Trends to Watch Technology in Education
Let’s start with the most sci-fi prediction of all: augmented reality (AR). What should we look forward to in education technology for this much-hyped and buzzworthy technology that always appears to be on the point of breaking through?
Last year, the startup Magic Leap released a prototype of their mass-market AR glasses, which was received warmly if not enthusiastically.3 According to Adi Robertson of Vox, augmented reality is established in industrial and medicine contexts, but has yet to really hit wider mainstream appeal—in fact, many AR hardware companies are scaling down their plans for 2019.
Students in a learning environment for medicine and manufacturing-focused skill sets can expect to see AR being increasingly used in context for training, as a learning technology. Some examples of this are AR in use in surgery planning and practice, as described by the Harvard Business Review4, and Lampix, an interactive and collaborative tool that changes any flat surface into a multimedia whiteboard that can visualize data and workflow processes.5
However, in other fields AR is an edtech solution looking for a problem, as Top Hat CEO Mike Silagadze explains: “AR is not the disruptor it’s being made out to be. In the higher education sector, AR applications will be the next MOOCs: the initially vaunted technology expected to shake the American college system to its foundations that ended up as a quaint teaching aid for vocational training.”6 For our technology in education 2019 predictions, there are more important things to consider.
Technology in Education 2019: 5G
On the other hand one thing we do know is coming over the course of 2019 is the U.S.-wide rollout of 5G technology.7 This is great news if your campus Wi-Fi network is starting to groan under the strain of hundreds of connected phones, tablets, laptops, and now (thanks to the Internet of Things) watches, vending machines, toasters and so on.
5G, which is in the early stages of implementation, is a new mobile spectrum meant to replace 4G/LTE, and it has two aims relevant to technology in education: it will be more robust for connecting large numbers of devices, and work equally well inside and outside of buildings. It’s about 40 times as fast as the average home Wi-Fi network; in fact, as of 2019, you can now even buy home routers that use 5G instead of Wi-Fi.8
Some companies are looking at ways of taking fuller advantage of the speed and bandwidth to investigate new technological applications in the education sector—Verizon, for instance, has set up a 5G EdTech Challenge to “to solve for challenges including lack of student engagement, lack of teacher’s STEM expertise and the need for more immersive personalized support for students with special needs.”9
But for now, this increase in bandwidth and connectivity will open the door to more reliable use of existing education technology, and fewer spinning beach balls waiting for your learning management system to update.
Technology in Education 2019: Generation Z in class
While bandwidth increases, bandwidth-connected students increase too. If you haven’t already started seeing the generation after Millennials in class—Generation Z—2019 is the year they’ll start appearing in earnest.
Generation Z has been steeped in technology for their entire lives, which have only taken place within the 21st century. Why should they expect higher education to be any different? As education expert Philip Preville explains, the postsecondary post-Millennial generation’s social lives are almost entirely online; they expect to have the content they need on demand (not out of entitlement, but because that’s how it’s always been for them); and they prefer watching videos over reading text.10
As one Generation Z graduate, Christen Palange, tells The Chronicle of Higher Education, college is a place where new students can take responsibility for their technology use and put it to their advantage. Furthermore, she adds: “I don’t know of any job that my class will go into where we won’t be using a computer and have access to the internet.”11
For teachers and for universities, this means a shift in technology usage to meet the new generational cohort where they are. For instance, instead of holding regular in-person office hours, an educator could make him- or herself available on instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Signal. And group projects could take advantage of online collaboration tools such as Google Docs or Slack—the same ones they will be using in their career. Yes, education technology can be that simple.
Technology in Education 2019: Inclusion
Technology can be either inclusive or exclusive. 2019 will be a year where increasingly large numbers of higher education institutions will have to work to meet accessibility guidelines—and to make sure that their students can reap the benefits that technology in education can bring.
Changes are already happening at simple levels. In November 2018, a Brooklyn-based man filed a lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act against 50 colleges saying that their sites were not accessible to prospective students who need screen readers to navigate the web.
Peter Blanck, professor of law at Syracuse University, spoke to Inside Higher Ed about the lawsuits. “It’s beside the point whether there are 50 or 1,000 lawsuits,” he said. “These cases are reflective of a larger systemic problem—that there is a lack of a strong commitment by many institutions to try to be as inclusive as possible.”12