Despite increasingly widespread adoption of technologies in virtually every aspect of K-12 education, significant challenges are preventing widespread effective implementation. According to researchers, though some of those challenges are systemic and some related to the technologies themselves, teachers and education leaders share in the blame as well.
"The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition," put together by the New Media Consortium as part of the Horizon Project, identifies key emerging issues in education technology using primary and secondary research and input from an advisory board comprising "internationally recognized practitioners and experts" in ed tech. Among those issues are challenges that represent significant constraints on the adoption of technology in education.
In past reports, those challenges have centered largely on reluctance on the part of administrators and teachers, lack of preparation, and lack of support or funding. This year's findings followed largely along those lines as well, though some new challenges were identified as well.
Challenge 1: professional development. Key among all challenges is the lack of adequate, ongoing professional development for teachers who are required to integrate new technologies into their classrooms yet who are unprepared or unable to understand new technologies.
"All too often, when schools mandate the use of a specific technology, teachers are left without the tools (and often skills) to effectively integrate the new capabilities into their teaching methods," according to the report. "The results are that the new investments are underutilized, not used at all, or used in a way that mimics an old process rather than innovating new processes that may be more engaging for students."
Challenge 2: resistance to change. Resistance to technology comes in many forms, but one of the key resistance challenges identified in the report is "comfort with the status quo." According to the researchers, teachers and school leaders often see technological experimentation as outside the scope of their job descriptions.
Challenge 3: MOOCs and other new models for schooling. New in this year's report, new models for teaching and learning are providing "unprecedented competition to traditional models of schooling." In particular, the MOOC (massive open online course) — probably the hottest topic in higher education right now — was identified as being "at the forefront" of discussions about new modes of delivering K-12 education.
"K-12 institutions are latecomers to distance education in most cases, but competition from specialized charter schools and for-profit providers has called attention to the needs of today's students, especially those at risk," according to the report.
Challenge 4: delivering informal learning. Related to challenge 3, rigid lecture-and-test models of learning are failing to challenge students to experiment and engage in informal learning. But, according to the report, opportunities for such informal learning can be found in non-traditional classroom models, such as flipped classrooms, which allow for a blending of formal and informal learning.
Challenge 5: failures of personalized learning. According to the report, there's a gap between the vision of delivering personalized, differentiated instruction and the technologies available to make this possible. So while K-12 teachers seem to see the need for personalized learning, they aren't being given the tools they need to accomplish it, or adequate tools simply don't exist.
Challenge 6: failure to use technology to deliver effective formative assessments. The report noted: "Assessment is an important driver for educational practice and change, and over the last years we have seen a welcome rise in the use of formative assessment in educational practice. However, there is still an assessment gap in how changes in curricula and new skill demands are implemented in education; schools do not always make necessary adjustments in assessment practices as a consequence of these changes. Simple applications of digital media tools, like webcams that allow non-disruptive peer observation, offer considerable promise in giving teachers timely feedback they can use."