My current work focuses on how to develop an education system that prepares us all for a future we can’t predict. Nonetheless, rounding-up the year-end reviews from many of the education/news outlets I follow (see the links below) always inspires some reckless speculation. This year, as last year, issues related to educational technology and personalization/customization in the US, immediately came to mind:
Virtual reality will be the whiteboards of the 2020’s — Almost everywhere I travel I find whiteboards in classrooms, and almost everywhere I travel I find teachers (including me) who don’t use them. These “hardware” innovations manage to scale because they make schools look like they are doing some “new”, but can be plugged-into conventional structures and practices without really challenging the status quo. Furthermore, new hardware can be difficult to maintain, the basic technology changes so fast that it can be difficult for schools and educators to keep up, and, ultimately, effectiveness depends on the expertise of individual teachers. As long as educators have to rely on evolving hardware to take advantage of virtual reality, there will be some amazing and powerful uses, but it will remain limited in wide-scale effectiveness. (As a corollary, I also predict that whenever I see another innovation that is not working out as intended, I will soon find out that Larry Cuban has already pointed this out in a succinct and enlightening way)
AI will do for education in the 21st Century what standardized tests have done in the 20th – Artificial intelligence is already flowing into many classrooms in “smart” assessments, “intelligent” tutoring systems, online services and the phones and social media accounts of teachers and students, and the costs and benefits need to be carefully considered. These carriers may increase efficiency, particularly on routine and standardized tasks, by providing individualized feedback and guidance. On the positive side, these developments can create opportunities for students and educators to spend more time on activities involving deeper learning, social emotional development and other worthwhile pursuits; and just as standardized tests had some benefits – by making inequities in educational opportunities and outcomes visible for example – AI could help historically underserved students get access to more effective feedback and customized support. At the same time, the most sophisticated uses of AI to support “deeper learning” and support more complex tasks will likely remain out of reach for many schools and educators for some time. As a result, using AI in education may well reinforce the same narrow set of academic skills and abilities – and may reflect the same biases and systemic racism – as standardized and high-stakes tests.
Personalization in classrooms will be as successful as project-based learning – This year, the blowback and concerns about personalization seemed to get as much attention as the efforts to promote it. Given the ease of saying education is personalized and the difficulties of actually carrying out any kind of individualized instruction in conventional classrooms, personalization may well remain a niche reform. It will continue to have adherents, particularly among those who seek an alternative to traditional schooling, but many will continue to be skeptical and to resist large-scale efforts to adopt it without considerable community input and support.
Customization of educational pathways will be the new frontier for “choice.” Even as it remains difficult to individualize instruction in classrooms, the rapidly multiplying opportunities to support learning outside of traditional education institutions will create opportunities for individuals to get “just-in-time” learning when they want and need it. Employers, new providers as well as traditional schools, colleges, and universities are already creating badges, micro-credentials, new degree programs, and other targeted learning opportunities. As a result, students will have more and more opportunities to choose providers (online and off) to help them develop abilities and expertise that support their academic, personal, and professional development. In the process, institutions focused on preparation may face more competition from organizations and individuals that offer professional development and ongoing support. Again, although students from different backgrounds may find new educational opportunities that better meet their needs and interests, there is no reason – yet – to think that the resources and support needed to find those opportunities will be equitably distributed.
These reflections rely primarily on wild extrapolation, mixed with a small dose of my own experiences with the challenges of making rapid and wide-scale changes in schooling. However, I have more confidence in saying that changes in work and the workforce and related uses of time are more likely to change schools than any particular reform effort, policy change, new technology or other “innovation.” As long as parents have to continue to rely on schools to house their children from 8 AM to 3 PM or so – in buildings that separate them from the surrounding community; in isolated classrooms with one adult and a relatively small group of peers; with limited funds and resources – there is no reason to expect that schools will look substantially different from the teacher-centered, age-graded, academically oriented, standardized test based form that has developed over the past century all over the world.
Under these circumstances, what will change? The most significant changes may come in the experiences, perceptions, and treatment of childhood. The rise of industrialization came along with decreases in child labor (though by no means it’s elimination). Those developments also created space and time for a different kind of childhood for some. Today, the advent of new technologies and social media can make childhood more public in ways that may lead children to become “young adults” much more quickly. With personas and histories that are widely visible through social media, serious debates about the abuses and uses of children’s work, images, and perceptions by their parents and others have already begun. I’ve experienced this in my own work as I’ve struggled with how and when to draw on and represent my children’s experiences in schools in Norway and Finland as well as on my social media accounts. But the publication of everyday life affects us all, as we find our actions and identities subject to much wider interpretation and critique. But at the same time that the pervasiveness of social media opens children up to inspection, monitoring, and new forms of profiteering, it can also create opportunities for transparency, making visible young people’s experiences in ways that reveal – and address – inequality and injustice. What’s more, the changing times also afford opportunities for young people to become artists, entrepreneurs, and activists who can have a much wider impact on the world around us than they ever have before.
— Thomas Hatch
An (unsystematic) scan of 2018 year-end reviews education stories, issues, and predictions for 2019
Education in 2018 seems to have been distilled into a series of sub-topics as sources like Education Week, the74, and EdSurge all offered multiple reviews in areas like Higher Education, Politics, EdTech, EdBusiness and others.