Decade In Review: The Development Of EdTech

Thanks to the growth of the internet in the late 20th century, EdTech started gaining momentum in the early 2000s when the first LMS and SIS platforms were being built, significantly changing how schools at all levels handle student information. Since then, billions of dollars have been invested into the space, stimulating EdTech’s rapid growth and dramatically influencing how students learn, teachers teach, and schools operate. The progress of EdTech shows no signs of slowing down and will continue to provide solutions for improving education. As we enter a new decade full of potential and high expectations, let’s reflect on how far EdTech has come in the last 10 years alone, and how its growth has impacted education.

Books (And More) Anywhere With The Internet

In the last decade, books have been digitized and made available online, dramatically changing how students conduct research. Students can almost always find the books they’re looking for in an online database, eliminating the need to actually visit a library and check out a book. Articles and online journals have also emerged as credible sources online, providing students with easier access to resources on their topic of choice.

Similarly, textbooks have transformed into eBooks and they’ve taken the education landscape by storm. Back in 2016, college students’ use of eBooks was 66%, a 24% increase since 2012. Throughout the decade, students started bringing their phones, laptops, and tablets to class – for some, more than notebooks and pens. Naturally, eBooks make sense for many students as a lower cost alternative to physical textbooks, as eBooks can be accessed from the new technology students started relying on. And thanks to new technology, eBooks can be more interactive, sometimes providing embedded 3D models, videos, and images, catering to multiple modes of learning to make it easier for students to learn and retain the knowledge.

Moving From The Computer Lab To The Classroom

At the start of the decade, technology was rarely used in the classroom. The only place a student had access to a computer on campus and, for many, at all, was the school’s computer lab. Not to mention, it was typically the only room on campus with internet access. In the last 10 years, however, the use of technology in the classroom has dramatically increased. Computer labs are still around, but now, almost every student has a desktop at home and many schools even require their students have a laptop. 

Campuses have become more modernized, too, introducing high-speed internet to classrooms, making EdTech a more accessible option to add to the classroom. As of 2017, 99% of classrooms across the country had been wired with high-speed internet. 

Smartboards, or interactive whiteboards, replaced whiteboards and overhead projectors in many classrooms, as well. They gave teachers new ways to deliver more engaging content to students during their lessons. A whiteboard that doubled as a large computer screen allowed teachers to present photos, videos, and documents in front of the class. They could then annotate the content and share the notes they wrote with students electronically, giving students access to the day’s content after class. Smartboards also made it easy to switch between different types of media without having to set up another device, allowing lessons to include a wider variety of content. 

Web conferencing technology was also introduced to classrooms during the last decade. Softwares like Skype, Zoom, and GoToMeeting enabled students to connect with TAs, teachers, and academic advisors without needing to be on campus at the same time. This provided students with many more opportunities to receive feedback and guidance. Web conferencing tech also allowed classes to connect with other classes across the world. For example, foreign language courses have been able to converse with classes in a different country, connecting cultures with each other and making them seem less foreign than the distance would suggest.

No Laptop, No Problem

In the last decade, binders and notebooks were replaced by tablets and laptops. The iPad was released by Apple in 2010, and California and Minnesota school districts started issuing them to high school students shortly after. Other states quickly caught on and schools across the country started incorporating them to their curriculums and teaching methods. Several schools in the US even began loaning out iPads to students for the duration of their programs to make sure everyone had the necessary technology to succeed. With the emergence of devices in class, countless systems were built to run on those devices surfaced to facilitate student learning. Apps for almost every class activity imaginable were created, including note taking apps, flashcard apps, collaborative apps, attendance taking apps, and many others. 

From Filing Cabinets To Cloud Storage

While the concept of cloud computing and cloud-based storage has been around since before the 1980s, widespread use of cloud-based storage emerged in the last decade and has become vital to schools’ operations and other educational services. Because of cloud storage’s unique ability to connect data with anyone at anytime, it has revolutionized how schools, students, and teachers store documents and data. For example, students who forget to print out their homework at home can just reopen it on their computer and print it at school. Teachers can upload attendance data to a system where they know registrars will have access to it. 

