NMC Horizon Project Summit 2013 (Future of Education): Prelude

January 21, 2013

Given the magnificently overwhelming number of great learning opportunities available to trainer-teacher-learners, it’s difficult to choose one that stands out above all others. But the annual process of creating the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project Higher Education report has to be right up there for anyone interested in learning, technology, creativity, and possibilities.

nmc.logo.cmykIt isn’t necessary to be a member of the report advisory board to gain much of what the process offers. Through the creative and trend-setting work of NMC staff in facilitating research via a publicly accessible wiki, the work of advisory board members is completely transparent and accessible to anyone who wants to follow the development of the report.

And it’s a process well worth following. It begins each fall with a posting, from NMC staff, of recent press clippings, videos, and other online resources to introduce some of the tech tools, trends, and challenges to be explored; the resources listed here could, by themselves, serve as a semester-long course surveying the state of technology in education and other creative endeavors. Sifting through even a relatively small number of those offerings in late 2012 provided introductions to a wonderful app called “Field Trip”; took me even further into the use of Google+ Hangouts for educational purposes than I had already gone; and led me to updates on the Google’s Project Glass initiative into augmented reality.

In spite of how much there is to absorb from that resource, it’s just a prelude to the heart of what the wiki and the Horizon Project overall provides. Jumping to the topics page leads to a list of more than 30 topics to be considered by advisory board members, and that, too, could provide the foundation for another semester-long course as visitors and advisory board members explore 3D printing, augmented reality, flipped classrooms, learning analytics, massively open online courses (MOOCs), tablet computing, telepresence, virtual assistants, wearable technology, and many other subjects that appear to be on the horizon for many of us.

Discussions among advisory board members about the tech topics are conducted within the wiki and can be read by anyone visiting the site—as are advisory board members’ discussions about key trends and critical challenges. The voting process to determine which tech tools, trends, and challenges are most likely to have the greatest impact within one-year, two- to three-year, and four- to five-year horizons produces a short list that is posted on the wiki and which remains the penultimate step before advisory board members engage in one final vote to determine what will be included in the new Higher Education report. While the final report that NMC staff writes is an invaluable resource to anyone involved in learning, that short list is also extremely important in that it calls attention to technology and trends that might otherwise be overlooked.

But even this is not enough to keep our NMC colleagues fully occupied, Celebrating ten years of Horizon Reports, staff organized an invitation-only retreat in Austin, Texas in January 2012 to reflect on what technology would mean to educational institutions in the next decade. The result , after more than two days of well-facilitated discussions among approximately 100 participants, was another learning resourced—a retreat wiki—and a communique that documented a set of megatrends.

So as I sit here in Austin the night before the second annual retreat/summit begins, I think about all that so many of us have gained from the work of the New Media Consortium—and wonder what is yet to come.


High Tech at Tyger’s: Resistance Is Futile

January 19, 2013

Seeing someone wearing and using a Google Project Glass product at a neighborhood diner here in San Francisco was not among the experiences I expected to have over brunch this morning. Like so many other people, I’ve been fascinated by reports of the continuing development of this latest foray into the world of augmented reality. I have also been wondering when we would have a chance to play with what Google has been developing and start seeing how it will affect the world of training-teaching-learning. It’s been my long-standing assumption that my first face-to-face encounter with a Google Glass device would be at a tech or educational conference.

But there I was, taking in the familiar faces of the Saturday morning crowd at Tyger’s (in San Francisco’s Glen Park Village), when my eyes froze at the sight of someone obviously wearing one of the devices that has been so prominently featured in so many articles over the past several months.

Google_GlassesThe stunning thing about this sighting is that Tyger’s is far from a hotbed of technology. It actually feels as if it sprang full-blown from the pages of Ray Oldenberg’s The Great Good Place and continues to be a living example of a vibrant, dynamic Third Place—a place where you can walk in whenever it’s open, know that you’re going to find a familiar face, sit with friends over a nice relatively inexpensive meal, and participate in conversation rather than being surrounded by people more engaged with smartphones and tablets than with face-to-face exchanges. It’s the sort of place where candidates in local board of supervisors races drop in to talk one-on-one with residents of their district, and where strangers don’t stay strangers if they patronize the place more than a couple of times.

Because Tyger’s is set up to foster conversation—the tables are set very close to one another, and it’s impossible not to overhear bits and pieces of nearby conversations—I didn’t feel the slightest reticence about immediately walking over to the table where the Google Glass user was sitting with his family. It also helps that a) I assume anyone wearing a new piece of technology is going to be far from shy about talking about it, and b) I’m hopelessly curious and socially inept enough to think that chatting up a total stranger is part of what fosters learning and nurtures new connections.

