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Learning Library Blog The 9 hottest topics in edtech
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The 9 hottest topics in edtech

By Julie Randles
April 25, 2018
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The most compelling topics among educators who embrace technology to transform teaching and learning are not about the tech at all, but about the students.

Here’s a list of the hottest trends in edtech right now.

1. Computational thinking

Computational thinking (CT) is no longer a concept discussed only in computer science or coding classes. Educators are finding that computation thinking is a cross-disciplinary skill and is just as relevant in language arts and math classes. Educators are becoming skilled at incorporating CT components like decomposition, generalizing, algorithmic thinking, evaluation and abstraction – no matter the subject area. Together, these steps teach students the foundations of how to approach a problem and solve it using reasoning, creativity and expression, as well as providing a new way to demonstrate content knowledge.

2. Professional learning

Professional development (PD) is out. Professional learning (PL) is in. What’s the difference? Instead of developing people via PD (collective eye roll for the sit-and-get of the past), PL focuses on providing ongoing, embedded opportunities for growth using active methods. Professional learning is differentiated, personalized and workday friendly for busy educators.

Look for an added focus on professional learning for instructional technology coaches, helping them up their game as they guide staff integrating technology in their classrooms. 

3. AR, VR and mixed reality

In the past, discussions about artificial reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality in schools focused on using what others had developed. Now, both educators and students are moving into creation mode with these technologies. Students are harnessing their creativity to develop artifacts of their learning in all curricular areas using these tools. 

4. Artificial intelligence

How can we take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) in learning environments? Digital voice assistants like Alexa and Echo have made their way into classrooms, but educators are just uncovering ways to use them. Look for AI to explode in schools in the near future, predicts ISTE board member Hall Davidson, senior director, global learning initiatives for Discovery Education. He sees the potential of AI to support students in reaching higher levels of learning and thinking as they use the devices to practice asking questions and thinking out loud. 

5. Global learning

The concept of global learning isn’t new. What’s fresh about the topic now is the level of maturity it will reach as more and more educators understand the value of learning in a global context. The excitement around students participating in global collaboration is only going to increase. Why? Because, as educator Mali Bickley puts it, global learning enables students and teachers to harness the power of technology to develop relationships with their global peers while addressing complex and important global issues. Students who have participated in global learning provide the proof – their discussions and collaborative projects have addressed worldwide problems like food scarcity, climate change, refugee crises and child labor.

6. Learner profiles

Both the ISTE Standards for Students and the ISTE Standards for Educators include specific profiles of learners. The Student Standards provide a framework for helping students become Empowered Learners, Digital Citizens, Knowledge Constructors, Innovative Designers, Computational Thinkers, Creative Communicators and Global Collaborators, while the Educator Standards are a road map for becoming Learners, Leaders, Citizens, Collaborators, Designers, Facilitators and Analysts. Both students and educators are embracing their new roles, moving from adoption of learner profiles to successful implementation.

7. Learning sciences

Advances in technology and rigorous scientific experimentation mean scientists know more than ever before about how the brain functions. Increasingly, they’re disseminating that information to educators and education leaders in the hope of optimizing teaching and learning. Informed by neuroscience, cognitive psychology, development psychology, sociology and computer science, the learning sciences speak to the heart of education – how to best help humans learn. Look for a focus on updating educators’ knowledge of the learning sciences and bringing students to the table to help them understand how they learn.

8. Digital citizenship

Digital citizenship is being redefined. The focus is moving away from warning students about online risks or trying to curtail their activities and toward helping them leverage the power of digital media to work toward creation, social justice and equity. The new digital citizenship, also reflected in the ISTE Standards for Students, is about being in community with others and creating digital citizenship curricula that shows students possibilities over problems, opportunities over risks and community successes over personal gain.

My students can be stellar digital citizens. Join the #digcitcommit conversation.

9. Student-centered learning

Student-centered learning environments have been called “the schools of the future.” Truth be told, at many schools, the future is here. That’s because the benefits of student-centered learning and the student agency that comes with it are being proven out.

Chris Lehmann, founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says student-driven learning isn’t a lofty ideal. It’s a moral imperative. And by almost any measure, from test scores to graduation rates, next-generation schools that have put students at the center of their learning are outperforming their neighbors.

“There are enough examples out there now that you have to work hard to say that this stuff doesn’t work,” Lehmann says.

This list of hot edtech topics emerged from a review of thousands of educator-created sessions submitted for the 2018 ISTE Conference & Expo. Curious how the topics change from year to year? Here were the hottest topics for 2017.