Six Lingering Obstacles to Using Technology in Schools

Flickr:Marygrove College Library

Though educators are finding smart ways to integrate technology and learning, the road has been and continues to be challenging on multiple fronts. The NMC Horizon Report: 2012 K-12 Edition, a collaboration between the New Media Consortium, the Consortium for School Networking, and the International Society for Technology in Education, takes the birds-eye view and encapsulates some of the significant challenges that must still be addressed and offers the following assessment.

Behind the challenges listed here is also a pervasive sense that local and organizational constraints are likely the most important factors in any decision to adopt — or not to adopt — a given technology. Even K-12 institutions that are eager to adopt new technologies may be constrained by school policies, the lack of necessary human resources, and the financial wherewithal to realize their ideas. Still others are located within buildings that simply were not designed to provide the radio frequency transparency that wireless technologies require, and thus find themselves shut out of many potential technology options. While acknowledging that local barriers to technology adoptions are many and significant, the advisory board focused its discussions on challenges that are common to the K-12 community as a whole. The highest ranked challenges they identified are listed here, in the order in which the advisory board ranked them.

1. Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession, especially teaching. This challenge appears at the top of the list because despite the widespread agreement on the importance of digital media literacy, training in the supporting skills and techniques is still very rare in teacher education. As classroom professionals begin to realize that they are limiting their students by not helping them to develop and use digital media literacy skills across the curriculum, the lack of formal training is being offset through professional development or informal learning, but we are far from seeing digital media literacy as a norm. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that digital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking, and thus skills and standards based on tools and platforms have proven to be somewhat ephemeral.

2. K-12 must address the increased blending of formal and informal learning. Traditional lectures and subsequent testing are still dominant learning vehicles in schools. In order for students to get a well- rounded education with real world experience, they must also engage in more informal in-class activities as well as learning to learn outside the classroom. Most schools are not encouraging students to do any of this, nor to experiment and take risks with their learning — but a new model, called the “flipped classroom,” is opening the door to new approaches. The flipped classroom uses the abundance of videos on the Internet to allow students to learn new concepts and material outside of school, thus preserving class time for discussions, collaborations with classmates, problem solving, and experimentation. The approach is not a panacea, and designing an effective blended learning model is key, but the growing success of the many non- traditional alternatives to schools that are using more informal approaches indicates that this trend is here to stay for some time.

3. The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices. The increasing demand for education that is customized to each student’s unique needs is driving the development of new technologies that provide more learner choice and control and allow for differentiated instruction, but there remains a gap between the vision and the tools needed to achieve it. It has become clear that one-size-fits-all teaching methods are neither effective nor acceptable for today’s diverse students. Technology can and should support individual choices about access to materials and expertise, amount and type of educational content, and methods of teaching.

4. Institutional barriers present formidable challenges to moving forward in a constructive way with emerging technologies. A key challenge is the fundamental structure of the K-12 education establishment — aka “the system.” As long as maintaining the basic elements of the existing system remains the focus of efforts to support education, there will be resistance to any profound change in practice. Learners have increasing opportunities to take their education into their own hands, and options like informal education, online education, and home-based learning are attracting students away from traditional educational settings. If the system is to remain relevant it must adapt, but major change comes hard in education. Too often it is education’s own processes and practices that limit broader uptake of new technologies.

5. Learning that incorporates real life experiences is not occurring enough and is undervalued when it does take place. This challenge is an important one in K-12 schools, because it can greatly impact the engagement of students who are seeking some connection between the world as they know it exists outside of school, and their experiences in school that are meant to prepare them for that world. Use of project-based learning practices that incorporate real- life experiences, technology and tools that are already familiar to students, and mentoring from community members are examples of practices that can bring the real world into the classroom. Practices like these may help retain students in school and prepare them for further education, careers, and citizenship in a way that traditional practices are failing to do.

6. Many activities related to learning and education take place outside the walls of the classroom and thus are not part of traditional learning metrics. Students can take advantage of learning material online, through games and programs they may have on systems at home, and through their extensive — and constantly available — social networks. The experiences that happen in and around these venues are difficult to tie back to the classroom, as they tend to happen serendipitously and in response to an immediate need for knowledge, rather than being related to topics currently being studied in school.These trends and challenges are a reflection of the impact of technology that is occurring in almost every aspect of our lives. They are indicative of the changing nature of the way we communicate, access information, connect with peers and colleagues, learn, and even socialize.

Taken together, they provided the advisory board a frame through which to consider the potential impacts of nearly 50 emerging technologies and related practices that were analyzed and discussed for possible inclusion in this edition of the NMC Horizon Report series. Six of those were chosen through successive rounds of ranking and have been identified as “Technologies to Watch.” They each have been placed on one of three possible adoption horizon that span the coming five years, and are detailed in the main body of the report, which follows.

Gathering data from research, as well as the expertise of an advisory board, the report also includes noted trends in emerging technologies and challenges and examines each criteria in detail.

The report can be read in full by registering here, and can be accessed on mobile devices here.

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