The robots are coming: What’s next for education technology

Reaction to new technology can sometimes be a bit, well, over-the-top.

Did you catch Apple’s iPhone 7 and wireless headphone release? How could you not, right? The blogs and videos and commentaries are everywhere. Everywhere!

Schools are not immune to the fanboy (or girl) culture that follows some technologies.

But that enthusiasm needs to be tempered with a solid dose of reality.

Recently, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the New Media Consortium (NMC) released their annual report highlighting emerging trends in education technology. The report outlines both opportunities and challenges facing school technology users in the not-too-distant future.

The list is broken out on a timeline that projects when different emerging technologies will be widely adopted in K12 schools.

It’s a fascinating list—and one that gives some insight into what’s possible, provided the technology is integrated with the right goals in mind.

Here’s a few of the highlights.

Widespread adoption within one year

Makerspaces
The underlying philosophy of the maker movement is to offer physical, tactile environments as well as real and digital tools that encourage hands-on learning.

“School leaders are incorporating making into the curriculum to encourage students and teachers to bring to life ideas and explore design thinking approaches,” the report’s authors write. “Makerspaces are also increasing student exposure to STEM subjects and technical disciplines.”

Online learning
While schools have made progress in digital communication, many still do not offer online learning materials or lessons. That’s about to change, according to the report.

Students and parents are used to accessing everything in their lives online. Why should education be any different? In an increasingly competitive education environment, the schools that adapt to this trend stand a biggest chance of success. Those that don’t will likely fall even farther behind.

Widespread adoption in two to three years

Robotics
With the amount of robots worldwide doubling to 4 million by 2020 and transforming industries and economies, schools will have to adapt to this emerging technology. In some places, that work is already happening.

“Classes and outreach programs are incorporating robotics and programming to promote critical and computational thinking as well as problem-solving among students,” according to the report.

Virtual reality
As gamification makes its way into K12 classrooms, it’s only natural that educators will turn to emerging technologies, such as VR, to enhance student lessons.

These fully immersive experiences are intended to help students better understand and appreciate the subjects they learn in class.

When a trip to the pyramids isn’t feasible, the promise of virtual reality offers the possibility to experience the sights, sounds and wonder of Egypt and other exotic locales from school.

Widespread adoption in four to five years

Artificial intelligence
If robots are on their way, AI can’t be far behind.

“In the field of artificial intelligence (AI), computer science is being leveraged to create intelligent machines that more closely resemble humans in their functions,” according to the CoSN and NMC report.

Does that mean teachers will soon be replaced by cyborgs? Hardly. But AI will help teachers engage students in ways we might not yet understand.

Wearable technologies
Think of the FitBit. Then think smaller.

Devices integrated into clothing and other wearables will make interactions between students and learning technology seamless (pun intended).

But don’t get too excited
Before you get swept up in all the potential of these many fringe innovations, ground yourself with these questions:

Is this technology actually going to help my students learn, or do I just like it because it’s “cool”? Will this solution enhance my learning strategy, or is the technology itself my learning strategy?

A bit of advice: Don’t invest in a single innovation or idea until you talk to students and teachers and parents first.

What innovations most excite you on this year’s emerging technology list? Tell us in the comments.

Is your school or district poised to adopt a new technology or classroom innovation this year? Here’s a few ways to better engage your community to ensure the transition goes smoothly.

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