Speak Up 7 for 2017: Top digital learning trends in K-12 schools today

Each year, the Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning polls K-12 students, parents, and educators about the role of technology for learning in and out of school. This survey represents the largest collection of authentic, unfiltered stakeholder voices on digital learning. Since fall 2003, more than 5 million K-12 students, parents, teachers, librarians, principals, technology leaders, district administrators, communications officers, and members of the community have shared their views and ideas through Speak Up.

Following are seven trends we are watching based on the more than 514,000 Speak Up surveys submitted from educators, students and parents from October 2016 to January 2017.

1. Funding, the achievement gap and staff morale top the list of superintendents’ concerns.

Over the last six years, the same six issues have topped this list of “what wakes superintendents up at night,” but the levels of concern have intensified.

In 2010, Superintendents said:In 2016, Superintendents said:
Funding (51%)Funding (64%)
Test scores (44%)Achievement gap (48%)
Achievement gap (39%)Staff morale (43%)
Staff morale (39%)College and career skills (38%)
College and career skills (20%)Teacher recruitment (38%)
Teacher recruitment (16%)Test scores (35%)

2. Administrators say data-informed instruction, social media communications and online assessments are some of the education technology approaches that are generating positive student results.

According to school principals, these education tech approaches and solutions are generating a positive ROI in terms of student academic outcomes today:

  • Using student data to inform instruction
  • Social media use to communicate with parents and students
  • Online assessments
  • Videos, simulations and animations within instruction
  • Cloud based applications and tools
  • Student access to mobile devices in school
  • Online professional development for teachers

K-12 CIOs/CTOs suggest that demand for these approaches and solutions are growing:

  • New learning models: blended, flipped, competency-based
  • Online professional development for teachers
  • Open education resources
  • Game-based learning environments

3. Online videos and games top the list of types of digital content being used in classrooms.

We also asked teachers what they look for in determining the quality of digital content.

Most important to educators:Least important to educators:
Content is freshCarries OER label
Aligned to standardsSearch engine ranking
Adjusts to reading levelsExpertise of content developer
Modifiable by the teacherState department of education-recommended
Research-basedMobile app version available

4. Students are using mobile devices (for learning) differently when directed by a teacher and when self-directing their own learning.

When directed by teachers, students use assigned mobile devices to:

  • Do Internet research (81%)
  • Play educational games (60%)
  • Take online tests (50%)
  • Read online articles (37%)
  • Use online textbooks (32%)
  • Watch teacher created video (29%)

When self-directed, students use assigned mobile devices to:

  • Check grades (74%)
  • Look up class information (54%)
  • Email teachers (41%)
  • Receive reminders (39%)
  • Take notes (39%)
  • Take photos of assignments (29%)

Students told us they have access to the following mobile devices in school:

Gr 6-833% 20% 44%
Gr 9-1240%9%32%

And, how many students are bringing their own devices to school for classwork?

  • 58 percent of high school students
  • 25 percent of middle school students

5. Teachers, administrators, parents and students remain on different pages when it comes to using technology for learning.

Administrators told us motivating teachers to change their practice is the biggest challenge to increasing technology use in school.

Parents told us technology use in education is critical for their children’s future success and yet digital usage varies too much from teacher to teacher.

Students told us learning how to use technology effectively is important for their future but there are too many rules at school that limit their abilities to use technology.

And, students, teachers and administrators all have a different view on the role of Internet access outside of school. Few teachers say they regularly assign Internet-dependent homework, more principals think Internet-dependent homework is being assigned, but students say they regularly use the Internet to help with homework.

6. Social media plays role in learning for students and educators.

Perspectives and valuation of social media usage in school is changing…somewhat. In 2011, 50 percent of students in grades 6-12 said they could not access social media tools at school. In 2016, only 38 percent of students had the same complaint.

Nearly half (45 percent) of teachers said that they pinned a lesson on Pinterest in the past year, 19 percent use Twitter to follow education experts or fellow educators and 17 percent posted a question on a social media for help with a classroom issue.

Eight of ten school principals say they are using social media to communicate with parents and students – 61 percent said it has a positive impact!

We continue to see a divide between students and adults on their social media networks of choice. Like other organizations, we continue to see Facebook use shrinking among students with Instagram and Snapchat being favored (and the opposite for adults).

That usage divide translates into a value divide as well, especially for learning purposes.

  • One-third of students in grades 6-12 say following experts on social media is a valuable way to explore different careers and jobs.
  • 44 percent of students identify social media tools as a “must-have” for their ultimate school, while only 19 percent of parents and teachers agree.
  • 34 percent of school principals say that managing social media usage by students and staff is a major challenge at their school.

7. Parents prefer personal emails for receiving information from their child’s school.

Parents want communications from their child’s teacher and school/district to be:

  • Convenient
  • Pushed to them (they don’t want to search for it)
  • Personalized, not standardized
  • Timely and current
  • Succinct/actionable (with a realization from the schools that they are busy)
  • High impact/high ROI-type results

Here are the communications preferences of parents and principals for sharing information about school progress or performance. Note the difference in preference among the two particularly when it comes to face-to-face meetings and personal phone calls.

Finally, here are some other trends we are watching. Are you?

  • Greater emphasis on students’ global skills preparation
  • Rising value of personalized learning
  • Interest and acceptance of new learning models
  • Increasing criticality for connectivity – at school and at home
  • Learning as a 24/7 enterprise for students
  • New expectations from parents related to the digital aspirations for their children
  • Universal desire to understand real outcomes from digital learning

Are we missing any trends that you are seeing?

In fall 2016, Project Tomorrow surveyed 435,510 K-12 students, 38,512 teachers and librarians, 4,592 administrators, 29,670 parents and 5,846 community members representing more than 7,000 public and private schools and 2,400 districts. Schools from urban (26%), suburban (38%), and rural (36%) communities are represented. Just over one-half of the schools (58%) that participated in Speak Up 2016 are Title I eligible schools (an indicator of student population poverty). The Speak Up 2016 surveys were available online for input between October 2016 and January 2017.

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