Teaching with Technology

The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done. — Jean Piaget

For years, the “Digital Divide” has been defined as a gap between demographics that have access to modern communication technologies and those who have restricted or no access. While that gap still exists, it is closing – mainly due to the prevalence (and relative affordability) of handheld smart devices (Anderson, 2017). Despite the shrinking “have/have not” technological divide, the value of digital technology in teaching and learning continues to be debated. For some, digital technology is seen as disruptive, distracting, and alien. For others, digital technologies are a set of tools to be leveraged and infused into teaching and learning as previous technologies have been (e.g., letters, numbers, parchment, paper, writing tools, etc.).

Whether this section is read through the eyes of a luddite or an advanced evangelist, the reality facing higher education is that more students are digitally literate because they have been trained in tech-enhanced K-12 learning environments – forming an unbreakable bond with digital technology that will ostensibly last throughout their life and careers (Karoly & Panis, 2004).

In recent years, jobs involving routine manual and cognitive skills have declined in the U.S., while jobs requiring non-routine analytical and interpersonal skills have increased. One reason for this change has been the automation of formerly manual jobs. Because of that, employers are now looking for a different mix of knowledge, skills, and abilities from their employees: from foundational (literacy and numeracy); to competencies (collaboration, creativity, and “problem-solving in technology-rich environments” (OECD, 2013)); and to character qualities (persistence, curiosity, and initiative) (World Economic Forum, 2015). Specifically speaking to the liberal arts, some have posited that job displacement caused by automation and artificial intelligence will lead to a greater demand for employees with genuine analysis skills and creativity (Jaschik, 2017).

This paradigm shift has been evident in professional fields for years. Like journalism or the music business, for example, computer-based technologies have exerted pressure on higher education to examine traditional models. But, because the higher education industry is complex, highly regulated, and heavily subsidized, change has come more slowly than it has for the aforementioned industries (LeBlanc, 2013). Despite the slow pace, growth in the educational technology sector has not gone unnoticed by investors (World Economic Forum, 2016). Private investment in educational technology has expanded internationally. Research shows that private investment in educational technology has increased from $1.5 billion in 2011 to $4.5 billion in 2015. The growth has occurred mostly in the United States with a large percentage of product development in “multimedia content delivery and platforms, online courses and tutoring, foreign language content and literacy and academic-standards-based and Common Core programmes” (World Economic Forum, 2016, p. 16).

However, only investment in educational technology is not seen as a solution to the challenges facing education or higher education, in particular. Layered within an integrated instructional system and tailored to local educational needs (World Economic Forum, 2015), technology can extend and enhance educational resources and services and provide teaching and learning opportunities for faculty and students from traditional and nontraditional backgrounds.

The following section, Educational Technology: K-12 and Higher Education, consists primarily of highlights from flagship reports by the New Media Consortium (NMC) in collaboration with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI), respectively. The reports, NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K Edition and NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition, represent the research and experience of an international panel of education leaders and educational technology experts.

Looking five years into the future, they identify key trends, challenges, and important technological developments that are likely to impact teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in K-12 and higher education. As its primary pipeline for traditional students, higher education will need to stay attuned to developments within K-12. As the reports will indicate, over the next decade – when competition for students increases – higher education institutions will need to provide prospective students with innovative, technology-enriched environments for learning and creative inquiry.

Educational Technology: K-12 and Higher Education

Coding, as a new form of digital literacy, has emerged as a means of teaching computer science skills. The U.S. government has prioritized coding and programming through its Computer Science for All initiative, which aims to provide all U.S. students – especially underserved student populations – the opportunity to participate in computer science (CS) and computational thinking (CT) education in their schools (Adams Becker, 2016; NSF, Funding, 2017). In higher education, leaders are challenged to gain institution-wide support and to go beyond just improving isolated technological skills. Increasingly, college graduates will encounter a highly digital work environment and be required to be broadly digitally literate and proficient (Adams Becker, 2017).

In K-12 and in higher education, the layout of the classroom, along with its furniture and technology, have proven to impact student engagement and performance. Designing learning spaces to accommodate different active teaching-learning environments – focused on immersive, hands-on activities and student-centered learning – is seen as critical. To further this point, as more schools embrace the notion of students as creators and not just passive learners, schools should create facilities (e.g., Makerspaces)[1] that empower student-driven media production and invention (Adams Becker, 2016). Higher education continues to shift from lectures to more hands-on activities with classrooms resembling real-world work and social environments. Since, blended learning is on the rise, there needs to be a focus on flexibility, ease of access, and the integration of sophisticated multimedia and technologies (Adams Becker, 2017) into pedagogy.

