Education Trends

2014: One Educator’s Year in Review

Vicki Davis documents 14 education trends that she observed in 2014, from disrespected teachers and data-driven schools to cool new tech and passionate educators.

December 23, 2014

The person who never makes mistakes never makes progress. As we embark on new journeys in 2015, remember that there's truly nothing new under the sun and learn from what has gone before in 2014. For if we cannot inhale the fresh wind of progress, we will surely asphyxiate in the stale wind of yesterday's exhale. So here's my pondering on the stories, conversations, and stats of 2014 that suggest trends in education. I hope you'll add more about the trends you see.

1. Common Core and Testing: A Common Concern

Researchers and mainstream media have spent the year skewering the Common Core while teachers have been pushed to implement the troubled standards as quickly as possible. States like North Carolina have seen an uptick in homeschooling attributed to Common Core implementation. Despite the outcry of unfair testing policies, when some parents seek to opt out, they're being told that they can't. (On the positive side, the graduation rate hit 80 percent for the first time in U.S. history.)

2. The Teacher Shortage (and Dissatisfaction) Grows

At a conference in Arizona last week, some teachers reported that their friends couldn't attend because of a massive substitute teacher shortage. Search Google News and you'll see how this is a nationwide problem. Two weeks ago, an Oklahoma legislative panel was told that the teacher shortage there is scary.

Others claim that the shortage isn't a shortage at all but the lack of qualified candidates willing to teach. Arizona, for example, has 95,000 certified teachers but only 52,000 were willing to teach this year. If you consider only qualified candidates, researchers show a surplus of teachers (Darling-Hammond, 2001; NASBE, 1998). However, these teachers aren't willing to teach where they are most needed.

We've got conditions that are not conducive to teachers wanting to teach. Call it disrespect, rigor gone amok, burnout on a massive scale, or perhaps unproven teacher evaluation systems, the success of which no one can agree upon. Whatever you call it, cutting budgets on the backs of teachers has perhaps reached a tipping point. With the lowest teacher satisfaction in years, Time Magazine took the cake by citing tech millionaires as the "savior" of education and teachers as decidedly the enemy of forward progress. Maybe this is why one in ten U.S. teachers is chronically absent.

Whatever the answers, they aren't easy. Perhaps the desire to improve and share is what fuels the social media conversations exploding on the web. Educators are turning to each other to answer these complex problems.

3. Teacher Talk: Twitter, Pinterest, Voxer, Facebook, Instagram, and Beyond

This April, Twitter execs admitted that educators and their hashtags are dominating Twitter. While some are using Feedly after the demise of Google Reader last year, educators curate and learn with Pinterest, read on Flipboard (which got a boost with the purchase of Zite), share ideas on Instagram, chat on Facebook and have long conversations on Voxer. Were there any losers in the eduspace? I'd say Foursquare and their Swarm app -- big time. But whatever the tool, social media has become a big part of teacher professional development.

With tools like Stitcher, Downcast, and iCatcher, Internet radio (or podcasting) has also surged forward. Droves of educators are creating their own shows, some using Google Hangout and then ripping the audio and posting the shows to YouTube.

4. The Rise of Digitally-Connected, Data-Driven Schools

The digital divide was best seen in the storms of 2014 as some schools had snow days while others had students plowing ahead on digital learning days. Today's increasingly tech-savvy teacher is being trained on data-driven analysis. Some teachers are conducting student mood surveys the moment students walk into class -- they say it helps them tune into their students. Formative assessment through services like Kahoot and Socrative has grown as teachers seek to understand moment-to-moment student learning and comprehension.

Some teachers are taking all of this feedback to gamify the classroom with guilds and more. Some have even moved behavior management systems online amidst fierce debate. Whatever it takes to engage students, with the apparent link between student absenteeism and lower achievement, student engagement is a hot term in education circles.

5. Redefining the Classroom with Technology

"You can't just drop new innovations into a classroom and hope the instructor will invent effective ways to use them. To fully utilize new technology, you often need to invent new teaching practices as well," says John Seely Brown (PDF, 2.9MB).