Our brief conversation quickly confirmed that the device actually was a fully-functioning Google Glass device; that it is not yet available to the general public and probably won’t be available to most of us for “quite a while”; that he didn’t find it at all difficult to interact with those with whom he was dining while also taking advantage of what the device offers; and that he was in possession of the device because he (of course) works at Google.

Returning to the people with whom I was sitting (“you really are a geek,” one friend lovingly admonished me), I took advantage of the fact that I was far enough away from him to not be an obvious nuisance, but was close enough to get a first-hand look at how someone wearing a Google Glass product would function in what is overwhelming an onsite Third Place rather than an extension of a virtual community.

What I noticed was impressive. He was sitting with his wife and one other adult, and was holding an infant in his lap. There was no visible sign that he was anything other than completely engaged with his child and the other people present at that table throughout the entire meal. And the way the device was positioned on his head (a small silver band with the tiniest of cameras positioned near his left eye without appearing to obscure his vision) made it relatively unobtrusive. In fact, he seemed far more present than most people who use smartphones and tablets appear to be—which, for me, raises some interesting questions about all I’ve read over the past few years regarding our overrated ability to multitask.

In our snarkier moments, many of us have reacted negatively to the sight of people with their Bluetooth devices plugged into their ears, and have suggested that we appear to be one step away from becoming part of a Borg collective. We’ve also suggested that, like the Borg, we’re falling into a frightening pattern of sheepishly accepting that “resistance is futile.”

Yet when I watched that Google staffer behaving no differently than anyone else at Tyger’s was behaving, and noticed that no one else at Tyger’s was even reacting to the presence of someone with a new tech device that is not yet available for purchase by most members of the general public, I found my attitude shifting just a bit. I no longer feel as if “resistance is futile” is a completely negative reaction to the sight of someone wearing a Google Glass product; I’m now a step closer to understanding the appeal of the wearable technology that colleagues and I have been exploring through work on the 2013 New Medium Consortium Horizon Project Higher Education Report. And I’m even more curious about what it will be like to try on a Google Glass device myself to see what it will bring to the entire field of training-teaching-learning.

N.B.: The photo accompanying this article is a generic Google Glass image.


Building Upon A New Culture of Learning with Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

September 17, 2012

If doing is learning, there’s plenty to learn and do with the ideas Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown present in A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change.

Working with the theme of social/collaborative learning that we’ve also encountered in The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner, in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report 2012 Higher Education Edition  and “Communiqué from the Horizon Project Retreat” held in January 2012, the eLearning Guild’s new “Social Learning: Answers to Eight Crucial Questions” report, and many other books, reports, and documents, Thomas and Brown take us through a stimulating and brief—but never cursory—exploration of “the kind of learning that will define the twenty-first century.” And it won’t, they tell us right up front, be “taking place in a classroom—at least not in today’s classroom. Rather, it is happening all around us, everywhere, and it is powerful” (p. 17).

As we’ve already seen in a series of articles here in Building Creative Bridges, our learning spaces and the way we foster learning are continuing to evolve—which doesn’t necessarily mean, as Thomas and Brown note in their own work, that we’re completely abandoning classrooms and the best of the training-teaching-learning techniques we’ve developed over a long period of time. But the fact that plenty of effective learning that produces positive results “takes place without books, without teachers, and without classrooms, and it requires environments that are bounded yet provide complete freedom of action within those boundaries” (p. 18) offers us plenty of possibilities to rethink what we and the people and organizations we serve are doing.

Their summary of how Thomas’ “Massively Multiplayer Online Games” course at the University of Southern California seemed to be spinning wildly out of control as students more or less restructured the class from lots of lecture and a bit of demo to lots of exploration followed by short summary lectures at the end of each session leads us to the obvious and wonderful conclusion that, by taking over the class, the learners were also taking over control of their own learning and producing magnificent results—a story similar to a situation also documented by Cathy Davidson in Now You See It.

And it doesn’t stop there. As they lead us through a brief summary of instructor-centric and learner-centric endeavors, we see a theme that crops up in much of what is being written now about m-learning (mobile learning, i.e., learning through the use of mobile devices): that the new culture of learning “will augment—rather than replace—traditional educational venues” and techniques (p. 35).

