NMC Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 6 of 6): Educational Technology on the Four- to Five-Year Horizon

February 14, 2014

When we move into the four- to five-year horizon (time frame) of the latest Higher Education Edition of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project reports, we are at the dreamiest expanses of this annual review of key trends, significant challenges, and developments in educational technology—which is just where trainer-teacher-learners need to be.

Horizon_Report--2014-CoverIt’s a lovely area, where we find an intriguingly new kind of virtual assistantsed-tech tools rather than the current human beings working from a distance to meet employers’ needs: “The latest tablets and smartphones now include virtual assistants…Apple’s Siri, Android’s Jelly Bean, and Google Now…Students are already using virtual assistants in their personal lives, yet most institutions have yet to explore this technology’s potential outside research settings” (p. 46).

Stepping beyond the virtual pages of the Horizon Report, we find a variety of resources already exploring where we may be going with virtual assistants: “7 Pros and Cons of Using Siri for Learning” from TeachThought; “Does Apple’s Siri Belong in the Classroom?” from Concordia University Online; and “How to turn Google Now into a powerful personal assistant” from CiteWorld.   

Moving into the other element explored in that Horizon Report four- to five-year horizon, we find people looking for the quantified self  based on data that their tech toys provide them: “…the phenomenon of consumers being able to closely track data that is relevant to their daily activities through the use of technology…these large data sets could reveal how environmental changes improve learning outcomes” (pp. 44-45 of the report). Most importantly, we see visions of where learning, creativity, and technology may be intersecting in significant ways in the not-too-distant future.

If we’re inclined to think the quantified self and these redefined virtual assistants are the latest pre-fad incarnations of technology that offers little to trainer-teacher-learners and those we serve, we need to look back only a few years to remember a period when tablets had not become a standard item in much of our learning environment. A time when massive open online courses (MOOCs) were barely a topic for discussion, and wearable technology was not on the cusp of mainstream adoption in learning via Google Glass. Then think about how quickly we have moved along adoption horizons.

nmc.logo.cmykMany of us have come to value our tablets as magnificent access points to information and learning resources—a form of mobile library in the palm of our hands—and can already imagine Google Glass and other forms of wearable technology becoming part of that learning environment. (Imagine John Butterill incorporating Google Glass into his virtual photo walks and you can already see the potential.) We are beginning, as Associate Instructional Design Librarian John Schank suggested during a panel discussion at the American Library Association Midwinter meeting in Philadelphia last month, to see MOOCs—particularly connectivist MOOCs—as a new form of textbook (a comment that, much to my surprise, seemed to receive little attention from anyone at the session but which strikes me as an incredibly perceptive and right-on-target observation as to one of the many roles MOOCs are assuming in training-teaching-learning). And we’re also seeing MOOCs as ways to inspire as well as evolve into long-term sustainable communities of learning providing ongoing experiential learning opportunities.

We really have never seen anything quite like this because we’ve never had the combination of technology tools and platforms (Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ Hangouts) we now have to create extended in-the-moment flexible learning environments that can facilitate just-in-time learning and create another way to sustain communities of learning long after a course formally ends.

And now we’re looking at the possibility of quanitifed self technology that could provide important information, filtered through learning analytics tools, to make real-time course adjustments to enhance learning experiences. We’re looking at virtual assistants that might be programmed to anticipate and respond to learners’ information and learning needs to the benefit of everyone involved.

If we connect learners through their tools and through collaborations between learning organizations (K-12, higher education, museums, libraries, and workplace learning and performance), we see the potential to further create, foster, and sustain the sort of onsite/hybrid/online lifelong learning that the New Media Consortium inspires and supports through the Horizon Project and its other innovative offerings. It’s a great example of how a learning organization not only provokes thought, but also provokes us to take the actions necessary to create the world of our dreams.

NB: This is final set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report.


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.


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