The education establishment is finally understanding that you can't just substitute digital devices and use them in an older way. The SAMR model, created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, has become the model which urges classrooms forward to redefinition. But this isn’t easy -- even for researchers. Due to lack of imagination or perhaps the rapid advance of technology, many research projects are choosing to analyze mere substitution of electronic devices instead of redefining what learning should become.

Look at eBooks. While some research shows that we comprehend just as well with eBooks, other research says that we do not comprehend as well. In both studies, the researchers used eBooks as a substitution for paper. Did either consider the feature for looking up new vocabulary? There are some apps that play music with the eBook and report that children read longer and comprehend text better with a soundtrack. Others offer close reading questions embedded in the text and give live engagement stats to teachers as students read. Technology should redefine how we teach -- or we should stick with plain old pencil and paper.

As we saw with Los Angeles' bungled iPad initiative, technology should not be about the device but about how it will be used with students.

6. Textbooks, eBooks, and Publishing Upheavals

In August, three school board members pulled me aside during an event in Indiana, asking me in hushed voices, "So, Vicki, how can we stop buying textbooks?"

A survey in January showing that 65 percent of college students opt to not buy a textbook because of price (even though they know it will hurt their grade) has even colleges scrambling to find alternatives. Some high schools are customizing OER textbooks. I admit that I haven't purchased a new textbook in eight years, opting instead to write my own curriculum in Haiku Learning. The textbook wasn't meeting my needs anyway and was out of date even before I could hand it out to students.

I’m an author. I totally understand that it costs money to publish. After the success of self-published books like Teach Like a Pirate and Invent to Learn, educators -- particularly those with social media platforms -- wonder why publishers should receive 90 percent of the proceeds. The negative stigma of self-publishing is diminishing, and classrooms and teachers are publishing student work.

7. Chromebook Rising and a New Diversity of Tools

In October 2013, Apple claimed a 94 percent share of the education tablet market. This year, that number dropped to 85 percent while Chromebooks made inroads. Just 18 months ago, they had 5 percent of the education market, but this October they announced a 50 percent market share of all education devices. Clearly, there are more devices to choose from. The analysts like the Microsoft Surface Tablet, also a fast favorite among my own students as the closest thing to a laptop (in my humble opinion). Whether using Chromecast or Apple TV, sharing work easily with the class via projector is an important part of any technology integration.

8. The Collaborative Cloud Envelopes Learners

Software is becoming more ubiquitous. For example, the iPad app Haiku Deck became a web-enabled app and then was integrated into Slideshare. But perhaps this cloud ubiquity is best seen in Microsoft Office, now free on Android and iPad. Apple is playing catch-up, adding more collaboration features to iWorks on iCloud. Collaborative writing is reinventing how we write and publish, and many savvy classrooms are jumping on board.

9. Online Classrooms and the Rise of the Digital Teacher

Longer battery life and lots of apps have fueled the trend of app smashing and the need for learning management systems like Instructure Canvas, Haiku Learning, and the newcomer Google Classroom to create an online space that brings everything together.

Using flipped classroom and in-flipping techniques, along with screencasting tools like Office Mix, Screencastomatic, and Camtasia, teachers are adding personal videos to those on TedED, CK12, and other OER resources to augment their lessons. Teachers are quite literally co-teaching with themselves.

It is a short move from writing and sharing lesson plans with your students to sharing on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers, Share My Lesson, Syllabuy, or TES. Some teachers have gone on to kickstart their zombie-based geography curriculum or World of Warcraft-styled classroom behavior game. Teacherpreneurs quickly become entrepreneurs in this world where we work to engage every student.

10. Making, Passion, and Genius Get Schools Excited

Like an efficient car, great schools move forward on MPG. This year's triumvirate of student engagement? Makerspaces, passion-based learning, and Genius Hour. Social entrepreneurship has students making their world a better place. 3D printers have students creating and printing, and may spawn a mini-manufacturing movement as students improve everything from ketchup bottle lids to the 3D printers themselves.

Minecraft EDU has been a big story even with the collective gasp when Microsoft purchased it for $2.5 billion. Educators have found cool ways to connect students in Minecraft (and align with standards) while collaborating and building. QR Codes have become even more popular ways to link the physical world with the virtual world.

