Highlights From a Year of Tracking Future Trends in Education

Opinion | Digital Learning

Highlights From a Year of Tracking Future Trends in Education

By Bryan Alexander     Dec 22, 2017

Highlights From a Year of Tracking Future Trends in Education

This article is part of the guide: Reflections From 2017 for the Journey Ahead.

If we look back on 2017 in educational technology, some of the biggest surprises were political and cultural.

The first is the spread of free public-university tuition programs in American cities and states. I suspect the spark for them was Bernie Sanders’ proposal during the 2016 presidential campaign, as that clearly resonated with many voters, especially younger ones, and was soon revised and taken up by Hillary Clinton’s team. In 2017 the Trump administration did not embrace free tuition, to put it mildly, but localities did in various forms, from New York state to Providence, Rhode Island. This is the outcome of a combination of forces: our persistent desire to get more people into and through higher education, and our anxieties about the spiraling growth of student debt and college tuition.

Another surprise was a turn in public perception of giant technology companies, especially Facebook and Google, as well as Twitter and Amazon. As 2017 dawned, these corporations were riding high—exceedingly wealthy and well-respected, connected to enormous numbers of users. Yet criticism spread quickly throughout 2017, and hit at these firms for established reasons, including privacy concerns, user mistreatment, conducting experiments on users, and content censorship. New charges arose as well, centering on the platforms’ ease of abuse by trolls and extremists, and especially their roles in a very contentious presidential election. Cathy O’Neil’s criticism of data analytics’ misuseresonated with a large number of people.

Related to this development was the rise of what I think of as Social Justice Edtech. This movement asks us to rethink technology to address social problems in education and society. Advocates include, but are certainly not limited to, Chris Gilliard, Amy Collier, and Mike Caulfield. They argue that putatively equitable technologies actually reinstate social inequalities. They worry that the pedagogical benefits of having students participate in the open web and/or social media might be cancelled out by trolls, hate speech and other forms of online abuse.

I was also surprised to see so little development in gaming and gamification within education this past year. These edtech approaches received both buzz and practice over the past decade, but no longer seem to win attention in media and at conferences. Has gaming worn out its welcome in schools and colleges? Or could gaming be progressing across education, just under the radar, perhaps now it’s just a normal part of the landscape after so many years of experimentation and implementation?

Looking ahead to 2018, here are three predictions:

First, we will probably see more work on the many ways automation (AI, robotics, etc.) impact education, from developing automated tutors to rethinking curriculum in light of job obsolescence via machines. There is enormous interest in exploring this area, from academic work to financial investment and public policy discussion.

Second, expect more development of the effort to build a new virtual learning environment ecosystem to rethink the LMS, through a project called Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE). That might include federating the LMS, allowing smoother integration with diverse institutional technologies and functions. NGDLE may also do a better job of including social media within these systems, improving social functionality and integrating external services including publishers’ data analytics.

Lastly, I forecast continued incremental growth of open educational resources (OER) and open access in scholarly publication. Interest in and commitment to open approaches in academia are likely to persist, as widespread concern over textbook and journal costs seems unlikely to recede in 2018.

Based on campus events in 2017, and given the highly-charged nature of American politics and the unpredictability of the Trump administration, we might expect rising conflict within colleges and universities. Strife between opposed political partisans could build on this year’s events at Middlebury and Evergreen Colleges. Resistance to deportation enforcement could galvanize or divide campuses. In this context, we shouldn’t be surprised to see educational technology become increasingly political. Decisions about pedagogies and systems, data and platforms may well become more challenging.

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