Four Things To Consider When Developing EdTech Curriculum

Major world events frequently act as a trigger and catalyst to rapid innovation. As we experienced with Covid-19, schools and families have seen a surge in the adoption of different educational technologies. These include video conferencing tools, online learning platforms, and classroom management tools, etc. We’ve also increasingly seen innovative and effective teaching and learning activities created by educators for EdTech curriculum. 

Here at BSD Education, when we design our curriculum for our learning platform, we consider Student Engagement, Flexibility, Student Agency, and Simplicity when we design the content and activities across our content library.

Let’s explore each of these areas: 

Student engagement 

One of the most significant concerns with online learning is the level of student engagement. We know that when students are engaged, they are more likely to take away something from that time you spent together in class that day. To overcome issues of student engagement, just like designing any other products or services, we have our end-users in mind, and that’s our teachers and students. We ask ourselves, “What do they want to know about?”, “What can we share with them?” I firmly believe that engagement and enthusiasm are infectious in the classroom. If the teacher is engaged with the content and can connect and see the topic’s relevance on a broader scale beyond the classroom, students will be more likely to participate, lean in, and see how it connects to and impacts their lives. 

Flexibility

A flexible curriculum to allow for unexpected situations is another factor to be considered. Sometimes, classroom discussions may also lead to incredible learning opportunities. When we develop our curriculum at BSD, we allow room for teachers to design their lessons with our activities. We present bite-sized content to enable teachers to design their flow. The way they design their curriculum depends on the needs of their students. For example, in our TechFuture offering, resources for discussions, hands-on activities, and topical content are presented separately to allow our teachers to create a learning experience that suits them. In addition, education technologies and tools have allowed for more flexibility in course delivery.

Student agency

Closely linked with student engagement and flexibility in the curriculum is student agency. Through education technologies, we as educators can set up classroom activities to encourage student agency by offering pathways of exploration and learning new skills and topics. When designing the EdTech curriculum, we leverage the ease of information sharing capabilities and access to knowledge through learning systems. Our task as teachers is to become a facilitator of learning and exploration to create room for student choice and ownership in their learning journeys.

Simplicity

Curriculum resources should never be overly complicated. We set straightforward learning goals to help our teachers achieve their objectives regardless of topic, project, and activity as they develop the curriculum. Simplicity brings ease of use (better user experience) for teachers to focus more on the students rather than figuring out the tech or the content.

We have discussed some technical factors to curriculum development, but there are many other factors in consideration. The diversity of your students’ needs should always come first when designing and implementing a curriculum. The best approach is to try it out! Utilize education technologies to support your curriculum little by little, and always know you can reach out to your community to discuss all the creative possibilities!

Frequently Asked Questions about Professional Development at BSD Education

At BSD Education, our Professional Development focuses on providing teachers with the confidence, skills, knowledge, and material needed to bring technology education into their classrooms. In this article, we will answer some of the most frequently asked questions by teachers worldwide.

How long does the Professional Development session last?

Every professional development session runs for three hours. By the end, teachers are prepared to bring technology and digital skills to their students. However, it’s not required for the three hours to be completed in one session, and the training can be split into two sessions of an hour and a half each.

When are BSD Professional Development sessions held?

While our sessions can be scheduled at any time, it is recommended to schedule your Professional Development sessions two to four weeks before your first class to allow enough time to explore the platform and run through the curriculum and activities for students. To schedule your BSD Professional Development sessions, please speak with your school’s BSD representative.

What are the topics covered in the BSD Professional Development? 

Our Professional Development focuses on three main areas:

a) Orientation to BSD Online – This is where teachers are shown the various features of our BSD Online platform. For example, teachers are trained to create a classroom, manage student progress, and view student work through the portfolio feature. 

b) Skill learning – Through our guided projects, we introduce teachers to coding languages such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and the basic syntax and functions of these three languages. 

c) Curriculum familiarization – Teachers are shown where they can find the courses they will teach in the classroom. In addition, teachers are shown how to use the lesson plans, slide decks, and project customization guides. Through this demonstration, they better understand which activities need to be assigned to their students. 


Does Professional Development need to be held in person, or can it be done virtually?

In most cases, the Professional Development will be conducted by a BSD instructor on Zoom. Training sessions are also recorded, and a copy is sent to all teachers attending to view after. 

