Bold Predictions for Edtech in 2021

predictions for edtech
(Image credit: Carl Hooker)

Every year, I try to prognosticate some crazy ideas in the hopes they catch on in both education and society. I know some people like to make resolutions, but I’m more about prediction and reflection with the turning of the calendar toward a new year. 

I’ve written this blog post for the past eight years and some of my better predictions in the past have included: 

  • A non-Apple Tablet will rule them all (2013) 
  • Pearson will lose its testing contract in Texas (2015
  • A dual-language school with coding as the other language will be invented (2017)
  • A Boba Fett movie will be announced (2018) - technically, a series but ….  
  • The 2020 election will be heavily influenced by TikTok (2020

However, I also bombed with these: 

  • The self-driving school bus will be a thing (2016
  • A human battery-level app will be invented (2015)
  • A school goes 1-to-1 exercise bikes (2020)  

Obviously, I missed a big one last year not predicting a global pandemic would shut down everything and most schools would muddle through the school year in some form of hybrid or remote learning. This year, however, I’m going to use some of the lessons learned from the pandemic to drive some of my predictions--as well as throw in a couple of fun ones just for good measure. 

Presenting my 9th annual “Bold Predictions,” for 2021:

The mega face-to-face conference dies...and is reborn as hybrid 

Conferences around the country were shaken to their core due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some conferences adjusted quickly, pivoting to an online platform. Others, such as ISTE, postponed the event in the hopes that things would get better. And some just cancelled all together. 

In speaking with conference organizers for this 2021 year, many are struggling to figure out what direction to go. The all-important vendor dollars that drive these events have severely fallen off with the lack of face-to-face opportunities. Some smaller events (such as Confluence in Texas) tried the hybrid approach (a mix of in-person and remote) at their conference and were able to pull it off in a safe and productive fashion. 

My prediction is that there will have to be some robust online (synchronous and asynchronous) options available for conference attendees going forward. While I miss the collegiality and networking of in-person events, having these online components and getting creative with sponsor presence (such as trivia nights!) could make the edtech conference even better in the future.

Esports becomes a national varsity sport 

This movement has been gaining traction but many state agencies that certify high school sports have neglected to recognize the sporting aspect of esports. With more than 200 colleges offering more than $15 million in esports scholarships, high schools around the country will have to start stepping up to the plate sooner rather than later. 

While there are some equity concerns with esports in terms of who can afford the equipment, there are also equity opportunities that can rise out of having a sport that isn’t based on gender or physical skill. 

Every high school will offer high-quality online options from now on 

This one isn’t that bold, which is why I threw in “high-quality” there. With the sudden shift to remote learning, most schools and teachers struggled to provide high-quality instruction. However, there were some teachers and students who thrived in the online environment. 

When things go “back to normal,” why not keep some course offerings online? Schools can network with other schools in their state to provide options that they might not normally offer. I know this has been tried in the past and there are funding hurdles (such as who gets the money for the student attending online), but if this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we need to break from the brick-and-mortar building and the thought that learning only happens between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Bad weather days become obsolete 

Again, maybe not so bold, but piggybacking off the thoughts from above, if a school knows it is in for some bad weather, the staff should be able to send devices home the day before and easily pivot to an online curriculum. Many schools have been “piloting” this eLearning Day concept for years, but after almost every school was forced to go remote in 2020, it’s something everyone should consider permanently. 

Again, some hurdles here would be antiquated “seat time” laws when it comes to state funding, adequate devices and bandwidth (which is still a major issue), and preparing the curriculum and being able to pivot quickly as a teacher. If ever there was a time for this to happen, now would be it.

Classroom air quality becomes a priority 

I used to teach in an old portable building that I was pretty sure leaked asbestos and mold into my lungs every day. Schools cut corners all the time because of funding, but one that we really need to reconsider after this pandemic is the effect of air quality on absenteeism and learning. This University of Wisconsin white paper sheds light on those effects and the benefits of using a system that is not just an air filtration system, such as many schools have, but something that hospitals use to kill surface germs. 

Having a silent, non-chemical, non-filter system such as a C.A.S.P.R. in every classroom would go a long way to slowing absences due to the cold and flu as well as helping those students with asthma and breathing issues. Between this and the end of bad weather days, kids would no longer have excuses for missing school--which I’m sure they would hate. 

The Roaring 20’s will be a thing 

This is less about school and more about society, but in studying the aftereffects of both WWI and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919, people were eager to get out and party. Thus, the “Roaring 20’s” were born. 

While I have no quantitative data around this, I would say that qualitatively, 90% of people are eager to get out and do something (travel, go to a bar or restaurant, etc) sooner rather than later. With vaccines starting to roll out and herd immunity on the horizon, the back half of 2021 and into 2022 will witness The Roaring 20’s 2.0. I’m sure the hotel, airline, and cruise industries are hoping for this too, so better buy those tickets to Vegas now before the price doubles!