By digitizing many of the records that schools keep on file, cloud storage reduces liability risks that come with paper record keeping such as damage and misplacement, increasing security and ensuring documents are always accessible. Digital records dramatically reduce a school’s need for physical file storage, allowing schools change how they allocate space on campus. Cloud storage has increased schools’ operational efficiency when it comes to recording, storing, and sharing data such as student information, outcomes data, scheduling, and more. 

Using The Internet To Overcome Barriers

The last decade saw the rise of online education, which allowed students and schools to overcome many of the traditional barriers to enrollment. Many schools developed and opened online programs for students to enroll without needing to be on campus. Barriers such as geography, language, and cost, were overcome through taking classes online. In addition, programs were able to be completed at the students’ own pace, allowing students with irregular schedules to earn degrees and credentials.

MOOCS, or massive open online courses, became prevalent in the last decade and allow for unlimited participation and easy access through the internet. Services like Udacity, Coursera, Edx, and more emerged, providing education about very specific subjects, some of which weren’t offered by traditional schools. In 2018, over 100 million students enrolled in a MOOC.

Building Communities Online

Through the universal accessibility of the internet, EdTech provided platforms for online learning communities to thrive. Collaboration tools like Google Docs, which used cloud based document storage, gave students in separate locations the ability to work on the same project together. Alumni management platforms provide current students with a place to field their questions and get responses from current students and alumni. Other platforms available online gave people with the same goals, like learning a foreign language, for example, a place to help each other learn (i.e. Livemocha). Even social media platforms which weren’t specifically designed for educational purposes gave students in the same course or school a place to share ideas. Facebook groups are used by millions of students as a collaborative and informational hub, sharing documents, notes, ideas, updates pertaining to one course. Schools also adopt mobile technologies that have a chat option for each course, giving students in the same class a place to communicate with each other without having to take part in social media or give out personal contact info. 

Similar to peer to peer connections, teachers and students have become much more connected too, either through email or using the platforms schools have in place like CourseKey, for example. Students can submit an inquiry to teachers and TAs any time of day, although they probably won’t get an answer until the person is available. But this augmented the time to reach teachers and TAs from just the class period and office hours to theoretically 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Inclusivity And Accessibility

EdTech gave schools ways to better provide for students who have special accessibility needs without singling them out. Many technologies designed specifically to facilitate the learning experience for special were introduced in the last ten years. For example, tools used for speech recognition and synthesizing are available to students with disabilities that don’t allow them to use handwritten text or process visual information correctly. Visually challenged students can use a screen reader application, such as JAWS, and Braille keyboard to effectively use a computer. Students with speech problems can get help overcoming the communication barrier through augmentative communication systems, which use specialized computers that provide students with word-prediction functions. These technologies along with many others have helped improve the inclusion rates during school for students with disabilities as well as rates measuring proficiency in math and reading. 

The Growth Of LMS Platforms

While LMS platforms were introduced into education in the early 2000s, they transformed in the last decade to become more robust, provide more personalization, and contribute more to a student’s learning experience. In the early days of the LMS, schools had to download and install the LMS software, a time consuming process when implementing the system on a campus-wide scale. Today, however, LMS platforms are nearly all web-based applications, meaning schools looking to adopt an LMS just need to log in to an online portal to access the software. LMS platforms introduced more personalization options as well, allowing schools to incorporate branding and customize the platform with drag and drop dashboards to fit their needs. In addition, open source capabilities emerged in the last decade, giving schools access to use and/or modify the software’s code. Open source LMS platforms like Moodle and Canvas, for example, gave schools the ability to integrate their LMS with other education software, including instructor training and record keeping software. LMS platforms have also evolved from merely systems that tracked and analyzed learning data to learning platforms providing options to build assessments and assignments directly in the system. In the last decade, LMS design improved immensely, by providing a modern, more intuitive user experience while incorporating new capabilities to meet the needs of schools’ learning objectives.

Looking Ahead

If the expansion seen in the last decade in EdTech is any indication of what’s to come, there are many reasons to be optimistic for the development and capabilities of EdTech in the next 10 years. How much of the improved EdTech has your school adopted? If you’re ending the decade closer to 2009 than 2019, what are you going to do to catch up in 2020?  

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