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The slow rise of education technology
More than just making technology available to students, education technology, or edtech, broadly covers everything from online teaching tools and platforms to hardware, software and applications—any technology with the goal of supporting instruction or administration. And lately edtech has gotten really big—sort of.
Global investment in edtech companies is at an all-time high, according to CB Insights, a venture capital database. Spending last year was up about 50 percent from 2013, totaling almost $2 billion ... which seems like a lot before considering that all by itself, Uber raised $2.4 billion last year, notes Frank Catalano, a strategist writing for GeekWire. “Edtech venture funding is a rounding error in blockbuster tech terms.”
But while the field doesn’t get as much attention as other arms of the tech industry, edtech is becoming a big deal. The fifth SXSWedu, hosted in Austin, Texas, in March, draws an international crowd that totaled 5,000 attendees last year—double the turnout in 2013.
In January, Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy hosted EduCon 2.7, “both a conversation and a conference,” now in its eighth year. While the attendance averages a relatively small 500 people, it brings educators from all over the U.S. together to talk about co-creating the future of education. EduCon is unique in that it’s a conference that eschews vendors and sponsorships, with a guiding axiom that “Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.”
Four key trends in edtech
At the local level, state edtech conferences like the Florida Educational Technology Conference brought attendees together last month to discuss how four big topics will influence education in 2015:
Gamification isn’t new, but the buzzword is probably one of the most contentious in edtech, with naysayers fearing it only reaps short-term gains in attention and motivation. “As educators, we may be conceding that learning isn’t inherently meaningful,” warns John Spencer, a teacher and education writer. On the other hand, gaming principles like “a strong narrative, instant feedback, collaborative working and the opportunity for sustained progress and eventual mastery . . . have obvious application in a learning environment,” writes education reporter Nick Morrison.
Maker culture is an approach to technology that encompasses 3D printing, robotics and computer programming. It refers to taking advantage of “cheap, powerful, easy-to-use tools, as well as easier access to knowledge, capital, and markets to create new physical objects,” according to IBM, which recently identified maker culture as key to bringing more girls into STEM programs through an emphasis on creativity, design and inventiveness. The do-it-yourself philosophy has great potential in the classroom for science and engineering.
Augmented reality is being hyped as a way to get kids excited, especially about topics that might seem dry, like learning the periodic table or visiting a history museum. Augmented reality uses smartphones, tablets, or yes—even futuristic headsets—to trigger an immersive experience that overlays a view of the real world with supplemental data, images, audio or video.
Blended classrooms are another way of integrating technology with traditional teaching, using both on- and offline classrooms to engage students. Digital companies like lynda.com already provide online courses for subscribers on a wide range of topics, from programming to graphic design to business. Others, like Udemy, allow anyone with knowledge or skills to become an instructor. With the ability to share and access knowledge at our fingertips and the rapid pace of change in many fields, learning is something that might start in the four walls of a classroom—but that isn’t where it ends. And as the lines between brick-and-mortar classrooms and digital learning mix together, we should only see the evolution of edtech gain momentum in more and more exciting ways.
Interested in using edtech to help your business? TEKsystems believes technology, along with smart content creation, can help businesses deliver effective training to employees. Our Training and Education Services practice recently helped a major IT client by creating a highly interactive course for their sales staff. We used sophisticated tools to build an online sales simulation to help client’s team understand and practice selling a new type of product that required a big shift in mindset. You can learn more by reading the in-depth case study.
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As part of TEKsystems’ public relations team, Vanessa Ulrich reads everything she can about the technology industry and emerging trends. Vanessa blogs about where technology and society collide, giving context and commentary to top news stories. You can reach her with questions and comments @vanessulr via Twitter.