Diana Fingal
Two teachers at the ISTE conference experiment with Google Cardboard

When you have a monumental event like a global pandemic, it’s really easy to focus on the negative disruptions and miss the positive impacts. 

And no one would argue that COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on learning. But there are also promising trends happening in education — many of which are the result of innovation spurred by necessity during remote and hybrid learning.

For a few years now, we’ve shared on this blog the hottest edtech trends of the year based on the topics resonating with educators who submit proposals to present at the annual ISTE conference. The topics that presenters submit can tell us a lot about what educators are interested in — and experimenting with — in their schools and classrooms.

Often the topics don’t change much from year to year, but that hasn’t been the case the past two years. 

Last year, after many months of remote learning under their belts, educators were eager to share their best practices about online learning, as well as how to build equity and boost social emotional learning, which were three of the hottest topics going into 2021.

While those topics made the list again this year, there were some surprises at the top of the list. Here are the eight hottest topics for 2022, starting with No 8. 

8. Augmented, mixed and virtual reality 

The ISTE community has been excited about this topic for years now, but it’s been elevated recently as tools for immersive learning become more affordable, accessible and easier for both teachers and students to use.

“Education has just started to tap into what it can bring,” says Camilla Gagliolo, a longtime educator and ISTE’s senior director of event content. “Personally, I’m really excited about the growth in AR/VR and in immersive learning.”

Augmented reality involves superimposing a computer-generated image on your view of the real world. Think Pokemon Go. 

Virtual reality is a 3D, computer-generated environment that you can immerse yourself in. Using an Oculus or a similar headset, you can transport yourself to a another place or time and interact within it, whether it’s visiting the Great Pyramid of Giza or exploring the functions of the human body.

Some of the newer trends involve being able to interact with historical events that have been recreated in a virtual environment. So, you can show up at an event and actually be part of it — well, sort of.

The pandemic has caused a lot of educators to focus on how to better engage students in content online, and AR/VR is a sure-fire way to do that. 

In addition to having students experience learning through AR/VR, many educators are helping students create their own experiences.

Look for sessions on how to do this and much more with AR/VR in your classroom when the ISTELive 22 program goes live in February.

 

7. Social-emotional learning

As soon as COVID-19 closed school buildings in 2020, it was immediately clear that educators would need to do far more than teach their students. Every single student was struggling with something in addition to trying to adapt to a new way of learning, and educators were on the front lines of helping students feel safe, secure, emotionally stable and ready to learn. 

But many of their needs — like food, internet and medical care — were shared by the whole family, so educators realized they couldn’t help students in isolation. They had to work with families as a whole. 

In a way, roles were reversed — or at least blurred: Educators helped families meet their basic needs by assisting them with finding resources like meals, child care and other services, while parents took over a lot of the teaching tasks. 

What evolved was a whole-village approach to education, where, for the first time on a grand scale, teachers and schools were working in concert with students and families. 

“When the parent community took over the teaching, the teachers had to help the parents help the children,” Gagliolo said. “There is a new role for parents, and I think this is going to change how we work with parents going forward.”

Many individual educators and school systems as a whole developed innovative ways of working with parents and are eager to share what they’ve learned at ISTELive 22.

6. Equity and inclusion

Never has equity and inclusion seemed more urgent than in the past two years. The pandemic brought inequities — whether they were due to socio-economic status, special needs or the family circumstances of the student — into sharp focus. 

The most immediate need was devices and bandwidth. Schools, government, the business sector and local communities combined forces to deliver devices and connectivity to nearly every household in the country, but that's not enough.

“ It took a pandemic to give every kid a device,” Gagliolo says. “Now the challenge is to get meaningful learning with these devices.”

Educators have been doing just that — experimenting with ways to make learning more engaging, student-centered and inclusive with technology tools.

 “Even Zoom has become a tool of access,” Gagliolo says. “The pandemic actually brought to the forefront what tech can do to bridge equity and meet the need for tools, platforms and access.”

Although the learning curve was high, many educators discovered strategies and ideas for making learning more accessible to a range of learners using various tools. And they are eager to share what worked at ISTELive 22.

