The NMC Horizon Report: 2012 Higher Education Edition came out a few weeks ago, and I thought it would be a good idea to put together a quick run down of what it contains. The New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative identify six technologies they see as having a potential impact on higher education over the next five years. They are divided into three categories based on how long it will be before they could be widely adopted: near-term horizon, mid-term horizon, and far-term horizon. The team behind the report state that it is not a predictive tool, and is meant to highlight emerging technologies with considerable potential for areas of education.
The Horizon report also identifies key trends that they considered to be the drivers of educational technology adoptions over the period of the report. The six ranked trends are:
- People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to.
- The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based as notions of IT support are decentralized.
- The world of work is increasingly collaborative, driving changes in the way student projects are structured.
- The abundance of resources and relationships easily accessible via the internet increasingly challenges us to revisit our roles as educators.
- Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning and collaborative models.
- There is a new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based and active learning.
Near-Term Horizon – One year or less:
The Horizon report identifies two key factors about mobile apps. There are many to choose from and they are inexpensive (compared to desktop software), which allows individuals to economically customize their device (whether smartphone or tablet) to their own interests. Numerous apps are available to support students inside and outside of the classroom. They provide resources for collaborating with other students or to engage with class materials. Many institutions have, or are in the process of developing, their own apps, ranging from communicating breaking campus news and accessing library material to creating custom apps for individual courses or programs.
The Horizon report has separated tablets from mobile devices as a distinct category, highlighting their potential for collaboration in small groups and the larger display for better viewing of material. The real innovation of these devices is that most are so intuitive and simple that no manuals or instructions are needed. Tablets also provide a nicely sized video player with instant access to an enormous library of content (digital readers for books, magazines, and newspapers) and a web browser.
Tablets can be ideal for fieldwork, and many institutions are using them to replace laboratory equipment, video equipment, and various other expensive tools that are not as portable, or as inexpensive to replace. Some institutions are providing tablets to students with pre-loaded course materials, digital textbooks, and other helpful resources.
Mid-term Horizon – Two to three years:
Game-base learning reflects a number of skills higher education strives for like: collaboration, problem solving, communication, critical thinking, and digital literacy. They can provide students with a fresh perspective on material, engaging them in content in complex and nuanced ways, and provide immediate performance feedback. Open-ended, challenge-base, truly collaborative games can draw on skills for research, writing, leadership, and media making. When embedded in the curriculum they allow students to learn how to learn along with mastering the subject matter. Simulation-based games have already been used within the military, health care and other disciplines.
School counselors and student services have long used information such as student attendance records, grades, teacher observations, test scores, and the like to identify at-risk students. Learning analytics aims to go much further and create a far more robust and nuanced picture of learning to improve both teaching and learning environments. When correctly applied it would enable faculty to better understand their student’s learning needs and make changes when necessary. It would give instructors more insight into the processes of teaching, learning, and assessment, and enable a model of curriculum that is more fluid and open to change.
Far-term Horizon – Four to Five Years:
Gesture-based devices are already commonplace; iPhones, iPads, and other tablets and smartphones, as well as Xbox Kinect and the Nintendo Wii. These devices centre on creating a minimal interface, and producing an experience where the hands and body become input devices. There are two developments that have made gesture-based computing stand out. The first is the increasing fidelity of the systems that allow for much more subtle movements, and even facial gestures. The second is the convergence with voice recognition, like the iPhone’s Siri.
One of the more compelling reasons gesture-based computing is of interest is that it relies on natural human movements rather than a specific language. This style of interface opens a key barrier between the user and his or her computer. There is also much potential in enabling or assistive technology, where it is already having an impact for special needs and disabled individuals.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things refers to network aware smart objects that connect the physical world with the world of information. This is already done today with web cams, shared printers, even appliances and picture frames, but would expand it to any object. Smart objects will allow the internet to be the mechanism for real-time monitoring of current location, environment, and movement of any object in an institutions care or collections. Sensors in study rooms would allow for real-time updates on the occupancy of the rooms, or in field work scientists and researchers could use them to get alerts on conditions that might damage their samples.
The full Horizon report goes into much more detail on the key trends and each of the six technologies summarized above. The examples of current use are especially interesting, and give us a much better idea of how these technologies might impact our own classrooms or teaching. You can find the Horizon report at: