Over the Horizon: K-12 in 2017

By Jack West
Top photo: Creative Commons by blykst; Bottom photo: Creative Commons by Faith Kocaman

Writing about future trends in any industry, at least from the blogging perspective, is fun because there is no accountability and it is fair to be blissfully optimistic. With that disposition I write now, inspired by the recently released 2012 Horizon Report K12 edition, a projection of possible future trends in education technology authored by Larry Johnson, Samantha Adams, and Michele Cummins of the New Media Consortium.

The NMC Horizon Report > 2012 K-12 Edition is available for free download here.

Last year I wrote about the 2011 edition of the report. To make it more fun I fictionalized a day in the life of Elroy, a high school student in the year 2016. My post drew the attention of the authors of the report and this year I helped advise them. As one of several globally sourced advisory board members, I participated in a wiki discussion that took place over several weeks this winter. I learned about technology applications I had not yet even heard of, and as one of the only traditional school teachers on the panel, I probably brought too much skepticism to the proceedings. Casting my skepticism aside, let’s take a look at what a day in the life of Elroy might look like in 2017.

Meet Elroy, a 15 year-old junior at Sequoia High School in Redwood City. The year is 2017. Elroy has been in public school since his first day of kindergarten. Beginning in ninth grade, Elroy’s parents elected to enroll him in the Open School Project (O.S.P.) at Sequoia, a program initiated that same year to accommodate the growing demand for personalized learning environments utilizing the wealth of educational resources available with the latest technology.

Since ninth grade, all of Elroy’s coursework, now measured more frequently and discretely by task achievement instead of the traditional model of course completion, has included some level of gamification. At first the technology simply made less painless the rote practices of vocabulary memorization and mathematical manipulation, but now peer-sourced, educator-moderated assessment has made it possible for even argumentation to become a part of the games he plays to learn about history, science, and mathematics.

Language arts has become so embedded into everything Elroy produces that it ceases itself to become a subject of inquiry. Instead, the modularization of his study brings him topics of his choosing. He recently completed a module entitled “Journey to the South” that required him to design and carry out a coordinated civil rights action movement in which a remote language arts specialist guided him with his speech writing, and a former House of Representatives member acted as content facilitator for the thousands of youth nationwide who participated in this MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).

Elroy’s tools might appear to an observer from 2012 like something from a Jetson’s set, but to him they are transparent. Society has moved beyond the one device per child paradigm. Technology has become so cheap and specialized that Elroy employs multiple devices. The smartphone has exploded into four distinct devices: a smart pair of glasses, a flexible and thin surface the size of a placemat that rolls up like a scroll, a similarly collapsible keyboard (for the rare instances when voice recognition is inappropriate), and a set of thin gloves.

Much of Elroy’s interaction with text, video, and audio happens through his smart glasses. Google’s Project Glass, released to the world at the Google I/O developers conference on June 27, 2012 took the world by storm. All major technology corporations began mass-producing the devices within a year, and the open source technology that was connected with the program drove cost down low enough that adoption rates doubled that of the iPhone when it was first released. 

Elroy and his age mates around the world drive the next cultural communication shift. No longer is the shorthand of text messaging in vogue. Instead, messaging now looks like documentary film. Teens communicate with one another by sharing the world as they see it, narrated as they see fit.

Elroy’s gloves allow him to navigate the world that his glasses and his surface allow him to access in the ever-connected web that for him has always been available. When he wants to create a model, he does so with the aid of fifth generation Kinect technology spin-offs.The open school learning center at Sequoia has a motion interaction lab where he can use any of a variety of Kinect inspired devices that recognize his hand movements, body gestures, and, most recently, facial expressions.

He has become very skilled with constructing 3D models, perhaps stemming from an early passion for playing Minecraft. Other students use the same technology for emulating the avant-garde of the day called virtual immersive sculpture experience (V.I.S.E.) — a combination of structure, texture, sound, and video that is the first major advancement in artistic expression since film.

In the ever-evolving technological landscape, demonstrating competence is less about certification than it is accomplishment. Relationships are of utmost importance and reputation management is the new behavior management. At the beginning of this school year, Elroy and his parents had to make a decision about whether to erase his online identity. The online digital reputation of minors protection act (O.D.R.M.P.A.), passed in 2015, allows parents to selectively erase the digital footprint of their children when the child turns 15. Some early childhood YouTube videos of make-believe horror scenes that Elroy made with his friends gave the family pause, but they decided that his accomplishments in Minecraft outweighed any judgment future business partners or employers might make of his childhood obsession with gore.

The teachers in Elroy’s life are both at Sequoia and around the world. Every student in the O.S.P. has a primary learning guide that works with them throughout their entire high school experience to identify and build upon interests and talents, and to shepherd them in an information landscape so varied and complex that navigation requires a skilled guide. Similar Open School Project communities exist in almost every district in the country.

The pilots demonstrated that the structure seizes the holy grail of better learning outcomes at a lower cost, although the recognition took a few years to catch up with practice. Bubble tests alone were insufficient to demonstrate the deep impact of the O.S.P. model. It wasn’t until smart, crowd-sourced assessment systems began to demonstrate the superior development of critical thinking skills fostered by the O.S.P. that local policy makers were willing to make the switch.

The O.S.P. learning guide employs a comprehensive set of educational tools and psychological support skills that until 2014 had not been expected of educators. The O.S.P. guide is a generalist who must be capable of learning enough about any new subject that he or she can facilitate student study in almost any area they choose. At a minimum, this requires mastery of all the basic sciences, language arts, and history — what used to be called a liberal arts degree until college was turned upside down by rising costs and the competence-based resume movement. A new certification emerged to support the O.S.P. guide role, and nearly one quarter of all education school graduates in 2017 demonstrated skills to earn them the badge (supported by Mozilla Open Badges) that allows them to work in an O.S.P.

At the end of the work day, Elroy removes his headset, puts away his gloves, surface, and keyboard, and heads out to the field with his cleats and shin guards for soccer practice. Technology has decreased the time it requires Elroy to learn many things by as much as 30%. After a lap around the field to warm up, Elroy practices a penalty kick. He places the ball on the line, steps back three times, then runs forward and hits the ball hard. It goes over the crossbar.

Some things have not changed.


> Read more of Jack's posts on his personal blog, chronicling edtech in high school.


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