What flows through much of Thomas and Brown’s work—and what we observe in our own training-teaching-learning environments—is what they address explicitly near the end of their book after having discussed the importance of learning environments: the need to foster playfulness in learning and the parallel need to work toward a framework of learning that builds upon the Maker movement and that acknowledges three essential facets for survival in contemporary times: “They are homo sapiens, homo faber, and homo ludens—or humans who know, humans who make (things), and humans who play” (p. 90).

We have plenty of examples upon which to draw: Michael Wesch’s experiments with his Digital Ethnography project at Kansas State University; the YOUMedia Center for teens at the Chicago Public Library; smart classrooms where technology enables creatively productive interactions between onsite and online learners; and even the information commons model that began in academic libraries and is increasingly being adapted for use in public libraries. There’s much to explore here, and that’s why some of us have been promoting the idea that it’s time to add to Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place concept of three key places in our lives (the first place being home, the second place being work, and the third place being community gathering places where we find and interact with our friends and colleagues away from home and work) with a new Fourth Place: the social learning center that onsite as well as online as needed.

Another theme that Thomas and Brown bring to our attention is the way communities—those vibrant foundations of our society that are so wonderfully explored by John McKnight and Peter Block in their book The Abundant Community and continue to be fostered on The Abundant Community website—are developing into collectives—less-than-rigid gatherings of learners and others who are drawn by immediate needs and then disperse if/when those needs are met.

“A collective is very different from an ordinary community,” Thomas and Brown write. “Where communities can be passive (though not all of them are by any means), collectives cannot. In communities, people learn in order to belong. In a collective, people belong in order to learn. Communities derive their strength from creating a sense of belonging, while collectives derive theirs from participation.” (p. 52).

All of which leads us to an obvious conclusion: if we are inspired to do the things within our communities, collectives, and organizations that Thomas and Brown describe and advocate, we will be engaged in building the new culture of learning they describe—while learning how to build it.


On the Horizon Report 2012: The Wisdom of the Crowds We Help Perpetuate (Part 3 of 3)

June 8, 2012

One of the most fascinating stories embedded in any New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report is how the reports themselves are produced: in a highly collaborative, asynchronous fashion using a well-facilitated technology tool—a wikias I’ve noted elsewhere. The process draws together colleagues from a variety of walks of life to produce something that none of them could individually ever hope to achieve. And if that somehow sounds familiar, it’s because the underpinnings of these interactions—so important for trainer-teacher-learners and others—is all around us in a variety of printed and online resources.

There is, for example, Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect, that wonderful book describing how magic happens when people from different backgrounds briefly come together—a group of merchant marines, for example, who share ideas in a Greek tavern before parting and disseminating the results of their conversations with others all over the world. This is one of the major underpinnings of the Horizon process as nearly 50 of us from all over the world gather via a well-facilitated wiki to contribute to Horizon Higher Education reports. Or 9,000 people gather at an American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) annual conference for several days, then spend bits of pieces of the following weeks continuing to build upon and spread what resulted from the planned and chance encounters.

James Surowiecki’s fascinating The Wisdom of Crowds provides an additional book-length report that reminds us time and time that when we start with a diverse enough group of the right people—no groupthink here, mind you—any of us as trainer-teacher-learners produce more reliable results than any single member of a group consistently produces. The archetypal crowdsourcing story here is the one about Francis Galton going to a county fair in 1906, watching people try to guess the weight of an ox, combining the nearly 800 different guesses submitted, and documenting that the mean of all those guesses was far more accurate than any individual’s guess had been—just one pound away from the actual weight of 1,198 pounds.

If we continue down this exploration of why these broad collaborative gatherings are so effective, we find ourselves in Clay Skirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, which builds upon The Wisdom of Crowds by exploring how collaboration produces magnificent—and highly accurate—resources like Wikipedia. And that, of course, brings us nearly full circle back to the wikis that are an integral part of the Horizon process.

Jonah Lehrer’s recently-released book Imagine: How Creativity Works adds a final dimension to our exploration of the creative process that produces Horizon reports and other worthwhile and inspirational results. Lehrer, among other things, documents how creativity is fostered by online projects such as InnoCentive, where experts apply their expertise to areas in which they don’t normally work and, by bringing an outsider’s point of view, solve problems that don’t come from those well-versed in the field in which the problem is embedded. It’s exactly the same sort of process that supports the work of communities of practice and allows Horizon Report Advisory Board members to come together in an intensively creative way to see elements of the world of training-teaching-learning that few of us would ever notice if we weren’t immersed in this collaborative endeavor.

