Five Key Ed-Tech Questions for 2015

Posted by Matt Berringer on January 27, 2015

5 Key Ed-Tech Questions 2015By Dennis Pierce

As school leaders look ahead to a new calendar year, here are five key questions that will affect ed-tech in 2015…

5. What will the new Republican majority in the U.S. Senate mean for education and ed-tech?

With 247 seats in the House of Representatives and 54 seats in the Senate, the 114th Congress has the largest Republican majority since the 1930s—and according to POLITICO, Republican leaders are hoping to pass an overhaul of No Child Left Behind this year.

“Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, who will lead the Senate and House education committees, are planning to push an overhaul of NCLB at a moment when backlash in the states has reached an all-time high, opening up new political windows to strip the federal role out of education,” POLITICO reports.

That could be good news for those who think there is too much federally mandated testing in schools today. On the flip side, a smaller federal role in schools raises questions about the future size of programs such as Title I and IDEA, which many districts rely on as significant sources for ed-tech funding.

4. Are schools prepared for online Common Core testing this spring?

In a few months, schools in more than 40 states will administer new tests based on the Common Core standards in reading and math for the first time—and there are significant questions about whether they’ll be ready.

Students will be taking the exams online, and a lack of ed-tech training or infrastructure could make delivering the new tests a challenge—especially for rural schools.

A survey from Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) last year found that preparing for high-stakes online exams was the No. 1 concern among school technology leaders. CoSN has created a toolkit to help ed-tech leaders prepare for online testing, and many schools have been testing their network capacity in the run-up to the exams. But there’s a difference between a trial run and the real thing.

“Everyone’s kind of waiting to see how it goes, and if (schools are) really ready,” said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive.

3. Will the FCC’s new E-rate rules lead to a Wi-Fi revolution in schools?

U.S. schools will get an additional $1.5 billion per year for broadband access, thanks to a recent move by the Federal Communications Commission.

The agency voted in December to raise the annual funding cap for the E-rate, the nation’s school wiring program, from $2.4 billion (adjusted for inflation) to $3.9 billion. Along with earlier action taken in July, this development should help the E-rate close persistent broadband access gaps in the nation’s schools.

Some 40 percent of U.S. classrooms don’t have Wi-Fi or other broadband access, according to CoSN. To fix this problem, the FCC has undertaken the largest reforms to the E-rate in the ed-tech program’s 17-year history.

For instance, new rules will provide up to $150 per student in funding for Wi-Fi and other internal broadband connections over a five-year period. However, the trade-off for schools is that E-rate support for voice-related services is being phased out over the next five years.

Will this trade-off be good for schools, and will it result in more robust Wi-Fi connections to support digital learning? That’s something ed-tech leaders will be watching for this year.

2. Will Congress address student data privacy this year and, if so, what are the implications for schools?

As schools turn to ed-tech companies for help in collecting and storing student data in the cloud, privacy advocates worry about what will happen to this information—and how it might be used.

Joining the chorus for stricter rules governing student data use, President Obama has called for legislation known as the Student Digital Privacy Act. The measure would require that data collected on students in the classroom be used for educational purposes only—to “teach our children, not to market to our children,” Obama said in a preview of his State of the Union Address.

He added: “We want to prevent companies from selling student data to third parties for purposes other than education. We want to prevent any kind of profiling that outs certain students at a disadvantage as they go through school.”

Student privacy advocates were pleased to see the president addressing the issue, but some said they would like to see even more protections.

Whatever action lawmakers might take this year, educators will be struggling to balance the privacy concerns of stakeholders with the need to collect and analyze data so they can personalize learning for each student. And that leads to the No. 1 ed-tech question of 2015…

1. As personalized learning continues to gain momentum, how can educators take advantage?

“Personalized learning” is a topic on many ed-tech leaders’ minds these days, as schools seek to create the best possible environment for their students to succeed. But what does this term mean—and what are the elements needed for personalized learning?

A coalition of ed-tech advocacy groups has put together a working definition that includes four critical components: (1) competency-based progression, meaning students advance—generally at their own pace—based on their mastery of learning targets; (2) flexible learning environments built around students’ needs; (3) personal learning paths, or customized pathways for each student; and (4) learner profiles, or records of each student’s individual skills, gaps, strengths, weaknesses, and interests.

As educators continue to discuss personalized learning and how to make it happen in their schools, one thing’s for sure: To personalize learning, you have to know your students well—which makes robust administrative software like SunGard K-12 Education’s critically important.

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Topics: technology, education, K-12