However, if a BSD instructor is available in your location, we can arrange for the session to be held in person.

What do I need to have for a BSD Professional Development Session?

All teachers need to have a laptop or desktop computer with the latest version of Google Chrome installed. Teachers also need to have an active email account sent to their BSD representative two working days before the session. The email address is used to create an account on our online platform. 

I don’t have any coding or programming experience. Is this training for me? 

Whether you are entirely new to using technology and coding in the classroom or have prior experience, BSD’s Professional Development has been designed with a low threshold and a high ceiling. We begin by taking small steps into the coding world and sharing tools that empower you to make the BSD Online platform your own.

Do I receive a certificate after I have completed the BSD Professional Development? 

Yes! After completing the BSD Professional Development, all teachers are eligible to receive a certificate. Our team will send a PDF copy of the certificate to you by email to use professionally right away. 

Does BSD leave me with any material after the Professional Development training?

We will provide you with videos and practice exercises to reinforce all the coding concepts taught during the session. All teachers will also have access to our BSD Community, where they can find articles on using the different features of the BSD Online platform. 

How can I reach BSD if I have questions after the session?

Our world-class support team is always striving to provide the best support to all our teachers. You can contact them for any questions on our platform and curriculum. Here’s a link with all the details on how you can get them. 

You may also reach out to your BSD representative to schedule 2 free coaching sessions per year with a BSD instructor. 

What do I need to do after my Professional Development and before my first class with BSD?

Before your first class with BSD, you might be feeling excited and anxious in equal measure. You may hesitate and ask yourself, “Will it be easy to teach students using BSD?” The answer is YES!

Don’t worry; we’ve put together a handy checklist to help you get started.

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I hope that you found these answers helpful. If you have a question not covered in this blog post,  please reach out to BSD’s Professional Development Lead in Asia, Karan Vaswani, at kv@bsd.education for more information.

What Are The Benefits of Technology in the Classroom?

You might be asking, what are the benefits of technology in the classroom? It’s fair to say that when I was in school, the use of technology in the classroom wasn’t widespread. There were no personal laptops for each student, no digital planners, no classes on coding or programming. I remember when the teacher would pull out the overhead projector for lectures. My school certainly wasn’t set up for the level of technology use that teachers were faced with recently.

It’s exciting to think back on how much has changed in the educational landscape since then! Since my high school graduation, social media use has skyrocketed, video conferencing has streamlined and improved greatly. Most students have personal laptops but also smartphones, iPads, watches, and Alexas provide any information they could possibly want to know.

Technology changes on a dime. As education continues to systemically evolve, we’re going to see the many benefits of educational technology come to fruition over the next few decades.

Read on!

Students are more engaged

“Bueller?” This scene from “Ferris Bueller” has to be the epitome of a bored, disinterested classroom. Whether out of a lack of interest in the topic or distraction, two things are happening here. They aren’t paying attention and they aren’t learning.

It’s been 35 years since that film came out and the classroom looks entirely different. Now teachers compete with a myriad of distractions that continues to evolve. So you may be wondering, how can teachers engage their students more effectively in the digital age? Well, I’m glad you asked! There are many ways to harness the positive power of technology and capture your student’s attention at the same time.

Meet them where they are – on devices, social media, websites, games – and bring this technology into your lessons, homework, projects. For example, their five-paragraph essay can become a blog. Now, not only are they more invested in what they’re learning but they’re building essential digital skills.

Part of increasing student engagement in any class is giving them an applicable reason for being there. Something they can relate to. Utilizing the interconnectivity of technology in the classroom helps you reap the benefits. Plus, your students are more likely to retain the information.

Incorporates different learning styles

There’s a big debate in education between the use of more personalized learning vs. a one-size-fits-all approach and it’s valid. When you have 30+ students in your class, it’s more difficult to create unique lesson plans that engage each student. Especially when you’re already overworked and underpaid as it is. We get it.

One of the many benefits of technology is that it provides an easier way to reach each student’s unique learning styles, playing to their various strengths and respond more intently to you.

