Technology is everywhere in education: Public schools in the United States now provide at least one computer for every five students. They spend more than $3 billion per year on digital content. Led by the federal government, the country is in the midst of a massive effort to make affordable high-speed Internet and free online teaching resources available to even the most rural and remote schools. And in 2015-16, for the first time, more state standardized tests for the elementary and middle grades will be administered via technology than by paper and pencil.
To keep up with what’s changing (and what isn’t), observers must know where to look.
There’s the booming ed-tech industry, with corporate titans and small startups alike vying for a slice of an $8 billion-plus yearly market for hardware and software. Much attention is also paid to the “early adopters”—those districts, schools, and teachers who are making the most ingenious and effective uses of the new tools at their disposal.
But a significant body of research has also made clear that most teachers have been slow to transform the ways they teach, despite the influx of new technology into their classrooms. There remains limited evidence to show that technology and online learning are improving learning outcomes for most students. And academics and parents alike have expressed concerns about digital distractions, ways in which unequal access to and use of technology might widen achievement gaps, and more.
State and federal lawmakers, meanwhile, have wrestled in recent years with the reality that new technologies also present new challenges. The rise of “big data,” for example, has led to new concerns about how schools can keep sensitive student information private and secure.
What follows is an overview of the big trends, opportunities, and concerns associated with classroom technology. Links to additional resources are included in each section for those who would like to dig deeper.