There’s a deliberate attempt to avoid inbred thinking in the sort of collaboration fostered through the Horizon process: our New Media Consortium colleagues attempt to replace at least a third of the composition of the Horizon Report Advisory Board each year so a new flow of ideas is an integral part of the process. And in providing that model, they leave us with a thought-provoking and effective approach that we can and should easily be incorporating into our workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts: one that mixes experience with infusions of fresh ideas. Takes advantage of our resources. And engages the wisdom of the crowd to help us better serve as the effective facilitators of learning that so many of us strive to be.


On the Horizon Report 2012: Technology in Learning Over the Next Five Years (Part 2 of 3)

May 30, 2012

The heart of any New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report is its list of “six technologies…placed along three adoption horizons that indicate likely timeframes for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry.” The 2012 Higher Education edition offers us a particularly healthy heart.

As noted in the first of these three articles, the near-term (one-year) horizon includes two topics—mobile apps and tablets—that “have become pervasive in everyday life” (p. 6). The mid-term (two- to three-year) horizon features game-based learning and learning analytics. And the far-term (four- to five-year) horizon includes gesture-based computing and what the report refers to as “the Internet of Things” (smart objects).

It takes little imagination for any of us to see that mobile apps and tablets are technologies no longer on a distant horizon; they are becoming mainstream in the best training-teaching-learning venues just as they have become common in day-to-day life for any of us with access to tech tools. The Horizon Report Higher Education edition, as always, itself serves as a first-rate learning object by leading us to tremendous examples of these tools in use. There is, for example, the Stanford University iPhone and iPad Apps coursefreely accessible online as an example of how a learning opportunity about iPhones and iPads is delivered on the very devices it helps learners master. There is also the story about Drew University’s “Wall Street Semester” program, which provides an innovative and adaptable example of how tablets become a central tool in creatively engaging learning opportunities. There is something wonderfully circular and cohesive in how these two technologies in this horizon intersect with others such as gesture-based computing—the technology we so comfortably use on our smartphones and our tablets—and the Internet of Things.

As we move a bit further out—into the two- to three-year horizon—we see how game-based learning continues to play an increasingly important role in learning, and how learning analytics—using “the interpretation of a wide range of data produced by and gathered on behalf of students in order to assess…progress, predict future performance, and spot potential issues” (p. 22 of the report)—puts technology to use in producing significant and enviable results for learners and those who fund learning opportunities. A University at Albany research team provides a game-based learning example—one that helps learners “overcome critical decision-making biases”—and helps all of us begin dreaming about how we can adapt that model into our own training-teaching-learning endeavors. An article through EDUCAUSE, a collaborative partner with NMC on the Horizon Report Higher Education  edition, offers a concise and enticing summary of where we may be headed through our use of learning analytics tools in ways that would assist instructors as well as learners.

And then there is that relatively distant—four- to five-year—horizon where the somewhat dreamy yet completely imaginable tech tools are continuing to develop: gesture-based computing and the Internet of Things. The report notes that “an extensive review was unable to uncover many current examples in higher education of gesture-based software or devices being applied to specific learning examples” (p. 27), but a few online samples show us what we may be seeing in the not-too-distant future.  And when we move into the Internet of Things—“shorthand for network-aware smart objects that connect the physical world with the world of information” (p. 30)—we’re looking at a world where simple tasks such as documenting learners’ attendance in a class or workshop and disseminating information including class schedules, announcements, and information about homework are handled technologically through tagging systems while trainer-teacher-learners spend more time on what they should be doing: engaging in learning-oriented endeavors.

Next: What the Horizon Report Process Reminds Us About Collaborative Learning


On the Horizon Report 2012: Conversation, Community, and Learning (Part 1 of 3)

May 25, 2012

It behooves us to pay attention when an online document with a limited print run becomes an integral element in creating, fostering, representing, and sustaining a dynamically innovative community of trainer-teacher-learners. Which is why I once again am spending time with the New Media Consortium (NMC) flagship Horizon Report—the Higher Education Edition—at a time when the 2012 K-12 Edition is about to be released.

NMC playfully and accurately describes itself, in an introductory video, as being about “leadership, community, technology, research, creativity, experimentation, imagination, optimism, community, imagination, and passion…We want to help our members stay at the leading edge of technology…[while engaged in] research on emerging technology”—a goal it continually fulfills by drawing in participants and hundreds of thousands of readers from all over the world.