  • If your student is more aural, it means they retain information better by hearing it. Some ideas for using technology to your advantage here:
    – Record your lessons! You can turn these into a private podcast that they can re-listen to as they study at home, use audiobooks. This helps you as well for any student that misses a class, they can be directed to your “podcast” and quickly get caught up.
    – Students can use an app like Me Book that allows them to listen to stories and record themselves reading.
    – Language teachers can make use of AI robots and chatbots to speak to students in different languages so they can practice as if talking to a real person.
  • Visual learners respond more to things they can see and are prone to retain more information if they can read/watch it rather than listen.
    – Try incorporating more graphic visuals aids to make the connection, or using more interactive videos in your lessons.
    – You can use technology like coding to allow student to visually code a website, or apps like Canva and Photoshop to create graphics that underline their classroom comprehension and level of engagement.\

Improves Collaboration

There are multiple benefits of technology is that it fosters a higher level of collaboration, not just within your classroom but on a global scale. It’s now easier than ever for students to work together with project management tools, video conference breakout rooms, social media, and even as simple as AirDropping files to someone in under a few minutes. This collaboration also works to the teachers’ benefit! If you’re grading papers, students can now see all of your notes and all communication can be kept in one space. Thus giving you more access to teaching students even outside of the school walls and time.

Embracing the global reach of the internet offers up exciting new possibilities for your students as well. Similar to pen-pals, maybe you have a sister school in a different country, and not only can the students communicate with each other as friends but they can also work remotely as teammates in completing a project. This would take a lot of planning of course, but the possibilities are endless!

Prepares Children for the Future

The single most important benefit of technology in the classroom is that it prepares students to be future-ready. We know that all students will need digital skills for their futures, but there are also many challenges when it comes to teaching digital skills.

At BSD Education, our goal is to prepare students for their undefined futures where artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and data privacy are all emerging topics with tremendous impacts on society. To accomplish this, we embed four approaches into our curriculum that have been identified as future proof and fundamental:

a) Computational Thinking
b) Design Thinking
c) Coding/Programming
d) Digital Citizenship

These are just a few of the many benefits to utilizing more technology in the classroom but I’d love to hear from you on how you use technology to boost student engagement or substantiate a lesson plan? Send me a message at bd@bsd.education or leave a comment below! We’d love to hear from you!

What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular

Design Thinking is a professional process that engineers and designers use to ideate, prototype, and test new inventions, ideas, and products, emerging in K-12 education as a strategy for use in the classroom as well as a tool used for total school improvement.

SparkTruck inspired me to later create my own mobile Design Thinking vehicle called the Geekbus. Since then, I have gone on to teach Design Thinking to students and educators all over the world.

So, what is Design Thinking? I highly recommend this quick video introduction to get acquainted.

There are 5 main steps to Design Thinking:

1. Empathy

2. Define

3. Ideate

4. Prototype

5. Test.

The first step is the most impactful because it requires designers/students to consider the needs of the customer/user. This allows for the development of crucially needed social-emotional skills.

In contrast, the Engineering Design Process does not include this step and goes straight to the ideation and the problem-solving stage without careful consideration of the needs of the people involved. 

There are many ways to gain empathy for the customers/users that you’re designing for, but the best way is to speak directly to them through interviews to ask about their needs, pain-points and to get advice about what they really want and not just what we think they want.

If interviewing customers/users isn’t a viable option, you can brainstorm through empathetic thinking to imagine scenarios where people would use your idea and how they might respond to it.

Design Thinking can be used to create and make products, processes, events, organizations, and even food! The process is adaptable to many situations and once you have some practice with it, it can become a culture-changing practice that can be transformative at whole-school levels.

While Design Thinking can be a useful and practical tool for many situations, it also has limits. One criticism of Design Thinking is that it becomes a crutch and doesn’t help to cultivate what the d.school is calling Design Abilities.

Their 8 Core Design Abilities are: 

  • Navigate Ambiguity
  • Learn from Others
  • Synthesize Information
  • Rapidly Experiment
  • Move Between Concrete and Abstract
  • Build and Craft Intentionally
  • Communicate Deliberately
  • Design your Design Work

If you want to read more about these 8 Core Design Abilities, I recommend that you read the d.school’s description of each ability and the need for an approach that moves beyond Design Thinking.
Design Thinking has left a lasting impact on me and my work, which continues to this day in my work as an ed-tech leader and curriculum designer at BSD Education.

