We spoke to Elijah Mayfield and Todd Brekhus, two of the top influencers in the educational technology world, to get their 2018 edtech predictions. According to both, if the edtech industry is able to prove its financial and educational worth next year, it can focus on creating new ways of learning, engaging and assessing students that reach farther than mere textbooks and whiteboards. Here’s what they had to say:
Elijah Mayfield, VP of New Technologies at Turnitin
Mayfield joined Turnitin in 2014, when LightSide, the machine-learning startup he created to help students build and improve their writing skills, was acquired.
When Turnitin was originally founded, its focus was on paper conservation through online submissions, and on preventing plagiarism. But with Mayfield on the team, Turnitin has started focusing on ensuring students achieve academic integrity at an earlier stage of their work by providing quick feedback on first draft submissions.
Turnitin is “trying to be more of a prolific tool,” says Mayfield, “ideally not to be used to just to catch students cheating at the end of an assignment, but to give students access to that information earlier, as well as information around citations, best practices and references — the academic writing genre.”
He stresses that the development of core writing skills is crucial for future academic success. Using technology to offer feedback on the basics of argument writing and correct application of sources throughout the drafting process helps prevent failing grades, which demotivate students.
Mayfield focuses on preparing students to write narrative and analyze text at the middle and high school stages before university, where academic integrity and plagiarism are central to the conversation.
Mayfield’s 2018 edtech predictions
Mayfield says that any edtech prediction has to bear in mind the tension over federal changes to the financing of universities. Administrators are thinking about the reliability of future funding sources, and looking at other avenues.
He predicts that making wiser investments with less funding availability — and making sure that existing investments are paying off — will be top of mind in the edtech space in 2018.
“It’s an environment where everyone is looking for proof that the products they are buying are doing what you are looking for,” Mayfield says. “There’s more scrutiny of the quality of what is coming out of an edtech product — less intrinsic belief of what’s on the brochure, and more side-by side comparisons.”
Mayfield emphasizes the importance of getting buy-in from faculty and students.
“What I’m hopeful about in 2018 is that people in the universities and high- schools we work in find a way to bridge that gap of saying, ‘We want more evidence-based decision making’. Figuring out the balance of the right amount of scrutiny is the challenge I think will come up in 2018 conversations.”
“What edtech is succeeding, what’s being adopted, and what’s not?”
Todd Brekhus, president of Minnesota-based myON
Brekhus launched myON, a K–12 learning platform that digitizes library books and blends them into the curriculum, in 2011, giving students unlimited access. There are 7.5 million primary students worldwide on the platform.
He predicts a future of unlimited access to books in the digital realm—and even teaching methods that have grown past the concept of physical books.
“[myON] is a Netflix-type model for reading and literacy in the schools,” Brekus says. “[It’s] the concept of getting students and teachers a limitless content library, that can shift and change the dynamics of a very static and structured methodology to a personalized structure.”
Brekhus says the demise of print textbook publishing — across all sectors of education — has been long forthcoming. Edtech professionals now need to think of digitizing libraries so they serve their curriculums and fit within their existing and future technology.
Brekhus’s biggest criticism of the traditional textbook model is not its form, but the restrictive way the information is delivered.
“Content has been so bound to be so minimally viable, that it’s just enough information to get across, and I think it leaves behind students that want to be curious, and [are] interested in the subject areas.” Being fixed to a time (classroom-only) and a space (in a textbook) doesn’t allow for curiosity, interest and engagement, he says.
Brekhus’s 2018 edtech predictions
Brekhus says it’s time to overturn the traditional mindset of the print model, while still ensuring that digital content is rigorously vetted. That way, free from the bounds of the print textbook, students of all ages will be able to get access to the information they need and drive their interests down new avenues of critical thinking.
On the technology side, Brekhus believes we will see increasing flexibility in technology-based learning tools, which means that digital textbooks have to evolve from the lockstep model of a static textbook.
“Technology content [will become] more adaptive and personalized. I think the demand on teachers will grow higher, but [teaching] should become more fun if I can be more innovative in my classrooms, if I can make learning more exciting and challenging and full of debate and context and information,” Brekhus said.
Another of Brekhus’s 2018 edtech predictions is that there will be more opportunities to bring dynamic, digital content into the classroom, making it interactive and personalized.
“Not just content driven by algorithms, but by engagement — better, interactive, consumable content, deconstructed from the traditional textbook model.”