich with technology remains.  I can only imagine how painful it must be for those hard-core advocates of more-technology-the-better who predicted the end of schooling years ago to see that public schools are still around.

So what might 2024 look like?

In the past four years, I have predicted that textbooks will be digitized, online learning will spread, and the onset of computer testing will create more access of devices across schools and accelerate classroom usage. These will fan out incrementally over the next decade and will be salient but hardly dominant in K-12 age-graded schools.

While the textbook market in higher education has shifted a great deal to e-books and less expensive ways of getting content into students’ devices, the K-12 market remains a proprietary domain of a handful of publishers (e.g. Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill Education) in part due to the mechanics of  certain states (e.g.Florida, California, and Texas) dominating which texts get chosen. But changes continue. Vail (AZ) gave up textbooks; California permits districts to buy digital texts with state money; Florida will do so in 2015. Start-up companies are making digital texts available for under $20 as opposed to $80-100 prices. Changes in K-12 texts will occur in bits and pieces as publishers adapt to the impact of the web.

K-12 online learning will also spread slowly, very slowly, as blended learning and “flipped” classrooms gain traction, especially in low-income, largely minority districts. Both of these innovative twists on traditional classroom teaching, however, will reinforce the age-graded school, not destroy it.

What will shove forward greater use of online learning, however, is the implementation of adaptive testing through Common Core standards as two state consortia bring to the table their new online tests.

None of these incremental changes herald the disappearance of K-12 age-graded public schools or the dominant patterns of teacher-centered instruction. What these gradual changes will translate into is an array of options for teaching and learning available to both teachers and students.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · December 21, 2013