At BSD, we use the Design Think process to develop a new curriculum and to build new features on our custom coding platform. If you want to learn more about our approach at BSD, check out our certified curriculum design process.

How Digital Education is Affecting Young Students

At BSD, we believe that all students should have a digital education, learn digital skills and apply them to a range of contexts. That is why we advocate for these skills to be taught across subject areas, topics, and age groups. Even though younger students may not label that they are learning digital skills, technology is now second nature. 

The educational focus is less on cultivating particular technical skills and more about creating digital familiarity during the early years. This includes developing ways of thinking (such as computational thinking and design thinking), and building a foundation for fluency. Teachers can do this in many ways, and students are never too young to start creating digitally.

Virtual Learning

The move to virtual teaching and learning was a real opportunity for younger students to start a digital education earlier. In addition, it has enabled educators to introduce technologies and digital skills from a very young age, which was not always the case. 

Children are growing up as digital natives, so they are often familiar with digital media earlier than ever. However, virtual learning did not always align early years education with children’s experience with technology in the ‘outside world.’ 

Digital Opportunities

While many students had excellent experiences, the prevalence of technology and opportunities to learn digital skills were hugely variable. These opportunities depended on a range of factors. Kate Gilchrist nicely summarises this in a blog for LSE: ‘teachers’ beliefs and attitudes towards the value of digital technology as part of learning was found to strongly relate to whether they used it or not in their teaching.

Early educators often lacked the IT skills, confidence, and knowledge of implementing skills relevant to the subject being taught. There is also a lack of adequate training, professional development, and technical and administrative support for teachers. Many of the curriculums investigated also did not include any provision for developing digital literacy.’ 

Historically, these factors have meant that not all students were exposed to this critical learning from an early age. As a result, when more technical skills are introduced later, students’ skill levels are at very different starting points. 

Virtual teaching and learning, however, have shifted this. This meant that many of the barriers outlined above have had to be overcome in the classroom. Educators have had to find a way to digitize their curriculum, and with trial and error comes confidence and knowledge.

While teaching young children virtually has its challenges, this educational experience is positive for developing children’s digital fluency and foundation. 

Applying Growth Mindset: How Schools Can Embrace Challenges

Teachers should no longer feel or be labeled as the all-knowing expert of their subject area or in their classrooms. Like our learners, we as educators should cultivate a growth mindset for ourselves, a term coined by psychologist Carol Dweck.

You may be asking, what is a growth mindset?

Sasha Crowley, an instructional designer at Brandman University concisely summarizes the difference between students with a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset:

Fixed mindset:

  • Their goal is to look smart.
  • They tend to avoid challenges.
  • They give up easily.
  • They do not see the point of effort.
  • They ignore feedback.
  • They feel threatened by the success of others.
Growth mindset:

  • Their goal is to learn.
  • They embrace challenges.
  • They persist when there are setbacks.
  • They see effort as the path to mastery.
  • They learn from feedback.
  • They find inspiration in the success of others. 

To encourage and develop a growth mindset in students, we should model and implement the key characteristics of a growth mindset in how we work. 

To successfully facilitate and cultivate a growth mindset in teachers and educators, many factors must work together amongst the schooling community. In the article titled “Developing a Growth Mindset in Teachers and Staff” by Keith Heggart, he shares four ways to encourage a growth mindset in teachers:

Modeling

Modeling is seen as one of the most effective methods in encouraging a culture of a growth mindset. Teachers should see themselves as learners, who are there to learn with the students and see that they too have the ability to improve and learn new things. When students see the passion of learning from their teachers, they too will be encouraged to embrace the learning journey.

Opportunities for new ideas

The willingness to try new things is an essential part of having a growth mindset. To encourage this in teachers, there should be more opportunities and space to do so in the school environment to try new approaches to teaching and learning with an emphasis on what is learned through the process. 

For example, schools can explore offering opportunities to employ action research into the constant improvement of a curriculum. 

Self-reflection

Built-in reflection time is crucial in helping teachers bring awareness to their practices to foster a growth mindset. The reflection should focus on what was learned through the process or journey rather than focus on the success of a new process/program. 

Formative Feedback 

Formative feedback is something we often use with students, but it is equally important in teacher performance management. School management should consider implementing formative feedback opportunities, rather than quarterly “summative” assessments of the teacher. Teachers need to feel that they are in a safe environment to give and receive constant meaningful feedback to improve their daily practices. 

