by Kacy Zurkus

How emerging technology is changing K-12 classrooms

Aug 27, 2015
Data Center

While students in K-12 classrooms are building robots in their makerspaces, IT professionals are building the infrastructure needed to keep up with the latest technologies in the 21st century classroom.

technology the classroom
Credit: Thinkstock

Though implementing one-to-one initiatives such as having a laptop for every student continues to be a primary focus for many school systems across the country, those who have already a 1:1 program are discovering new ways to shape student learning. Impressive technology trends are transforming traditional classrooms for students at every grade level.

Robotics, makerspaces and wearables will be a few of the trends that join the ranks alongside teachers and students in the fall. “Research shows that this group of kids learns very differently from past generations,” says GB Cazes, vice president at Cyber Innovation Center recognized, Cazes says.

“The use of cyber as a way to provide a context for the content is rapidly growing. We are putting them on a cyber-highway and providing them with on and off ramps,” says Cazes, who added that this is especially true in science and math. One exciting new tool, the Boe Bot robot, allows students to build a robot with a microcontroller. “There are no textbooks for the Boe Bot. The Boe Bot is the textbook, so you provide teachers with all they need and the students are learning programming and coding as they build,” Cazes says.

Some schools may have the ability to provide a Boe Bot for every classroom, but for those who can’t, makerspaces – high-end craft rooms with access to 3D printers – are a trend that make technology available for students to learn and create all on their own.

Jason Valade, customer success manager at TechSmith described the makerspace as “a place where students need very little direction. It’s trying to give students space to be creative and let them explore and develop.”

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Eileen Lento, Intel Education’s director of strategy and marketing says, “Microscopes and databased software,” are new technologies that will give 21st century learners more authentic educational experiences.

“There are holographic technologies, coding is becoming a valuable skillset in the world we live in. There are goggles for virtual reality and wearables for physical education classes that are more usable and kids can analyze their own data more easily,” Lento says.

Improvements have to happen at both ends

Changes need to happen at both the front end and the back end, Lento says. “We don’t want devices to be expensive typewriters.”  The tools need to do more than exist, which means there needs to be matching improvements when it comes to infrastructure.

“The role of the CIO as enabler comes into play,” says Lento. “The job has grown from supporting services to enabling learning. They need to be asking, ‘How do I set up the infrastructure?’ and ‘How do I protect the students’ privacy?’” 

The role of the IT professionals has become even more demanding because, “There needs to be innovations on the backend from servers to storage. All of the edge devices on the front-end need to exist within a secured fabric,” says Lento.

The role of the IT professional has also grown to include mediator, and even educator. Procuring the funds to build the infrastructure, especially in public schools, can be a formidable obstacle, and Valade recommends a multi-tiered approach. It’s important to consider where the desire for technology and devices falls in line with the greater priorities of a school’s mission.

Moving too fast might slow things down

Knowing how to effectively communicate the value of investing in technology will help a school system develop a comprehensive plan for continued success. Schools need to think about if they want to delay tech improvements for a year or two, or, as Valade cautions, “get devices in hands now but end up with a poor experience.”

Even if finding funding for technology isn’t an issue, the physical structure of the school can create complications. Many schools were built in the 1940s–1970s, and they were not designed to run new Cat 5 cables.

[Related: 8 free tools that teach kids how to code]

From the students to parents, school boards, teachers, administrations and IT professionals, there are a lot of players to consider, and a lot of stakeholders who want to see the success that educational technologies are promising.

It’s important not to be driven by ego in the race to bring more technology into the classroom. While all of these tools and gadgets are intended to meet today’s students where they are and prepare them for the work force, rushing in too quickly can backfire.

 “Technology is leaping and bounding itself so fast. How do you keep up? How do you plan for replacement costs?,” Cazes says,  It’s the nature of the beast to get excited, so it’s easy to raise more for the initial investment, but how do you get support for strategically sustaining and replacing the technology?”

Investing in technology is not a single line item in a budget. IT professionals need to communicate with school boards and the community to change the mindsets of people who remember the classroom as one thing and are challenged by conceiving the ways in which technology is reshaping schools.

Lento agrees that schools need to “start at a focus of improved student outcomes. What does student success look like?  Most parents are still in the space of, ‘I went to K-12 and this is what it looked like, and it worked.’”

Consider the integration of technology not as a race but a journey. “Through the journey, the leadership team needs to evaluate what they said student success will look like, how they said they would measure it, and then look at the data they are using to measure it,” Lento says.