For the past three years, I offered predictions (see December 26, 2009, December 30, 2010, and December 29, 2011 posts) of what I saw around the corner for high-tech in K-12 schools. With weekly reports of schools adopting iPads tablets for kindergartners as well as high schoolers, with vendors touting interactive whiteboards, clickers, and tablets engaging children and increasing academic achievement, with policymakers mandating online courses for high school graduation, with the spread of blended learning in mostly low-income and minority schools, and with more and more teachers blogging about how they integrate the use of new devices into daily lessons, including English and math Common Core standards–with all of that one would think that by 2023, age-graded schools and the familiar teaching and learning that occurs in schools today would be, well, passe’. I do not think so.
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.
Amid that skepticism, however, I have noted often 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.
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 2023 look like?
Predictions about future use of computers are often made by projecting existing trends into the next decade. This tactic embraces a conservative view of the future since it is rooted in the here-and-now. And that is what I do.
Others have predicted the disappearance of schools and classrooms–a highly unlikely outcome. Such scenarios leapfrog the present and stretch unreasonably the potential of new technologies, thereby painting utopian (or dystopian) pictures. So given my allergy to rosy (or grim) scenarios, I will stick with current trends–the evidence at hand–acknowledging that they, too, may end up in a pile of debris should major unplanned events occur.
Clear trend lines for U.S. classrooms in the next decade are the continued growth of digital textbooks downloaded on hand-held devices and tablets (smartphones, iPads, eBook variations), spread of computer adaptive testing, and expanded online learning (also see: goingthedistance). But not the slow dissolution or “disruption” of public schools.
Small and powerful devices in the hands of students will permit digitizing of texts. Student backpacks will lighten considerably as $100 hardbound books become as obsolete as the rotary dial phone. Homework, text reviews for tests, and all of the teacher-assigned tasks associated with hardbound books will be formatted for small screens. Instead of students’ excuses about leaving texts in lockers, teachers will hear requests to recharge their devices. I noted last year that Korea has already committed itself to digitize all texts by 2015 even though there have been subsequent hiccups in the plan.
COMPUTER ADAPTIVE TESTING
Used a great deal in the private sector for employment and other purposes, over the past few decades, computerized testing has now entered many public schools. In Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), for example, students sit in front of computer screens and take tests that are tailored to their ability. When a student answers an item (usually multiple-choice) correctly, then the student is given a harder item to answer. If the student gives a wrong answer, then the screen shows an easier question. This goes on until the computer bank runs out of items to administer students or the computer has sufficient information to give the student a score. Whichever happens first, then the test is over. Highly touted by promoters and vendors–see McGraw-Hill YouTube segment for an example of hype–CAT is part of the package that new national tests accompanying Common Core standards will include by 2014. So within a decade, as more and more tablets and hand-held devices become ubiquitous, both national and state testing via computers will become commonplace.
Advocates boost this form of teaching and learning as a powerful innovation liberating learning from the confines of brick-and-mortar buildings. Estimates (and predictions) of online learning becoming the dominant form of teaching turn up repeatedly yet somehow, fade. Surely, there will always be students and adults drawn from rural, home schooled, and adult populations that will provide a steady stream of clients for online courses. And even more evident is that many schools, particularly those catering to low-income students, will have blended programs of classrooms with teachers and computer labs with aides where online instruction is tailored to individual students. But do not expect much blended learning in middle and upper-middle class districts.
Even with this expansion, by 2023, well over 90 percent of public school students will be in places called schools where teachers teach at least 180 days a year in self-contained classrooms.
The error that online champions make decade after decade (recall that distance learning goes back to the 1960s) is that they forget that schools have multiple responsibilities beyond literacy. Both parents and voters want schools to socialize students into community values, prepare them for civic responsibilities, and yes, get them ready for college and career. Online courses from for-profit companies and non-profit agencies, while creating imaginative short-cuts to achieve these ends online, overall cannot hack those duties and responsibilities.
So by 2023, uses of technologies will change some aspects of teaching and learning but schools and classrooms will be clearly recognizable to students’ parents and grandparents. Digital textbooks will surprise the older generation but turning in homework, taking teacher-made quizzes, students asking teachers questions will remain familiar. Even with exposes of for-profit cyber-schools, online instruction will continue to expand incrementally, particularly for certain kinds of students but, overall, will still be peripheral to regular K-16 schooling.
For regular readers of blog, I am curious as to what you see for high-tech use in schools for 2023?