In addition to structural classroom changes, social proficiency will be integral for students’ professional and personal success in the 21st century. SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) is not intended to replace foundational academic skills, but rather to complement them – beginning at the earliest stages of development and continuing through secondary schooling (World Economic Forum, 2016). As such, technology-based collaborative learning (teamwork and cooperation) is increasingly appearing in school curricula and classroom activities (Adams Becker, 2016) to prepare students for real-world scenarios, interaction, group work, and team-developed solutions (Adams Becker, 2017). This often involves projects in which students are solving a local or global challenge and making community contributions. The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K Edition describes a fifth-grade class in South Korea that engaged in an active problem-solving activity when a local playground was turned into a parking lot. The students went through the entire process of planning a new location for the playground, pursued approval from local authorities, familiarized themselves with safety codes, and raised money to build it (Adams Becker, 2016).

The most significant challenges highlighted in the reports include: (1) creating authentic learning opportunities by partnering with local businesses and thereby providing real-world experiences for students; (2) transitioning teachers from lecturers to guides and coaches; and (3) providing every demographic the same level of access and learning outcomes (Adams Becker, 2016; Adams Becker, 2017).

Aside from experiential learning, educational technologies that are on the rise include robotics and virtual reality, which are expected in schools within the next few years. Artificial intelligence and wearable technology are not far behind and should be in schools within four to five years. Makerspaces and online learning are both expected to be widely adopted by schools and are intended to encourage students to take ownership of their education by providing them with access to digital tools, discussion forums, and rich media. As the processing power of mobile devices continues to increase, teachers are creating new opportunities for students to connect with course content (Adams Becker, 2016; Adams Becker, 2017).

In addition, analytics through adaptive learning technologies are gaining momentum as a means to monitor student progress by using data to modify instruction at any time. Enabled by machine learning, these technologies can adapt to a student in real-time and provide instructors and students with actionable data. For example, the “Internet of Things” will allow remote management, status monitoring, tracking, and alerts. Also, connected devices are generating data on student learning and campus activity and are informing the direction of content delivery and institutional planning (Adams Becker, 2017).

Final Thoughts

Technology can personalize learning, engage the disengaged, complement traditional teaching and learning in the classroom, extend education outside the classroom, and provide access to learning for students who otherwise might not have sufficient educational opportunities (World Economic Forum, 2016).

In Plato’s Phaedrus, Theuth argued for the value of letters (writing) with Thamus, the Egyptian king who believed letters (writing) would not benefit the Egyptian people, but rather diminish their ability to remember. A similar argument could be made against any current or emerging technology: there will be shortcomings and things lost, and ultimately, like with letters (writing), we may only be able to judge their true value in hindsight.


Adams Becker, Samantha, Alex Freeman, Courtney Giesinger Hall, Michele Cummins, and Brian Yuhnke. “NMC/CoSN horizon report: 2016 K.” (2016): 1-52.

Adams Becker, S., M. Cummins, A. Davis, A. Freeman, C. Hall Giesinger, and V. Ananthanarayanan. “NMC horizon report: 2017 higher education edition.” Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium (2017).

Anderson, Monica. “Digital divide persists even as lower-income Americans make gains in tech adoption.” Pew Research Center. (March 22, 2017). Available at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/22/digital-divide-persists-even-as-lower-income-americans-make-gains-in-tech-adoption/

Jaschik, Scott. “Billionaire Predicts Liberal Arts-Driven Future.” Inside Higher Ed. (February, 20 2017).

Karoly, Lynn A., and Constantijn WA Panis. The 21st century at work: Forces shaping the future workforce and workplace in the United States. Vol. 164. Rand Corporation, 2004.

LeBlanc, Paul J. “Disruptive Technologies and Higher Education: Toward the Next Generation of Delivery Models.” Stretching the Higher Education Dollar. (2013).

World Economic Forum. “New vision for education: Unlocking the potential of technology.” World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland, 2015.

World Economic Forum. “New vision for education: Fostering social and emotional learning through technology.” World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland, 2016.


[1] A location where people with shared interests can work together on projects using local equipment, sharing knowledge, skills, and experience. Resembling an artist’s studio.