The process of producing those reports—to be reviewed again more thoroughly in the third of this three-part series of articles—creates its own ever-expanding community. Through documenting what is happening at the intersection of people, technology, and learning, the report actually extends the reach of that teaching-training-learning community—an an onsite-online community that keeps people in the forefront and sees technology as a tool supporting and enhancing successful learning.

NMC’s series of annual reports, including the Higher Education edition we are exploring here and others in the works, is an inspiring as well as thought- and world-changing tool no teacher-trainer-learner can afford to ignore. And it is amply augmented through its Navigator: “Part extensive library, part global project database, and part social network, Navigator allows users to easily search through the information, insights, and research of past NMC Horizon Projects, as well as the NMC’s expert analysis and extensive catalog of sharable rich media assets,” we read on the Horizon Report website.

The 2012 Higher Education edition of the report—part of a continuing collaboration between NMC and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative–continues the tradition of identifying key trends and significant challenges faced by those involved in higher education—a process that received further attention and refinement during a Horizon Report Advisory Board retreat in January 2012. It doesn’t take much for those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors to see how valuable and relevant this information is to us.

Our expectation that we will “be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever [we] want to” (p. 4 of the report) is true of anyone interested in not being left behind by the magnificent and seemingly endless changes that are occurring around every one of us in the contemporary workplace. The idea that “the world of work is increasingly collaborative, driving changes in the way student projects are structured” (p. 4) is something we are seeing in the evolving ways we are approaching workplace learning; this is actually becoming increasingly important as today’s students quickly join us as workplace colleagues—and bring their expectations with them. The “new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based and active learning” (p. 6) is something we already are rightfully confronting and addressing in our onsite-online workplace learning offerings so that we aren’t left behind.

Furthermore, the challenges (that “individual organizational constraints are likely the most important factors in any decision to adopt—or not to adopt—a given technology…”) are also far from unique to academic settings. It remains true, unfortunately, that companies struggling to compete in a competitively creative marketplace can (and often do) actually tie their own organizational hands behind their institutional backs by stifling rather than encouraging the use of social media tools in their workplace.

The focal point of each new Horizon Report edition is the listing of “six technologies…placed along three adoption horizons that indicate likely timeframes for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry” (p. 6) The near-term (one-year) horizon this year includes the two topics—mobile apps and tablets—that “have become pervasive in everyday life” (p. 6). The mid-term (two- to three-year) horizon features game-based learning and learning analytics. The far-term (four- to five-year) horizon includes gesture-based computing and “the Internet of Things” (smart objects).

To explore these topics through the Horizon Report is to treat ourselves to one of the most inspiring and rewarding learning experience we are likely to have this year.

Next: What the 2012 Higher Education Report Tells Us About Emerging Technologies


Horizon Report Retreat (Pt. 3 of 3): Six Minutes of Inspiration for Trainer-Teacher-Learners

February 21, 2012

Sometimes it only takes a moment to change the way we view the world; at other times, it takes a little longer.

The talks that have been taped and posted on the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) website often, in 18 minutes or less, are powerful enough to change our worldview. And in a reduced format through a “Six Minutes With” series of presentations that ran through the three-day New Media Consortium “Future of Education” Horizon Project Advisory Board retreat in Austin, Texas last month, there were plenty of transformative moments that can now be viewed via links on the Horizon Retreat wiki.

Since these were great thinkers rather than time-keepers, those “Six Minute” segments sometimes ran upwards of nine or twelve minutes, but I suspect none of the attendees was watching the clock. Our eyes and ears were focused on the speakers, and the messages were clear: We’re in an exciting and dynamic period of change in the world of education, technology, and creativity, and each of us involved in training-teaching-learning has a tremendous role to play.

Marsha Semmel, who oversees and coordinates Institute of Museum and Library Services partnerships with other federal agencies, foundations, and non-governmental organization, reminded us that “people go to museums and libraries…because they are places of curiosity, wonder, imagination. They are places that use different styles and promote different styles of learning, and they invite cross-generational learning…Learning is about passion. It’s about motivation. It’s about play. It’s about imagination.” Throughout her presentation, she outlined the educational and cultural roles museums are playing, and suggested that “we are in a period of lifelong, life-wide, life-deep learning, and every single organization and institution has to belly up to the bar and be part of the solution.”

Susan Metros, Associate Vice Provost and Associate Chief Information officer for Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Southern California, talked about how leadership lives within each of us. To give a framework to her presentation, she summarized three books that have influenced her as an leader within education: Edward De Bono’s Lateral Thinking, Amos Rapoport’s  House Form and Culture, and Mary Catherine Bateson’s Composing a Life.

