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

February 8, 2013

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. 


NMC Horizon Project Summit 2013 (Future of Education, Day 1): Challenges and Plans for Action

January 22, 2013

You would, based upon onsite discussions throughout the first day of the 2013 New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project Summit on “The Future of Education” here in Austin, Texas, have been in good company walking away feeling optimistic this evening.

nmc.logo.cmykSummit graphic facilitator David Sibbet (President and Founder of The Grove Consultants International) and NMC Founder/CEO Larry Johnson didn’t waste a minute before establishing that the 100 of us from kindergarten through 12th-grade schools, colleges and universities, libraries and museums, and a handful of other organizations from all over the world, have a clear mandate over the next few days:

  • Identify some worthy challenges that deserve to be solved, and pilot a process that we can use to move an action agenda forward

Our playing field remains the intersection between technology, learning, creativity, and the people at the center of those fields. The common element that continues to draw us together is a passion for exploring the technology that continues to evolve all around us and the trends and challenges we and those we serve are facing. And the approach was a mixture of attentiveness, reflection, humor, and focus on what the metatrends—“a global and overarching force that will affect many multidimensional changes; for example, environmental impacts on business, individuals and countries,” according to an online sustainability dictionary—within education are.

Much of our time this afternoon was spent reviewing the 10 metatrends that were documented through the conversations at the 2012 Horizon Project Advisory Board retreat. There was also extensive conversation around a variety of metatrends that didn’t make that list but may be worth exploring as we identify the worthy challenges and develop the process for developing the proposed action agenda.

It’s worth summarizing some of the metatrends previously identified to set a context for what comes next: the work of the world is increasingly global and collaborative; people expect to work, learn, socialize, and play whenever and wherever they want to—and they can draw from a global mobile network (the Internet) to foster learning; concepts of open content, data, and resources, combined with changing view of ownership and privacy, have an impact of much of what we do; and the Internet is challenging us to rethink learning and education while refining our notion of literacy.

Metatrends that may be included on a revised list by the time the conference ends two days from now were varied and intriguing:

  • The need for good data to be used in learning (learning analytics)
  • The end of credentials as we know them; one summit participant even mused about what would happen if we put expiration dates on academic degrees
  • The growing importance of the maker subculture and how it might reflect a new arts and crafts movement that does not at all eschew the use of technology in creation
  • The continuing expectation that people have that they will be able to learn, work, and play whenever and wherever they want to engage in those activities
  • New business models for learning
  • Redefining literacy
  • The impact of a commitment to openness in disseminating information
  • The end of physical boundaries of work in a world where our work and non-work lives are increasingly intertwined
  • Natural User Interface (NUI)
  • Increasing awareness of the importance of informal learning
  • Commitments to global/collaborative interactions

There was also frank discussion about how “complexity” is a theme that seems to flow through almost every other theme we were exploring—a theme that itself almost seems to serve as a meta-metatrend that helps to make sense of the other disparate themes under discussion.

Our list-in-progress, Johnson reminded us toward the end of the afternoon, is not definitive—nor is it meant to be. It’s a starting point for discussion and action, and the real work will be continued within the overlapping communities we serve, and with the active participation of members of those communities.

“We have 100 people in the room, and I hope we have 100 perspectives,” he said.

And then the immediate future under the nurturing of the New Media Consortium was outlined for all of us:

  • A new NMC K-12 Ambassadors Program is about to unfold through a very quick search to identify 25 top innovative educators from around the world; their mandate will be to provide insight into the world of kindergarten through 12th-grade education and how the NMC can support them. This might eventually lead to similar ambassador programs for museums and libraries worldwide.
  • The existing NMC Horizon EdTech Weekly App for Apple devices is about to be supplemented by a similar app for Android devices.
  • And in a movement I personally have long supported, the NMC community that has developed through the these new annual meetings is going to be supported year-round through establishment of an NMC Commons, “an Enterprise Hive social business community platform to improve member services, support collaboration among colleagues, and enhance the production of the NMC Horizon Report series.”

“This room is going to be the first sub-community on that group,” Johnson assured us.

The formal discussions ended as late afternoon melted into early evening, but the exchanges of ideas continued well into the night as we gathered for a reception that allowed us to engage in small-group discussions.

There still is much to do before we reach the goals that Johnson had outlined earlier in the day. But at least one thing is clear: the future of education may be an incredibly complex topic to explore over a three-day period, but the community that NMC staff is nurturing is one that is more than willing to be active participants in helping shape that future in the most positive of ways.


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.


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