The four areas mentioned above are important and it will take time to implement and establish as part of a schools’ management culture. Here are some ways that you can consider to practice a growth mindset.

Establish a community of practice with your colleagues

Involve your colleagues in your quest to foster a growth mindset. Establish seek colleagues to come together as a community of practice (Wenger-Trayner and Lave, 1991). By regularly meeting and engaging with a group of like-minded colleagues who share your concerns and passions will help you to constantly reflect and get feedback on your practice. What is also great is that through sharing, you may feel inspired to try new approaches!

Involve your students

The first step to modeling is to actually share your goals with your students. Tell them that you are constantly learning with them and you are learning to adopt a growth mindset. Additionally, welcome student feedback, actively ask students how they think you can improve, and become a better guide for them. You will be surprised by how enlightening their answers may be!

Change is the constant in our lives, and teachers have been thrown in the deep end the past year with the current pandemic shifting our usual practices but hopefully, this year, with a little change in perspective we will be ready to face any challenge ahead and innovate with a growth mindset.

– You can read more about Carol Dweck’s work here.

6 Ways Machine Learning Will Evolve Classrooms in 2021

As a technologist, I spend a lot of time with my ear on the ground for the latest happenings around the EdTech Industry.

One of the trends I’ve seen in 2021, is the use of Machine Learning being implemented in EdTech tools and teaching practices.

This is an interesting development because, by definition, machine learning uses artificial intelligence to improve upon itself. When utilized by educators in the classroom, it opens up a number of opportunities for schools to optimize their curriculum and teaching strategy with detailed insights.

In this article, I’ve identified six interesting developments and challenges from my research that may help to guide educators through 2021.

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1. Predict when students will struggle with a type of concept

Are you about to start teaching a topic focused on critical thinking?
 
Will a particular student struggle based on previous critical thinking based topics? – These are the type of answers Machine Learning can provide to teachers.
 
Using historical assessment data, many EdTech companies are able to predict when a student may need more help.

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2. Which technique works best for a student

The term personalized learning has been around now for over 10 years but we are finally going to see this implemented this year.

To help us get there, Machine Learning is using various information points to identify a student’s learning style, as you can see in the diagram below.

A large task for educators will be to consider tagging individual learning modules. This will allow algorithms to better understand what modules worked better for which student using relationships between the tags.

It should be noted that GDPR’s maturity and accessibility have played a big part in allowing access to relevant student data and will continue to do so.

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3. Teachers building their own learning models

Machine Learning relies on its training data to learn how to navigate data.
 
To date, EdTech companies are training their own Machine Learning systems. This year we will start to see learning models provided by teachers.
 
Instead of using preset and student data, teachers will start providing their own data to Machine Learning. This will allow these tools to become effective teaching assistants in a sense.

[/kc_column_text][crum_single_image image_size=”full” align=”aligncenter” _id=”253930″ image_source=”media_library” image=”13579″ caption=”Teachable Machine is a great project that can be the start of how each of us will train our own Machines”][kc_column_text _id=”402340″]

4. Automated testing of curriculum

Curriculum designers are often looking to run test groups to improve their curriculum designs. With the aid of Machine Learning, data can be used to enhance areas such as curriculum flow. Does your lesson have the right amount of reinforcement? The system can even recommend quizzes where student engagement could increase.

A method commonly used by many EdTech organizations is the A/B test, which samples the curriculum with two groups and measures the effectiveness.

With Machine Learning and the added benefit of digital learning, we will also be able to measure student impact on assessment, engagement rates, the effectiveness of reinforcement techniques, and more.

In addition, the speed at which Machine Learning can analyze data is far greater than what we can achieve without its help. This will be a great step in the direction of truly personalized learning.

[/kc_column_text][crum_single_image image_size=”full” align=”aligncenter” _id=”361520″ image_source=”media_library” image=”13620″ caption=”Machine Learning can easily conduct A/B testing used to determine a winning solution”][kc_column_text _id=”92973″]

“We help thousands of teachers at BSD Education with our ready-made digital curriculum and projects” – Nickey Khemchandani

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5. Body language detection and Audio analysis on video calls for behavioural health

Remote learning is now common practice. Teachers are facing the difficult task of identifying engagement or interest via the student body language on a video call.