11. Humans and Machines Meet

We're talking to our phones, and they're talking back, but we're moving past the semantic Google Now, Siri-based web into the biologic web -- one where humans and machines are meshing in new ways.

In the 1980s, we had the command line interface, then we moved to the graphical user interface, and the past few years have been characterized by the natural user interface. This year, quite literally, we're moving closer to a biologic user interface (the Matrix-like implications scare many of us). If you don’t believe me, the connection of a microchip on a slug's brain and the newly-announced neumorphic chips show just how far we've come. Experts at Google are even discussing uploading the human brain. (I am not kidding.)

While this seemingly futuristic stuff hasn’t impacted mainstream education, two things have:

  1. In the toy department, Google Glass' explorer program has educators documenting and sharing what it's like to wear a camera/internet device in the classroom. Other wearables like smart watches will add a new complexity, with some predicting smart clothing as the new rage next year.
  2. More meaningfully, YouTube is flooded by kids with cochlear implants hearing for the first time. Questions are continuing to arise as para-athletes gain in their capabilities that some predict will inspire an X-Men style resentment from the masses. And the outlandish appearance and performances of "the first human cyborg artist" Neil Harbissan make many of us uncomfortable with the thought of having a Bluetooth-enabled skull.

These advances make it more imperative than ever to raise ethically conscious, digitally savvy students. The Hour of Code has not moved the needle on the number of U.S. high schools teaching computer science, and encouraging girls to enter STEM continues to be hit or miss.

12. School Safety and New Ways to Connect

January 2014 started with 11 school shootings in 19 days, causing lockdowns to become all too common -- and sometimes just a lockdown drill can upset parents. YikYak, the anonymous posting site, has been proclaimed the "new home of cyberbullying," and in November it became a favorite place to issue bomb threats and close schools.

But schools are also using mobile phones for staying in touch, using services like Remind and Voxer is being used like a two-way radio to stay in touch on field trips or traveling caravans to sporting events.

Mobile phones have become tools for giving. The way we support causes has changed -- the Ice Bucket Challenge is evidence of that. Schools raise money on Facebook and beyond.

13. Faster and Further Internet Access

Access is finally here as the FCC plans to bolster the slow internet in most schools. The darker side of the rush to computerize is that computers are the new scantron. (Just look at how many computer labs are being renamed "computer lab and testing center.") Some say that administrators want this as a faster way to test and get results instead of a place to create and innovate. Whatever the case, schools do need faster internet.

The good news is that progressive schools have countered the legal arguments for blocking nearly everything of use to teachers. And even Facebook is feeling the pushback of cryptic policies with simplified privacy policies rolling out in early 2015. Some of us are even realizing that it is a mistake to separate teachers and students in online spaces and that digital citizenship should just be called citizenship.

14. Neuroscience Rising: How We Think About How We Think

And in all of this, the rapid acceleration of neuroscience has caused a proliferation of books on how we think and learn: Brain Rules, The Organized Mind, How We Learn, The Brain That Changes Itself, My Stroke of Insight, and more. The ability to study the brain is impacting every field -- even sports and America's beloved pastime of football as the significant damage from concussions is discovered.

Mindfulness and our need to disconnect and get into nature aren't surprising as elements that help kids focus. Physical activities like those found on Noodle and play-based experiences are strengthening the mind-body connection.

What's Next for 2015?

Schools that thrive will be those that adapt quickly. Teachers who thrive will be those with the discipline to focus on students as they build their PLN and integrate best practices. A society that thrives will be one that values the role of teachers and education and treats them with all respect due to the profession that most impacts the future.

We have not yet stepped into 2015. The first breath fogging up the New Year has yet to be breathed. Taking those steps, breathing those breaths, and writing the words to be written will be for those of us fortunate enough to walk forward. As for me, I will not settle. I will courageously help students move forward one step at a time. Teachers share, so I will share what I learn with you.

And I hope you'll share your own 2014 reflections. In fact, I challenge you to write your #2014edutrend and share it. Let's move ahead by understanding the journey we've taken this year.

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