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What’s new in education? What’s happening in classrooms around the world? What exciting ideas are making waves among educators?
We learn a lot each year from the educators who submit proposals to present at the annual ISTE conference. The topics they choose to focus on reveal volumes about what’s at the top of teachers’ minds as they continue to explore and experiment with technology in their classrooms.
As you might expect, the COVID-19 pandemic played a big role in shaping the hottest trends in edtech over the past few years. But now that online school is largely in the rearview mirror for many educators, things are starting to shift again. Topics such as social-emotional learning and distance learning, which surged in prominence during the most intense years of the pandemic, are now taking a backseat (although their importance hasn’t diminished) as other areas of interest rise to the forefront.
You’ll find these eight hottest topics well-represented in the ISTELive 23 program:
8. Equity and inclusion
Not only did the pandemic expose the inequities that continue to exist within public education, but it also created new ones as some students struggled more than others with remote learning. School districts responded with a variety of innovative solutions — to varying degrees of success.
Although the sudden shift to online learning prompted a surge in effort and awareness around equity and inclusion, the problems are still far from being solved. That’s why equity and inclusion will be an important topic at ISTElive 23 as passionate educators continue to advocate for disadvantaged and underserved student populations who are still being left behind.
“I think we’re just still struggling with making sure that our education is equitable and inclusive and diverse,” says Camilla Gagliolo, a longtime educator and ISTE’s senior director of event content.
7. Games for learning
Both the rising popularity of esports in schools and the use of games and gamification in the classroom have brought this topic back to the forefront as more educators discover the power of gaming to propel learning.
Instead of drawing a hard line between going to school and having fun, game-based learning works with students’ natural inclinations to engage them in classroom activities. From Minecraft to Dungeons & Dragons, the practice of using games to motivate student learning is becoming increasingly integrated across subject areas and within different parts of the curriculum, Gagliolo says.
“If you can embed skill development within a genuinely motivating social set of rewards, learning is deeper and more enduring,” cultural anthropologist and learning scientist Mimi Ito told EdSurge. “Because, as humans, we're ultimately rewarded by finding our place in the world, getting recognized by people we care about, making an authentic contribution.”
6. Project-based learning
Using technology to enhance traditional classroom instruction may serve as an entry point for many teachers, but it takes a more transformational pedagogical approach to unlock the true potential of edtech.
Call it what you like — project-based, problem-based or challenge-based learning — but the deeper educators dive into technology, the more it makes sense to shift toward a PBL-based model.
Using technology tools to empower students as creators and self-directed learners, while helping them explore their passions by tackling real-world projects, represents the next level of teaching with technology. When teachers bring PBL into their classrooms, learning often becomes deeper and more engaging — and students as well as educators are eager to share their experiences in poster sessions at ISTElive 23.
“People want to show what it looks like when kids are deeply engaged in learning around a project that’s cross-cultural and cross-curricular,” Gagliolo says.
5. Computer science and computational thinking
Edtech afficionados have long been urging schools to make computer science as important and ubiquitous a subject as reading or math. As the computer-science-for all-movement continues to make headway across the globe, this topic remains a perennial favorite.
Both computer science and computational thinking are becoming more deeply embedded into different areas of curriculum as teachers realize they aren’t just about teaching students how to code. They’re about learning the language of technology and developing a problem-solving skillset that applies in all areas of students’ lives.
Computational thinking is knowing what steps to take to solve a problem and to apply that skill across disciplines,” says Carolyn Sykora, senior director of ISTE Standards Programs. “Another expectation is that students will become not just tool users, but tool creators, a skill useful in their personal lives as well.”
4. Creativity and innovative learning
Some topics at the ISTE conference are broader than others, and one of the biggest is the global conversation around innovative learning. This is an expansive umbrella that covers a vast array of ideas, practices and strategies aimed at exploring what the future of learning will look like.
“What impact will new emerging technologies have on teaching and learning?” Gagliolo says. “I think across what we do there are a lot of different strategies around bringing innovative practices and innovative thinking into the learning environment.”
Both student and teacher creativity — and how technology can empower it — fall under this umbrella.
“Creativity is a mindset that bleeds into all sorts of things,” Gagliolo says. “This is where we see a lot of that peer sharing: Here’s how I’ve taken this concept and brought these new immersive technologies or strategies into the classroom. It’s about ongoing innovation for the betterment of learning.”
3. Technology coaching and professional learning
Techology coaches have long been a source of puzzlement in many districts. What exactly do they do? How do they fit into the educational landscape? What’s the best way to use them?
When the pandemic hit and schools had to move online overnight, one thing became clear: Edtech coaches played a critical role in the transition to digital-based learning.
“The pandemic highlighted the importance of the coaching role,” Gagliolo says. “Coaches became important in that process of translating over to working with students and teachers online.”
Although there’s still no standard approach to edtech coaching, and the position still varies wildly from district to district, the versatility of the role represents a shift in how districts are approaching professional learning in general. Rather than relying on the traditional one-size-fits-all “sit and get” training model, many districts are now combining multiple modalities to create more robust and supportive professional learning experiences.
“A coach does more than just deliver one professional learning session,” Gagliolo says. “They work in small groups, they’re modeling technology use in the classroom and they’re supporting teachers’ lessons in the classroom. That whole strategy of having differentiated models and strategies for professional learning is what coaches do really well.”
Districts interested in making the shift toward technology-empowered learning quickly discover that true transformation hinges on quality professional learning. Across all edtech topics, the ISTE conference strives to model the best practices and innovative strategies that are making professional learning more effective and engaging.
2. Artificial intelligence
Interest in artificial intelligence tends to cycle upward and downward over the years as exciting new developments emerge and then become invisibly blended into the fabric of our lives. The recent introduction of OpenAI’s text-generating chatbot ChatGPT has reignited interest in how AI continues to impact the classroom — and what the future of AI-powered learning might look like.
As the new chatbot joins the landscape of creative AI tools, such as the visual art generator Dall-E, it has sparked a new round of conversations about the ethics of using AI to create, the potential applications for AI as a teaching and learning aid, and how homework and assessments will need to evolve in response to these powerful tools.
Although the topic of artificial intelligence hasn’t generated as many ISTE conference proposals as some other subject areas, it’s contextually important due to the volume and scope of the conversations around AI in education, Gagliolo says.
1. Augmented, virtual and mixed reality
More than a year after CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s vision of a virtual reality universe, educators are still buzzing about the potential of augmented and virtual reality. Although the Metaverse has yet to fully materialize, there’s been a flurry of development around AR/VR-based educational resources, Gagliolo says.
“I think there’s a lot of new interest in what augmented, virtual and mixed reality might bring to education,” she says. “We have the opportunity to use these resources to bring to the classroom student learning that might otherwise be impossible or too dangerous or too far away.”
While AR/VR technologies offer transformational learning opportunities within every academic subject — from building empathy through storytelling to allowing students to interact with history — there’s a particular interest in its potential applications within STEM subjects and career technical education. Students training for nursing careers, for example, can practice handling medical equipment without working on an actual human. Virtual science labs could help ease the load on physical lab spaces within schools.
“It can be really impactful,” Gagliolo says. “From traveling through the human body to flying to the space station, students can have learning experiences almost none of us will ever be able to do in real life.”
In response to the rising tide of augmented and virtual reality applications for education, ISTElive 23 will offer ISTEverse, an interactive environment where educators can immerse themselves in all things AR/VR, try out new apps and explore the technology’s educational potential across a variety of subjects.
Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.