It was not uncommon to hear the sound of disengagement or stress in student voices when teaching online. One of the areas Machine Learning was able to step in and help was to highlight “stress” indicators in students’ voices in a lesson.

Years ago, I read an amazing research paper by Ishan Behoora and Conrad Tucker from Carnegie Mellon University [https://bit.ly/3npEB1S] explaining how Machine Learning can classify the emotional state of designers in real-time. This got me keeping tabs on this space for how it can be utilized in Education.

As video calls become a norm in education, expect to see real-time detection of student engagement and attention tracking coming soon.

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The following is from a sample class we conducted with a technology partner. The voice of a pre-teen [below 13] was analyzed to identify stress levels. (Voices of pre-teens are easier to analyze since often their voice patterns sound similar and there are fewer similarities to an adult voice).

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6. Assisted grading of non-binary assessments

We have all seen multiple-choice questions being graded using machines. They work great and have been an incredible help for teachers.

With Machine Learning tools used in popular plugins such as Grammarly or the Hemingway Editor, it was only a matter of time before essay writing was also supported.

Research papers are already sharing promising developments and improvements in this space with the inclusion of Machine Learning.

[/kc_column_text][crum_single_image image_size=”full” align=”aligncenter” _id=”152890″ image_source=”media_library” image=”13587″ caption=”The Hemingway Editor is one of my favourite tools when creating a curriculum. http://www.hemingwayapp.com/”][kc_column_text _id=”417369″]

“Machine Learning tools need to be accessible by students as well. These tools can help students solve problems while they are encountering them. This is one of the goals technology aims to serve in Education.”
– Nickey Khemchandani

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At BSD Education, supporting educators/teachers is at the core of who and what we stand for.

With so much to look forward to as technology develops in education, it will be critical for the education community to support teachers throughout these transitions.

We are excited to hear how more schools incorporate machine learning in 2021.

What Does the Future of EdTech Look Like in 2021?

The end of the year is ideal for reflecting on the year passed and looking towards the future. Accordingly, during December, I have dedicated some time to focus on the key trends I expect to be the future of EdTech in 2021.

It is so easy to underestimate the depth and breadth of the EdTech industry and nigh on impossible to visualize the over $5 trillion ecosystems that it forms a part of.

I exist in the realm of K12 digital and 21st-century skills education with an increasing amount of time spent tackling challenges around career-focused learning for students aged 16-24. Sitting on the boards and advisory groups of schools, education foundations, and nonprofits, I am fortunate to experience a broad spectrum of education from several different perspectives throughout each year.

EdTech Investment

EdTech took a front-row seat in the global business landscape in 2020, with investors making significant bets on established and larger companies in growth investment rounds. However, I feel that venture capital investors can struggle to balance early-stage educational investment with the return demands of their investment models. Driven by a lack of specialization in specific domains of education, this investment, even with an overall sector-based generalization, is highly complex. They also lack confidence in the strength of their networks to influence growth within a huge institutional addressable market and a consumer segment that can suffer from poor unit economics. 

That said, several education investors with precise specializations are now establishing early-stage funds, presenting a solid opportunity for high-quality investment in early revenue stage companies. Well-tested and validated through the pandemic, these companies will be more robust than usual for their stage and likely undervalued. 

In 2021, while it will still be a journey back towards average, schools will begin to operate with more established processes and protocols, providing more stability for smaller but growing EdTech companies to gain a foothold and deliver initial results. With this in mind, I believe investors will deploy a continued investment growth to a broader range of companies across the future of the EdTech industry in the coming year. 

Online Learning

Educators already anticipated online learning to be an area of significant growth in 2020. Accelerated by COVID-19, online learning has permeated traditional schools to a greater extent than previously foreseen. As a result, a good standard of online delivery of formal education was achieved, and its status and perception in the eyes of both educators and parents have improved. In 2021, schools will determine which aspects of learning were enhanced by online learning and which remain best delivered in person. This will drive growth in the future of EdTech through the definition and practice of hybrid educational models and the technology and training that supports them.

