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The Next Big Ed Tech Breakthrough (and it’s not a new technology)

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Finding trends and the next big thing in technology in education always seems to be a hot topic. Technology changes constantly, and we want to know how it’s going to impact teaching and learning.

Tech in various forms continues to become more and more commonplace in the classroom. One-to-one initiatives are becoming more widespread. Students carry powerful smartphones in their pockets. Wireless Internet gives us information on demand.

So, what’s the next big tech breakthrough to hit education?

I think I’ve identified it. But it’s probably not what you’d expect.

3D printing? Coding? Drones? Plugging info in the back of our heads like they did in “The Matrix”?

Nope. In fact, the next big breakthrough isn’t a tool or even a new technology.

Ready for it?

Integration. Real tech integration.

Wait a second, you might think. Tech integration is a term — some might say a buzzword — that’s been bandied around education for a long time. How can tech integration be the next big thing in ed tech?

I’m not talking about identifying useful technologies and finding ways to fit them in the classroom.

What I’m talking about is that point when learning and technology are so intertwined, so integrated that we don’t even think about the technology.

Think about that moment when you have a lingering question, something you can’t seem to remember and others around you can’t remember either. You pull your smartphone out and do a quick Google search. Boom. Question answered.

Would you consider that technology integration? No, because it’s just something we do quickly without even thinking about it.

Ahh. There it is.

“Something we do quickly without even thinking about it.”

I listened as Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, keynoted a conference a couple years ago. He said that technology in schools should be “ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.”

Ubiquitous: everywhere.

Necessary: Crucial to getting the job done.

The one that really got my attention, though, was invisible. As in second-nature. Think of it like your arm. We use it all the time, but we aren’t really putting thought into it.

The next big thing in ed tech, I think, isn’t adding new tools and tricks to our repertoire. We already have so many of them, and lots of teachers feel overwhelmed by it all. (Big secret: Many students feel overwhelmed by it all, too.)

The next big thing is taking what we have and operationalizing it. Making it usable. Making it like our arms, so we’re using it but we aren’t thinking about it.

How do we do it? For one, we become extremely judicious in what we allow in our schools and classes. We can’t introduce new tools, apps and sites to students one after another because they’re flashy or because lots of others are using them.

That’s as silly as a builder choosing what to build because he has a new hammer he wants to try out.

When we simplify and become more and more proficient with the tools we choose to use, we become streamlined. Efficient.

To the point where we have truly integrated technology — where it’s invisible.


(@jmattmiller): Author, blogger, professional development facilitator and decade-plus veteran of public school classrooms. He’s the author of Ditch That Textbook, the popular education blog and book of the same name (DitchThatTextbook.com).

Matt is also a 2017 MACUL Conference Featured Speaker.