John Weber, Dayton Director of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, opened his presentation on “Museums and the Digital Space” by suggesting that “we love our gadgets; we are addicted to them. We obsess over them. We compare them. We update them constantly.” In a focused discussion on how those gadgets fit into the museum experience and its educational offerings, Weber maintained that museums “are very beautiful spaces. They contain objects which are unique, which surprise us, which, generally speaking, exist only in one place and they foster intense, particular, irreplaceable experiences, flashes of recognition and flashes of surprise…We want now to bring our gadgets into museums…We want to photograph what we see in museums…We are photographically addicted, including me…At times, that can really get in the way of seeing it.” But, he concluded, “in  the end, it’s all about looking at the art objects, and how can we empower that” so visitors will “linger longer and get more out of the time they spend with us in real space, in museum space.”

And then there was the final “Six Minutes” presentation—“Reflections: The Horizon Project at 10”—by NMC Founder/CEO Larry Johnson. Using “the language of image,” Johnson’s presentation was a magnificent and heartfelt combination of photography, philosophy, and call to action. Taking us through a brief history of networked technology at the personal level of how it has been used by his family, he recalled how radio was at the center of his father’s life; how television was the technology of choice as he was growing up; how computers have become “the network” for his son, and how mobile technology is what is at the center of his very young grandchildren’s lives. Furthermore, he said, his son corrects him when he suggests that “the network has been built out to help us in a myriad of ways.” For his son and his son’s contemporaries, “The network is us. It doesn’t help us. The network actually is us. We are the reason there is a network, and the network is here to serve us.”

His grandson and others growing up today, he continued, “will never ever live in the world where the network wasn’t anywhere he wanted to be. …What does that mean for what we do [as educators]?…We have to be careful that we don’t spend the money that we have on solutions that are not going to be used. We need to make sure that we’re not giving people this technology [radio] when, in fact, the world they live in has changed. The thing we need to focus on is how do we keep the magic in learning? …We need to make their jaws drop. We need to make them understand that the world is so cool that it’s worth their curiosity, and that’s the message I’m going to leave you with. This is the room to do it. We’ll do it together.”

And if all of us who serve as trainer-teacher-learners take that message to heart and become part of the group that helps to shape the world as it is changing all around us, we can help reshape the horizon we all spend time exploring.


Horizon Report Retreat (Pt. 2 of 3): Reflections, Reinvention, Transformation—And Watching Evolution Happen

February 7, 2012

The world of technology, education, and creativity is changing so quickly that it’s as if we are sitting in a Darwinian doorway and watching evolution happen, a colleague at the recent New Media Consortium “The Future of Education” Horizon Project Advisory Board retreat in Austin, TX observed.

And that pretty much sums up how it felt to be at the second day of that three-day retreat with nearly 100 very creative educators from academic institutions, museums and museum organizations, companies involved in the development and diffusion of new technology, libraries, and other game-changers in teaching-training-learning.

To try to capture the level of discourse that flows through and from a gathering like that one is like trying to fully capture a profoundly moving dream hours after waking up. Except that there was no sleeping going on there. That was a fully-engaged group of dreamers who knew that their (our) dreams document and even have the ability to shape the world in which we live, breathe, and work. A group of people who are deeply passionate about and engaged in how technology and creativity affect training-teaching-learning. And one that never for a moment seemed to lose sight of the human element of an industry driven and affected by the rapid rate of technological change.

Convened to reflect on what 10 years of Horizon reports have produced;  to consider ways of reinventing the annual flagship report on technology in higher education and its various subsidiary versions (taking specific looks at technology in museums, technology in kindergarten through 12th-grade education, and even regional variations on these themes; and to foster discussions about how those reports will continue to transform the ever-increasing world of teaching-training-learning, we began Day 2 with encouragement from NMC Founder/CEO Larry Johnson to stretch ourselves into an idealized future. To identify a set of big ideas capable of guiding people in the larger world for years to come. And to find ways to keep the Horizon Report relevant in a world that seems to change as quickly as sand shifts under our feet in a pounding surf.

There was talk of libraries as learning centers; the ubiquitous nature of mobility in learning at a time when the use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets is absolutely exploding at a global level; the need to seek a new form of literacy—“deluge literacy”—to help learners cope with the deluge of information they face on a daily basis; and discussion of a TED talk about building an architecture for participation—lubricating the wheels for collaboration—a creativity process capable of inspiring innovations and change from the ground up. And there was a poignantly compelling reminder that “global” doesn’t necessarily mean “universal.”

