Social Media, Open Resources Shaping European Ed-Tech Priorities

Senior Editor

European countries are sorting through many of the same tangled school technology issues that are playing out in the United States, including figuring out how social media, data analytics, and open resources should be used to improve education.

A recently released report by the New Media Consortium examines ed-tech trends across the 28 member nations of the European Commission, and finds many transatlantic similarities, such as the evolving European and American views about how teachers should be presenting and delivering content in the digital age.

The consortium, an Austin, Texas-based organization that analyzes digital trends in K-12 schools and higher education, has for years produced reports examining educational technology across the United States.The new report, Horizon Report Europe: 2014 Schools Edition, is the organization’s first attempt to break down trends on the European continent. 

As with other consortium reports, the new analysis not only seeks to identify trends in educational technology, but to place them on a timeline from “fast trends”—playing out over the next year or two—to mid- and long-range trends, likely to take a bit longer to take shape in schools.

The trends are based on the opinions of 53 European experts in education, technology and other fields, who represent 22 nations, as well as several international organizations, including the European Commission, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and UNESCO.

The emerging ed-tech trends identified by the authors, in order of the speed in which they are taking shape, include: 

A fast evolution of social media in society and schools. A higher percentage of the Web-connected European population uses Facebook, compared with the rest of the connected world, and Twitter and other forms of social media are also popular.

Teachers have the opportunity to integrate social media into lessons and use it to communicate with parents and students, but many educators want help in doing so. Schools need policies to give teachers and students direction in using those platforms for learning, the report says. 

Changing roles for teachers. An increasingly accessible and omnipresent Internet means teachers “are no longer the primary sources of information and knowledge for students.” 

The duty of teachers is to try to instill habits in students that will lead them to become curious and determined learners, capable of moving beyond the routine of conducting basic Internet searches so that they can explore subjects in greater depth. Knowing how to teach in this way is a skill that teachers can acquire with professional development, the authors say.

Open educational resources gain traction. The European Union has identified OER as a priority, and resources across the continent are being created by various organizations intent on helping teachers curate content and integrate it into their classrooms.

The lure of open resources is especially strong in eastern Europe and other nations where the languages spoken are not used across mulitple nations, and thus are not provided with a lot of print materials from publishers, Larry Johnson, the CEO of the consortium, told Education Week in an interview.

Open resources provide an option for educators in those countries to share promising materials, he said.

Rise of “data-driven” learning and assessments. European school leaders are keen on using data analytics to “personalize” learning (a popular, if not always clearly defined, goal in the United States, as Education Week noted in a recent special report). A growing number of European efforts are aimed at creating more formal policies for collecting and using student data to improve achievement.

Data privacy has emerged as major worry among parents and educators in K-12 systems in the United States—and many European officials are even more aware of the risks of student data falling into the wrong hands, Johnson said.

Those concerns, he predicted, make it likely that European policymakers will look for leadership from nations on the continent that have some of the strictest policies for protecting students’ personal information in the years ahead.

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