Schools will adopt a “racial justice” curriculum 

Last year, prior to the pandemic and the black lives matter movements, Adam Phyall and I delivered a presentation called “It’s Not All Black Or White.” We didn’t know it at the time, but the conversation we started during our session would reveal one MAJOR issue many public educational institutions have: Our history and the way we teach it, is flawed. 

When the events following the killing of George Floyd captured our nation, it brought to light several issues we currently have in our own historical textbooks. While our country has a checkered past, my prediction is that schools will look to offer a more diversified view of history as well as curriculum that helps students and teachers have those hard conversations around race and privilege. These are hard conversations but they need to happen if we are truly going to move forward as a society.

The hot ones episode of the UnDisrupted Podcast goes viral 

Speaking of Adam and myself, we recently tried to kick off the new year of the UnDisrupted Podcast with an episode titled “What’s HOT in Ed Tech” -- an homage to the Hot Ones Challenge made famous by the guys at FirstWeFeast

During the episode, Adam and I came up with our own predictions of trends in edtech, but along the way, made sure to eat progressively hotter chicken wings. By the end of the episode, we were both in tears and Adam began spewing classic one-liners such as, “I can’t feel my teeth!” and “My hair is tingling.” This episode is a classic example of leaders taking risks, only to crash and burn, but we hope you enjoy our buffoonery. Who knows, maybe it’ll go viral! 

90% of face-to-face meetings will be eliminated in education 

Pre-pandemic I would say that a Zoom meeting only accounted for about 10% of all meetings (at least in education). Other global industries have long-since adopted the virtual meeting, but education, ever-grounded in traditionalism, has continued to opt for face-to-face connections. From cabinet meetings to board meetings to parent-teacher conferences, we force dozens of people into a room and force them to pay attention to one person talking. 

While we all yearn for socialization and networking (see The Roaring 20’s above), we also learned that maybe spending half of our time in face-to-face meetings isn’t entirely efficient. While I know this prediction will be hard to measure, and there will still be times at which people will have to meet in person, I’m hoping that the “meeting that could have been an email” will actually be an email in the future. 

There will be a Star Wars spinoff about a school on Tatooine 

As has become tradition in my Bold Predictions articles, I usually include at least one Star Wars-themed prediction, so this year will not be any different. 

Last month, Disney announced the 10 shows and movies they will spin-off from the Star Wars brand. Much of this came as a direct result of the tremendously popular Mandalorian series. Not lost on me, was the classroom scene in that show where students (still sitting in rows) listened to their C3PO-like teacher try to teach students in a traditional fashion. I found it ironic how similar the classroom looked to those here on Earth and hope that in the future, Disney will develop a spinoff show just about what teaching is like on a planet such as Tatooine. If I was really bold, I would say it’s based on Hoth, but then every day would be snow day and that wouldn’t be any fun. 

I finally write and publish my children’s book 

Another running tradition has been this one which I've listed the last five years. It’s bound to happen at some point, right? Last year, I even upped the ante with three different book ideas planned, but those fell to the wayside as the pandemic forced everyone to pivot. I was able to use that time to pivot as well and decided to create an online course (The Remote Learning Coach) rather than a book. 

My hope for 2021 is that not only do I get this children’s book out, but that I continue to enjoy the new pace of life that has occurred as a direct result of being forced into my house with my family these past nine months. 

And to that end, I also hope that all of you have learned something about yourself during this pandemic. We’ve all struggled with different aspects of this past year. Quarantines, lockdowns, changing from remote to hybrid, cancelled travel plans, and much more have affected all of us personally and professionally. My goal with the predictions above is that we can reflect, change, and grow from those lessons learned to make education and society better for everyone in the future. 

Stay safe, stay sane, and happy 2021!

Carl Hooker has been a part of a strong educational shift with technology integration since becoming an educator. As Director of Innovation & Digital Learning at Eanes ISD, he has helped spearhead the LEAP program, which put one-to-one iPads in the hands of all K-12 students in his 8,000-student district. He is also the founder of “iPadpalooza”- a three-day “learning festival” held in Austin annually. He's also the author of the six-book series titled Mobile Learning Mindset, a guide for teachers, administrators, parents and others to support and embrace mobile learning in our schools. Read more at Hooked on Innovation.

Carl Hooker has spent the past 20+ years in education as a teacher and administrator focused on the thoughtful integration of technology and innovation. He consults for multiple districts across the country and is a frequent speaker at state and national events. In his free time he's an author, DJ, podcast host, Poetry Slammer, and Trivia Night MC. He's the co-founder of the social platform Check out his latest book Ready Set FAIL! Now available for order here:  Read more of his blogs at Hooked on Innovation.