You could sense, moment by moment, that this was a group with dreams of inclusivity rather than exclusivity. A group focused on how technology is changing the way we learn, but also keeping technology in a position subsidiary to the human element of teaching-training-learning. And a group intensely, passionately engaged in responding to learners’ needs and looking for ways to effectively and engagingly incorporate technology into the learning process.

It’s obvious that the hundred of us there were all attending, participating, and sharing ideas in the same conference/retreat at very significant levels. And yet because of the masterful way the event was facilitated by David Sibbet, President and Founder of The Grove Consultants International, and the way face-to-face and online communication was supported (through a very active Twitter backfeed under the hashtag #nmchz; I contributed via @trainersleaders), it’s possible to assert that we all attended and participated in 100 different, highly personal, and overlapping conferences where the levels of engagement were increased by our abilities to listen, talk, take notes, exchange tweets, and read those tweets during breaks and after hours while we were all onsite together.

At one of the break-out discussion sessions, I found myself at a table with colleagues from Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, Puerto Rico, Shanghai, Spain, and the U.K. During rides to and from the conference hall, I was with an Australian who works for the BBC, in Manchester. You can’t physically be in these situations and settings without viscerally understanding how small the world has become in many ways. And how inspiring and transforming it can be to even be able to spend a few minutes listening to the various perspectives an opportunity like this reveals. As we watch evolution unfold.

Next: Reflection and Inspiration in Six-Minute Bites


Horizon Report Retreat (Pt. 1 of 3): Reflections, Provocations, Lightning, and Thunder

January 25, 2012

At the opening reception for the New Media Consortium’s “The Future of Education” Horizon Project Advisory Board retreat here in Austin, TX, one of the opening keynote speakers (Lev Gonick) said the Consortium has gathered 100 thought leaders from 20 countries to reflect on what the Horizon Report accomplishes; to provoke; and to think about the future.

The wonderful provocations began even before any of us took a seat to listen to a series of introductory comments and wonder how we magically became transformed into “thought leaders.” We were treated to printed signs around the room that summarized metatrends documented through 10 years of Horizon Reports, and those trends ought to be posted on the physical and virtual doors to every learning space around the world, and conveyed to every trainer-teacher-learner who is helping shape the learning industry today:

Horizon Metatrend #1: People expect to work, learn, socialize, and play whenever and wherever they want to.

Horizon Metatrend #2: The Internet is becoming a global mobile network – and already is at its edges.

Horizon Metatrend #3: The technologies we use are daily more cloud-based, and delivered over utility networks.

Horizon Metatrend #4: The world of work is increasingly global and increasingly collaborative.

Horizon Metatrend #5: The Internet is constantly challenging us to rethink learning and education.

Horizon Metatrend #6: Real challenges of access, efficiency, and scale are redefining what we mean by quality and success.

Jim Vanides, Senior Program Manager for Hewlett-Packard, Skyped in with a wonderful wake-up call that included reminders about how the mixture of great technology and great pedagogy is a recipe for success, and that the Horizon Report itself is a fantastic model for gathering and sharing information.

EDUCAUSE Director Malcolm Brown drew from Jim Brown’s Harvard Business Review article “Change by Design” to talk to about “wicked problems”—those problems whose causes are complex and ambiguous—to remind us that when we have a problem, we also have an opportunity. The two, he suggested, always co-exist. We deal with wicked problems by engaging in design thinking, he suggested, and we benefit from the primary elements of design thinking: they are strategic, human-centered, fully innovative, and team based—benefitting from drawing together people ,with a variety of expertise (as the Horizon Report process does every year through the use of an exceptionally well-facilitated wiki (managed by Chief Executive Officer Larry Johnson and his NMC colleagues) as the vehicle for discussions on technology, learning, and creativity. The process, Brown explained, includes three phases: inspiration, ideation, and implementation.

“Design thinking, in our context, starts with the Horizon Report,” he explained.

