FETC: What’s in Store for the Education Market in 2017?

The US ed tech conference season kicks off at the start of the year with a strong event, the Future of Education Technology Conference (this year, FETC 2017), held each year in Orlando, Florida. FETC always sets the tone for the year, previewing what’s up and coming for educational technology in the U.S. market.

I would like to share some key observations related to key trends and display-related issues taking shape at FETC 2017. Here are my gleanings from the FETC event, now in its 36th year.

Continuing and Emerging Trends
Almost every conceivable avenue for educational technology investment was visible throughout the FETC conference, but the strongest messages included:

STEM. The STEM meme (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) repeated its strong presence from last year. It’s a topic that school administrators and parents alike continue to value.

Free stuff. Educators continued to hyperventilate over ‘free’ resources, even more so this year. But that’s discouraging. Why is that? Although used as a common ‘filler’ at most most ed-tech conferences these days, free stuff simply isn’t educationally nutritional. In my 30 years as a school technology leader, I’ve learned that most technology worth having—any technology that is truly effective—costs me something.

Gamification. The interest in gamifying learning was explosive and omnipresent at this year’s conference. Whether it involves game-based learning, game design, or lightly gamifying instruction, this is not a topic that can be ignored any longer. Something’s happening here.

Coding. After a long and arduous push over the last decade or more, the coding revolution (aka programming, computational thinking, computer science) has finally elbowed its way in, standing beside the big players in ed tech. The available options for student coding, clear down to the primary grades, are mind-boggling and ubiquitous at this conference, like never before. It’s become big. Very big.

Technology Planning. Sometimes it happens: an old meme re-emerges from the past, reclaiming a surprisingly hip position in our culture. Like Tony Bennett reinvigorating old standards, jazz, and scat. Tech planning has long been out of vogue in the U.S., relegated to the backwaters of effective practice. But no longer. FETC saw a solid resurgence of tech planning topics throughout the concurrent sessions and workshops. It’s a good thing, actually. Effective technology planning in schools begets successful implementations. Successful implementations beget more fruitful projects, as school and district emulate others. And all of these things produce more customers. So more thoughtful technology planning is a very good thing.

Parenthetically, the advent of this planning meme is particularly timely. The U.S. Department of Education just released their ED TECH RCE COACH, an interactive web-based tool for assessing technology in schools. This rapid-cycle evaluation tool helps educational customers answer a number of important questions: Is the technology we have in place working? Is it effective? Should we replace our legacy technology and move to something newer? Does our technology matter? If you sell to the education market, you may want to take a look at this tool, to see if your messaging or value proposition are up to snuff.

Virtual and Augmented Reality. VR and AR also presented themselves strongly at FETC, in some ways, even maturely. See my subscription article on this topic VR @ FETC 2017 for some surprising details.

Some Concluding Thoughts
Although the FETC spotlight on interactive displays (and displays in general) appeared diminished this year, it’s not for a bad reason. This year, educators are more interested in the why and the how, than the what or the ‘wow’. Again, it’s the value proposition. In fact, some of the new and continuing trends cited above are very good news for display manufacturers. Specifically, STEM, coding, gamification, and AR/VR all require better and more displays.-Len Scrogan