Growth in Pedagogical Technology

Many approaches to online learning have focused on implementing video conferencing tools and achieving full adoption of learning management systems (LMS) by faculties. While an initial step in the right direction, this combination of administrative and communication technology does not provide a seamless transition between offline and online learning or the ability for the same understanding to be delivered in the same amount of time. 

Elementary school educators have struggled to deliver the full spectrum of learning online – a challenge that remains unresolved and not likely to be solved any time soon – however, middle and high school learning has continued online with less disruption. Overall, time-constrained learning has focused on tested topics and exam preparation, resulting in a significant rollback in enrichment and elective education, arguably more relevant to students’ futures in the real world than much of traditionally tested learning. 

I believe educators will begin to adopt and seek pedagogical technology tools in 2021 that focus on content creation and engagement, real-time student learning data, and feedback to empower best practices and bridge the gap for effective teaching between LMS and communication tools.

LMS Consolidation and Interoperability

With technology tools remaining at the heart of quality teaching and learning experiences, streamlining their usage and allowing educators to move quickly between systems will become critical. It will also mean a growing demand for and a definition of the requirements for interoperability. Currently, the fragmentation of the LMS market and unpredictability of application programming interfaces (APIs) is a barrier to broader and more consistent standards for interoperability. I believe this will begin to be resolved as the LMS market starts to consolidate towards the latter part of 2021.

Data and Privacy

Against a backdrop of increasing regulation and legal scrutiny, growth in pedagogical technologies and interoperability will lead to more real-time educational data being produced about student learning in 2021 than ever before. EdTech companies will need to be acutely aware of data privacy, protection, and storage requirements at both the consumer and institutional customer levels. In addition, global companies will need to consider effective data regions within their technology infrastructures and understand the security and architectural implications of scaling their technology, particularly where accurate time data is involved. 

Career-focused Learning and Assessment

As many developed nations continue with employment stimulus packages, the economic repercussions of COVID-19 have yet to be fully felt around the world. Going into 2021, however, these effects will become more significant, and unemployment levels will likely increase to levels similar to the post-war era of the mid-20th century. This will accelerate career-focused learning, re-skilling, and reduce university application and enrollment. As a result, people focus on faster and cheaper means of validating skills and experience that give them employment in developing, likely technology-driven industries. For the future of EdTech, this will lead to growth in opportunities for curriculum creators, new assessment providers, and credentialing organizations that have strong partnerships with the industry. 

At this point, you might be wondering why I have not mentioned artificial intelligence in the trends that I am predicting. I do believe that meaningful AI implementations in education will take place, just not in 2021. We are still witnessing the early phase of developing validated solutions for real-time data and analytics in machine learning. The longitudinal validation of AI in education and complexities of algorithmic bias will make progress slow, while other EdTech developments will have more impactful and verifiable immediate results.

Although it has been said that 2020 was when the impact of EdTech on education was felt, I would say that the door has only been cracked open. Instead, it has been a year of learning and discovery in preparation for a truly significant level of adoption at a later date. 

2021 will be a year when the disruption of 2020 becomes the new normal, and it is against this backdrop that the future of EdTech will indeed be defined.

Our Brains are Wired for Games and Play: How Can Learning be More Playful?

If you have ever spent any time teaching in a school, you will observe that throughout the day children will find or invent new ways to play with just about anything whether it’s tossing paper airplanes down the hall or engaging in sports games during recess.

This seems only natural because children are inclined to be curious, imaginative, and engage in playful discovery. 

Traditional education systems seem to stifle playfulness and instead encourage obedience and order, the opposite of play. I can recall many moments in my own childhood where I was asked to turn over the trinkets and toys that I usually brought to school in my pocket and played with during lessons.

Jane McGonigal, a game designer and researcher in the field of game-based learning says in her TED Talk that “when we’re playing a game, that we’re actually happier working hard than we are relaxing, or hanging out.”

It turns out that playing games and engaging in other forms of play are deeply stimulating and intuitive activities that require cognitive thinking and problem solving, the very things that education strives to achieve. 

Toy manufacturer LEGO has known about the power of play for many years and has even conducted research to thoroughly understand the nature of play. When they published a framework for educators called the Pedagogy of Play, their research indicated that when children are engaged in play, they are building cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and creative skills.

Research has repeatedly shown that “play experiences are not merely fun – play also has a critical and crucial role in learning and in preparing children for challenges in childhood and throughout adulthood.” If play helps to develop the exact same skills that education intends, then why do we shun play in school and in classrooms? 