And then there was David Sibbet, President and Founder of The Grove Consultants International, who was present at the birth of the New Media Consortium in Hakone, Japan in August 1992. A gifted graphic facilitator, Sibbet spoke and documented, through his words and images on large sheets of paper at the front of the room, about the legacy of Horizon reports. As any good facilitator would, he coaxed out thoughts from attendees about what the reports and involvement in the shaping of those reports have done for all of us:

  • Serving as annual springboards for conversations
  • Providing a collective workspace for Advisory Board members
  • Offering a robust methodology for the activities we document
  • Helping us work locally, think locally, and connect to a larger (global) community
  • Pulling us into a learning ecosystem (what a lovely term; wish I’d thought of that one!)
  • Serving as a strategic learning tool—exposing individual best practices—so we can translate trends to end users

As the evening drew to an end, Gonick delivered one final summary of what the annual report accomplishes: “It’s a challenge document.” So as we began leaving the room, we had our challenge before us: Now we begin discussing the work we have yet to do.

In the early hours of the morning, I found myself unexpectedly sitting up in bed. Enjoying one of the most brilliantly beautiful lightning and thunder storms I’ve ever witnessed. There were ripping bursts of light. Room-shaking blasts of thunder. And it struck me that I couldn’t imagine a more visceral physical manifestation of what conferences and collaborations like this generate in the most positively disruptive of ways. I finally did get back to sleep. But rose again early this morning. Because I know there will be plenty of time for sleep later. Much later.

Next: Reflection, Reinvention, and Transformation at the Horizon Retreat


Training, Learning, and Collaborating on the Other Side of the Horizon

December 18, 2010

Trainers and other perpetual learners are information junkies. We thrive on what we learn and share. We revel in those moments when boundaries dissolve and we embrace a seamless role of trainer-teacher-learner rather than simply delivering a lesson and hoping that participants in a learning opportunity will remember something that we said.

We, like those whose learning we facilitate, have our cherished sources of information: friends; colleagues; printed newspapers, books, magazines, and their online counterparts; our favorite librarian; and/or the waiter, waitress, or supermarket checkout clerk who calls our attention to what we might not otherwise notice given the demands that information overload puts on us and all we encounter.

There are also the reports without which we would feel diminished. One of those, for me, is the New Media Consortium (NMC) annual Horizon Report, an engaging free online document designed to “chart the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry,” as Consortium representatives explain on their website.

To read the main and subsidiary reports inspires thought and action. Writing about the reports has become an annual ritual for me ever since I attended a live Horizon Report presentation in 2008. And to cross over to the other side of the Horizon this year by serving on the 2011 Horizon Report Advisory Board and helping shape the next report—which, of course, I can hardly wait to read when it is released in February 2011—has been an exercise in collaboration which has changed the way I work.

At the heart of the Horizon report process is the wiki that provides a virtual meeting place where Advisory Board members from several different countries asynchronously contribute to the development of the report. The lesson here for all of us as trainer-teacher-learners is at least twofold: a) as participants immersing ourselves in using a tech tool as contributors rather than solely as readers, we educated ourselves and became comfortable with exactly the sort of tech change we were documenting for others, and b) we would not have been nearly as successful as we were without guidance—in this case, from New Media Consortium Chief Executive Officer Larry Johnson and his NMC colleagues, who themselves served as trainer-teacher-mentors throughout the brief and intense period of work.

Larry and other NMC staff, throughout the two-month process, guided us with concise, welcoming, supportive email messages; online tutorials; and instructions on how to approach and complete each step of the process—and then they turned us loose to learn, work, and collaborate. The pleasures of exploring new technology with other Advisory Board members via the wiki never seemed to end, and the serendipitous discovery early in the process that an ALA Learning blog colleague—Lauren Pressley—was among my Advisory Board collaborators once again reminded me how small the world has become through the use of shared online tools.

Workplace collaboration, in this case, went far beyond the structure of the staff and Advisory Board’s contributions to the wiki: the entire process was visible, via that wiki, to anyone who wanted to follow it. When the original list of more than 30 technologies we were exploring was winnowed down to a short list, that information was posted publicly for anyone to view—which means that part of the process was to provide a magnificent resource for anyone interested in exploring the topics on their own. The process, furthermore, has produced a list of online press clippings that is an additional resource for anyone wanting to explore the tech topics that were under discussion during the Advisory Board’s online time together.

For anyone who is still wondering why more and more people are exploring wikis as a first-rate collaboration tool and how they provide effective ways for all of us to work together, the entire Horizon Report process is a complete course within itself. And, like any first-rate learning experience, it leaves us with an expanded toolkit that changes the way we work once we have become engaged.

Ultimately, it leads us to another level of building communities of learning.

N.B.: For more resources about collaboration and building communities, please see “Communities and Collaboration in an Onsite-Online World: An Annotated Bibliography.”


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