Upcoming education trends: How analytics can help

Technology Writer

The latest education trends are pointing to a radical overhaul of the way schools operate. Keeping with overall changes in society, much of the impetus for these developments is technology. Decades-old practices of using paper, pencils and books are being replaced by iPads and electronic textbooks. Students are bringing their own devices into classrooms, and teachers are opting to either fight it or go with the flow.

As many schools are discovering, however, technological changes often bring opportunities to track digital data trails. Analysis of this data can help educators stay on top of the latest education trends and possibly do a better job in the classroom.

Open content and electronic textbooks

The expensive proprietary information published in textbooks is no longer the only option for schools. In addition to free, easily accessible information on the Internet that is constantly updated to reflect new discoveries and information, there are also open textbooks and collaborative online curricula that give schools the chance to break new ground based on the latest research.

In the Utah Education Network, for example, schools implemented open content in the sciences after working with education experts and university professors to create free digital textbooks. The state also wanted to adopt a new research-based mathematics model that is recognized globally but not by U.S. textbook companies, so they accessed an online initiative created by math experts.

Such e-textbooks can help assess students' performance and allow teachers to adjust the speed of instruction based on how quickly students are digesting the material.

Open educational resources, defined by the Office of Educational Technology as teaching materials and educational data that are available online and free of copyright or other restrictions, are another boon to teachers. As an elementary school teacher in rural California recently explained on the U.S. Department of Education blog, "By the time a social science textbook arrived at the classroom, it was outdated. Open Educational Resources, however, changes the landscape of the classroom as teachers can access rich current materials of varied genres for students of all ages and abilities."

Cloud computing

Cloud computing penetrates the walls of traditional classrooms and allows students to collaborate, store files and access limitless applications. Education Week reported that 40 percent of schools currently take advantage of cloud computing, a move that reduces costs, expands classroom content and makes it possible for students to start a task in a classroom and finish it at home.

Though still in its infancy, cloud computing has the possibility to quantify many aspects of a student's performance, including test scores, attendance and behavior on digital learning platforms. Over time, the cloud can provide longitudinal student records that would allow teachers to provide personalized learning experiences for their students.

Bring your own device

Tablets, smartphones and mobile apps are everywhere — students literally have them at their fingertips. Many schools have realized the cost-effectiveness and practicality of tapping into this resource, which already has a classroom presence. According to a 2015 education report from the New Media Consortium, 43 percent of grade-school students and 73 percent of middle- and high-school teachers use cellphones for classroom activities.

The key to the BYOD trend is the personalized content each device holds. Diverse offerings include mobile apps for screencasting, content-sharing, electronic notetaking, expressions, presentations and more. There are also apps for mapping deep space, taking a closer look at chemical structures and staying on-task during class. Plus, BYOD can facilitate learning anytime, anywhere. There is a limited learning curve, as most students grew up using the devices at home.

Further, since apps and content are cloud-based, they can tap into the same deep wells of data used to track overall performance.

Data at the center

The common benefit of all these technologies is that they provide a way for schools to collect data and thus assess performance of students and teaching initiatives. Data can help illustrate which teachers are making a difference. Over time, as the ability to refine performance becomes clear, the new technologies have the potential to do what reformers have been trying to do for decades: Overhaul education.

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