Instead of shunning play in education altogether, perhaps there are ways in which we can leverage play in classrooms as a way to keep children engaged while learning. Depending on your readiness to play and lead play, there are several entry points, such as gamifying behavior management with tools like Class Dojo or if you are ready for a costume change and a magic wand, step into the world of Live Action Role Playing.

We all understand that education can’t be fun and games all of the time, but there certainly is room for improvement. 

Today, there are dozens of educational games, apps, and learning environments that are designed to provide a playful experience for learning to take place. One of the biggest players currently in this space is Minecraft, which operates an education version of their famous game environment. Educator Dan Bloom has used Minecraft to teach biology, where students used Minecraft to recreate models of cells.

This is just one of the many examples of how educators are harnessing the power of play through what is called game-based learning

At BSD Education, like LEGO, we know that children are inherently tuned for play, which is why our curriculum is project-focused and is centered around creating and making digital artifacts such as web pages, games, and interactive elements.

By engaging in the process of making something like a webpage or video game, our students are experiencing the same characteristics of play that are described in the Pedagogy of Play: iteration, meaningful contexts, joyful experiences, and social interactions.

Our Education team at BSD Education relies on the unique potential of play to be a catalyst for learning, which is why we start developing our curriculum with play in mind. 

Understanding Personalized Education in Schools

Personalized learning is widely debated among educators. While I am not writing this as an expert in this area, I want to use this opportunity to begin a dialogue with readers about personalized learning – what are your thoughts, experiences, practices, hopes?

In recent years, a great deal of attention and investment has gone into pushing initiatives and software by Silicon Valley in utilizing technology to enable personalized learning. This has been met with varying degrees of criticism (for more on this, you can check out this Education Week article by Benjamin Herold.) In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic propelling the shift to online learning, the suggestion that it’s a “good time” to try-out tech-driven personalized learning is reemerging. Even so, the start of the academic year has been met with varying degrees of success. Schools and communities that have a robust digital learning culture and infrastructure are thriving while underserved communities with the lack of access to devices and connectivity are suffering greatly, thus the learning gap is becoming (scarily) increasingly wider. 

The definition and approach to personalized learning vary from educator to educator and from organization to organization – it really depends on your pedagogical viewpoint.  In practice, we can be talking about the introduction of a platform/software that guides students through different learning journeys built on an algorithm, or to some schools, a loose pedagogical framework in whole-school curriculum redesigns. 

According to Herold, we can summarize this model as follows:

  • Personalized learning can be tailored to students’ strengths, weaknesses, and areas of interest
  • Pace and instruction are used to design for each individual
  • Technology is greatly leveraged to track and measure student learning and develop “learner profiles”
  • Educational tech tools are used to develop a student”s “learner profile” to help customize educational content

Too often, nowadays, we try to find a tech solution to all that we do and often begin to lose focus on what is most important. Personalized learning is not about technology. Let us not forget the power and importance of teacher-student relationships and our role as teachers in inspiring and being beacons to our learners. The human element in our learning environments, be it in-person or virtual is more important than ever in these uncertain times. 

Paul Emerich France, author of Reclaiming Personalized Learning: A Pedagogy for Restoring Equity and Humanity in Our Classrooms (2019) debunks five common myths about personalized learning and a great comparison between a “humanized” versus “dehumanized” approach to personalized learning. I find these two resources particularly helpful to refer to when I find myself needing to refocus my pedagogical approach when creating and improving our programs at BSD Education

From Paul Emerich France, Reclaiming Personalised Learning (Corwin Press, 2019)

From Paul Emerich France, Reclaiming Personalized Learning (2019); Barbara Bray, Rethinking Learning (2019).

It is easy for us to say just use some software to guide our learners through their learning journey, but France’s resources remind us to dive deeper and consider wider perspectives and circumstances when we plan our curriculum because too often, students just simply need to know that you are there for them and to inspire them – something no algorithm can replace.

What are your strategies when it comes to personalizing education in your classrooms and schools? What are your struggles? How can we better humanize your journey in bringing digital skills learning into your classrooms?

You can reach me at ey@bsd.education at any time to continue the dialogue I want to hear from you!