What’s Next for Ed-Tech? K-12, Industry Officials Weigh In

Associate Editor


A panel discussion at the Association of American Publishers’ Content in Context conference here this week offered lessons and insights for ed-tech company leaders, wannabe ed-tech startups, and the ed-tech initiatives of publishers represented by the organizations’ PreK-12 learning group.

Four panelists—some from school districts, others from industry—were asked to offer their views of what ed-tech hasn’t provided K-12, what’s missing, and what the future could hold.

“Web 3.0,” said Jud Wagner, the supervisor of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and instruction technology for the 10,000-student Brandywine district in northern Delaware. He said adaptive technologies that will provide real-time information on what students are learning, as they are learning, will be in high demand.

“It’s a little bit creepy, but it’s where technology is going,” he said.

“I don’t know if it will come from your industry—from publishing—but it will change the way you do business,” he told the audience.

“Personalized learning” offers great promise in the future, said S. Dallas Dance, the superintendent of the Baltimore County schools in Maryland. (Many vendors are claiming to provide personalized learning these days, even if it’s hard to know whether their claims are true, as my colleague Sean Cavanagh wrote recently.)

You can walk into a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade classroom where learning is personalized, and not know which students are working above grade level, and which ones are below, Dance said.

“I see kids who teach each other, based on the groups they’re in,” he said. “And I see service providers adapting their thinking: how do we adapt personalized opportunities, and gaming opportunities, so students want to learn more?” Schools can measure students’ engagement by their wanting to present, write, and speak more, the superintendent said.

Dance also addressed the glut of ed-tech products on the market that have been developed without any input from schools.

There are “tons” of startups creating a product for a perceived problem, he said. Usually, they’re missing the boat, because their ideas of what schools want don’t reflect what teachers say they actually need. Or, they want to solve a problem that has already been solved by “so many products out there,” Dance said.

Marianne Bakia, a program director for SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning, said she wished developers would focus more on creating technologies that bring information to parents about what students are learning. She advocated for more of a community approach to boost parents’ engagement in their children’s education.

To Christine Willig, president of the School Group Pre-K-12 of McGraw-Hill Education, the opportunity lies in having “the machine do what the machine does well, and letting the educator go crazy on the fun stuff.”

By looking at a data dashboard, teachers can know where their students are on the playing field, she said. “Any aspects of our curriculum that have to be about ‘drill and kill,’ let’s let the machine do that,” said Willig. The role of the teacher, by contrast, should be to act as the “master educator” who guides children into deeper learning.

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