5. Online tools and apps

This topic has been a favorite of presenters and ISTE conference participants for years because it appeals to the tech geek in all of us. But this time around, there’s an emphasis on highlighting tools that — just like students and educators themselves — have made a big leap in what they are capable of because of the pandemic.

“There’s been so much improvement in tools and apps,” Gagliolo said. “They were forced to be much more stable. They can handle more interaction and have developed features for connecting students with teachers.”

A lot of what the newest versions of tools are offering allow students to learn — and share their learning — in a variety of ways, whether it’s being able to quickly upload a video, make a comment via a sound recording, or create and quickly upload an artifact.

Free creation tools like Adobe Spark as well as myriad video-creation tools have taken a big leap in terms of ease of use and accessibility.    

4. Distance, online, blended learning

This was hands-down the hottest topic of 2021 as educators around the globe were still learning how to best transition their teaching to online formats. The biggest hurdle at first was how to use the tools. The learning curve was high as educators had to figure out everything from creating breakout groups in Zoom and Teams to establishing rules about cameras and appropriate backgrounds. 

This year the topic is less about how to use the technology and more about how to best engage students. 

And the stakes are high. Disengaged students can simply turn off their cameras when they are bored. But with the threat of learning loss looming, no educator wants any student to miss out on access to learning. So they’ve been coming up with lots of ways to stimulate collaboration and build community — online and in person. 

“There are a lot of new strategies and new tools developed over the past two years that engage students at a high level,” Gagliolo says. 

Although it’s not exactly new, she points to FlipGrid, as a tool that’s being used in diverse ways. It allows students to record comments, facilitates a connection between home and school, and lets students demonstrate their storytelling chops.

And speaking of tools, learning management systems, once the bane of educators’ existence, have enjoyed a resurgence. Educators in general have become more comfortable with these tools and are seeing the potential for communicating with students and parents in a much more streamlined way. 

3. Computer science and computational thinking

Computer science and computational thinking have long been a favorite topic of teachers who love technology and see it as a gateway for their students to enter STEM careers. So it’s no surprise that it made it to the No. 3 spot on the list.

What is more surprising is the evolution of computer science (CS) and computational thinking (CT) as something strictly reserved for math and science class to a discipline that has infiltrated all subjects, from literature and art to music and dance.

“You think of CS and CT as being for math and science, but we’re seeing educators incorporating it into language learning and storytelling quite a bit,” Gagliolo says. “It’s taking different shapes and forms and not just in the traditional areas.” 

Tools like Scratch, Snap, Tynker and KODU allow students to use programming to create stories. They develop their characters, or sprites, and build out their environments. “They can create their world and their scenario,” Gagliolo says.

2. Instructional design and delivery

Of all the topics on the list, this one is perhaps the most exciting because it illustrates a sophistication in how educators are thinking about educational technology, Gagliolo says. The focus is on educational strategies and instruction with technology for higher-order thinking — not tools and gadgets.

“The pedagogy and learning strategies are rising to the top more than the technology topics,” Gagliolo said. “It shows that awareness that learning comes first and tech tools are there to support.”

Instructional design and delivery covers an array of topics from designing content in online formats that is accessible to all learners to ensuring that the content is culturally relevant. It covers ways to encourage community and interaction among students and teachers as well as an awareness of research on how students learn and how online delivery differs from face to face. 

This information is not just from educators who have the instructional designer title. Remote learning  made educators of all subject areas and grade bands realize that they, too, were assuming the role of instructional designers. 

1. Project-based learning 

Also known as problem- and challenge-based learning, PBL is a model where students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects. 

While this model isn’t new to ISTE presenters, what’s astonishing is that it landed on the top, Gagliano said. What it shows is that as educators become more comfortable with various tools, they are focusing more on pedagogy and how to guide students to use tools to practice their personal passions and achieve their goals.

“It’s a level of maturity that ISTE has advocated for for a long time,” she said. "It’s more about the learning strategy than the tool.”

Many of the conference proposals related to PBL are for poster sessions, which means these are from educators eager to show a project their students have taken on. What that shows is that PBL has moved from the theoretical to the practical. These are projects that have been tested in classrooms around the world.

Many of them, Gagliolo says, are related to design thinking. Students are coming up with problems and solutions, prototyping and iterating. 

 

Diana Fingal is ISTE's director of editorial content.