NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Pt. 4 of 4): 3D Printing and Wearable Technology

Once upon a time—say two or three years ago—the idea that 3D printing or wearable technology might be on a relative fast track toward widespread dissemination and become important elements of training-teaching-learning seemed far-fetched for many of us. That’s rapidly changing, the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report, released earlier this week, suggests.

Horizon_Report--2013It’s not as if either technology has spring forth full-blown from nothing. Early 3D printing innovations date back at least to the 1970s (the term itself appears to have been coined in 1995 by MIT graduate students), and wearable technology can easily be traced back at least to calculator watches from the same decade. I was among those who were still seeing wearable technology in a pseudo-dreamy “that’s for other people” sort of way just a few years ago (in 2009) when we were dazzled by a TED talk wearable technology demonstration by Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry, but recent public sightings of Google Project Glass devices suggests the revolution is already underway. As for 3D printing, a quick, far-from-exhaustive online search suggests that predictions of mainstream adaptation of the technology have increased tremendously over the past year, which helps explain why the Horizon Report sees it and wearable technology as the two key technologies that are within a four- to five-year adoption horizon in which they will achieve widespread use among educators and learners. (Separate summaries of one-year horizon and two- to three-year horizon technologies have already been posted on Building Creative Bridges as part of this 2013 Horizon Report summary series.)

“3D printing is already pervasive in a number of fields, including architecture, industrial design, jewelry design, and civil engineering,” the Horizon Report writers remind us. “In the past several years, there has been a lot of experimentation in the consumer space—namely within the Maker culture, a technologically-savvy, do-it-yourself community dedicated to advancing science engineering, and other disciplines through the exploration of 3D printing and robotics” (Horizon Report, p. 28).

Where this becomes of interest to trainer-teacher-learners is through the examples cited in the report. Case Western University, for example, has Think[box], “a space for anyone to creatively tinker; Think[box] includes 3D printers, laser cutters, and tools for students to create their own printed circuit board of computerized embroidery” (p. 30); we can’t view the project introductory video without being stunned by what is already being accomplished in this academic setting.

The University of Mary Washington ThinkLab, which puts a makerspace into a university library setting, is another stunning example of “hands-on creative inquiry and learning with a variety of high-tech tools, including a 3D printer.” And for those hungry for more examples of how 3D printing can be incorporated into learning, the report provides links to Nancy Parker’s “7 Educational Uses for 3D Printing” and Jason Hidalgo’s “The Future of Higher Education: Reshaping Universities through 3D Printing.”

When we turn our attention to wearable technology, we find the world  becoming even more intriguing by combining concepts of augmented reality and mediated reality with mobile learning (m-learning): “Effective wearable devices become an extension of the person wearing them, allowing them to comfortably engage in everyday activities or to help them accomplish a specific task….Wearable technologies that could automatically send information via text, email, and social networks on behalf of the user, based on voice commands, gestures, or other indicators, would help students and educators communicate with each other, keep track of updates, and better organize notifications” (pp. 32-33). If we think about how much one of the near-horizon technologies (tablets) has already extended our ability to engage in m-learning, we see how breathtakingly spectacular an expansion might be possible with the even less obtrusive Google Project Glass device and other glass devices under development or already in use.

Again, the examples cited in the report are spectacular. The Muse headband, for example, offers the promise of using brain activity to control devices—something akin to Tan Le’s demonstration in a 2010 TED talk about using a device to control virtual objects via a user’s brainwaves.

A link to Nick Bilton’s New York Times article “One on One: Steve Mann, Wearable Computing Pioneer” takes us to a (currently) extreme version of the technology-in-progress: “When you use it as a memory aid, it is your brain,” Mann says at one point in the interview.

As we complete our review of the latest Higher Education edition of the Horizon Project, we’re left with plenty to consider—not the least of which is whether we’ll soon be reading upcoming Horizon Reports with our Project Glass devices. Or accessing the information in even more intriguing ways. 

N.B.—Episode #113 of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training podcast series, recorded on February 8, 2013, includes a deeper exploration of the 2013 Horizon Report Higher Education edition, MOOCs, and learning and technology innovations. 

One Response to NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Pt. 4 of 4): 3D Printing and Wearable Technology

  1. […] trainer, and learner for much longer, I had been closely following the long-term development of wearable technology along with emerging technological themes in education. It was, in fact, the advisory board's […]

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