What’s ahead on the edtech landscape in 2018


As a new year commences, many educators wonder what’s on the minds of technology leaders and what they see ahead for edtech in 2018. While new classroom technologies and digital learning platforms will continue to proliferate, the education sector may also start to notice shifts within institutions on tech-related cultural issues, sources in the field say.

John O’Brien, president and CEO of EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association for higher ed IT leaders, thinks that 2018 may mark the beginning of real digital transformation in education.

“I am convinced that this year we will see demonstrable developments at the intersection of higher education and technology,” he told EdScoop. “First, we’re convinced that 2018 will be marked by the shift from digitization to digital transformation. Whether we’re talking about enterprise technologies in general or teaching and learning in particular, we think the days of ad hoc innovations and one-off digital breakthroughs will — and should — be replaced by increasingly interrelated, interdependent and interoperable digital transformation experienced across campus divisions.”

At the same time, some developments related to edtech are likely to be more cultural in nature, he said.

O’Brien, for one, believes the education sector will see considerable progress as the administrative, upper management and other non-IT leaders fully realize that campus technologies are not utilities but strategic assets.

“These mission-critical technologies do not work quietly in the background but are critical to the success of our institutions, as well as that of the students and the communities we serve,” he said.

The edtech sector can also expect to see a new, concentrated focus on equity and closing digital gaps, according to Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), an association for K-12 technology leaders.

“Equity is no longer just equity as to device,” he said. “It’s connected to robust broadband, and it has to be available not only at school but outside of school. Those are going to be new, driving trends.”

“I think the growing understanding is that culture trumps everything,” he added. “You can have the best-laid plan and the best vision, but if you don’t create a culture for innovation, it gets stopped.”

Many, not one

The goal of reaching a one-to-one K-12 environment, where every student has their own device, is rapidly being replaced by the idea of a “one-to-many” environment, “where the average student and teacher have more than one device,” Krueger said in an interview with EdScoop. “So it’s no longer access to a specific device, but having multiple devices accessing the network. That is really critical when you’re thinking content; it’s going to be viewed on small screens, big screens, all kinds of different devices and platforms, so that really is a driver. People now have an expectation that wherever they are, whatever they’re doing, they can access [the network].”

Chris Foley, assistant vice president and director for online education at Indiana University, agreed that the mobilization of education will only continue to expand in 2018.

“From a curricular design, you’re really going to see students expecting to be on their phones and tablets; there will be less of a requirement for a PC,” Foley said. “And that’s going to be in mainstream [education] just as much as it is going to be online education. Students in our secondary schools have been in essentially digital learning environments since second or third grade.” When they reach college, he said, “they’re going to have less and less patience for general interactions with anything except a mobile device.”

The trend toward open educational resources is also likely to continue, as more and more teachers and college professors opt for openly licensed digital materials in lieu of costly physical textbooks, according to Alastair Adam, co-CEO of FlatWorld, a digital-first publishing platform for college textbooks.

More access, more vulnerability

The rapid growth of network-reliant educational technologies will require technology leaders to devote more of their attention to building up their network durability, Krueger said. “We’re realizing how critical it is that [networks] be both robust and built to last,” he said. “I think back to this fall with the hurricanes and having built-in preparedness for crisis as well as security in general. Networks are the way in which learning can happen. The network has to be robust and reliable, and so that’s definitely on the minds of educational leaders and those interested in educational technology.”

Krueger also said that concerns about privacy and security will grow at an “exponential” rate in the next year, and in the next several years.

“I think [security and privacy] get conflated to being the same thing,” he said. “But privacy is more the way we use data, more about policy. Security is more the technical. They’re two sides of the same coin, and I think that coin is getting bigger and bigger every year. We like to say that internet safety has been the driver of the last 20 years, and we think, looking forward to the next 20 years, it will be privacy.”

Adding value wherever possible

On the pure technology front, edtech will continue to see a proliferation of new and innovative tools and applications, according to Matt Gunkel, director of teaching and learning technology at Indiana University.

“I think we’re seeing a continued diversification of unique tools where vendors are looking to provide different value-adds into the learning environment,” he told EdScoop.

Gunkel added that a driver of edtech will be EDUCAUSE’s widely cited white paper, “The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment: A Report on Research,” whose objective is to explore the gaps between current learning management tools and a digital learning environment that could meet the needs of higher education.

Gunkel also anticipates that educators will look more closely at machine learning and data analytics, which will have a direct impact and influence on the classroom and on the edtech market.

“I don’t know if I’d wager a guess on how soon they’re going to have an impact, but I do think it’s definitely a space to watch,” he said. “We’re starting to see machine analysis on data work, and [investigating] how that will have a larger impact or if it will accelerate our work on and understanding of education more fundamentally going forward. [Indiana University] is heavily invested in looking at some of those solutions and trying to find ways in which we can take advantage of that space as well.”

Gary Newgaard, vice president of public sector at Pure Storage, a data flash-storage company, agreed that machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will likely play a larger role in the educational landscape.

“Advancements such as AI are on the rise and there is the opportunity for AI to be integrated into the classroom via personalized lesson guides and smart books, for example,” he said.

Echoing Krueger’s comments about the need for more robust networks, Newgaard said that “AI and the increased use of online learning tools will also drive the need for educational institutions to maintain a modern infrastructure that is high performing, simple and efficient in order to keep up.”

Also among new technologies driving the learning environment in the coming years, augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) will begin to have a presence, said Randy Swearer, vice president of learning futures at Autodesk, a software company.

“Technologies like AR/VR and 3D printing will help further reimagine fields like manufacturing and construction, attracting a new generation of students to study fields once considered ‘blue collar,’” he said.