IT Trends | Feature
What's Hot, What's Not 2013
As we embark on a new year, CT asks five IT experts to pick the winners and losers among the trends swirling in higher education.
Illustration by Graye Smith
With the exception of a plague of locusts, it seems as if the past five years have thrown every imaginable challenge at IT--from the incredible shrinking budget to BYOD and now the MOOC monster. For those of a superstitious bent, these were probably just appetizers to the crises that will inevitably accompany a year featuring the number 13 (cue sinister music and black cat). For those of a more sanguine disposition, this New Year's (like any other) was simply a chance to drink champagne and pontificate about the future. While no champagne was harmed in the making of this article, we did persuade five experts on IT in higher ed to offer their predictions of the winners and losers of 2013--trends that are, well, trending, and those already past their sell-by date.
Bryan Alexander, senior fellow at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, researches emerging trends in the integration of inquiry, pedagogy, and technology and their application to a liberal arts education.
Colleen Carmean, assistant chancellor for instructional technologies at the University of Washington Tacoma, researches and designs integrated knowledge systems, including next-gen environments for e-learning and enterprise emerging media.
Tim Flood, former director of information systems for the Student Affairs division at Stanford University (CA), is a technology consultant specializing in higher education. He played an integral role in the launch of iStanford, the first college mobile app.
Lev Gonick, vice president for Information Technology Services and chief information officer at Case Western Reserve University (OH), is chair of the CIO Executive Council's higher education committee and president emeritus of the board of the New Media Consortium.
Jennifer Sparrow, director of emerging technologies and new ventures at Virginia Tech, is a champion of the use of technology to engage students. She is chair of the Educause Learning Initiative Advisory Board and serves on the Educause Evolving Technologies Committee.
Sparrow: A week doesn't pass without some story about the MOOC movement. At Educause 2012, [keynoter] Clay Shirky noted that the most important aspect of a MOOC is not the massive, but the open nature of the courses. Anyone, anywhere, anytime can have access to the course materials. Further research is necessary to examine the contributing factors to persistence and sound teaching and learning within this new model.
Carmean: Big research universities have hopped into the fire, exploring what others have been saying forever (five years in tech time): People want to learn and to demonstrate skills that will provide better lives for themselves, their families, their children. The academy will soon discover that there are many kinds of learners, and many ways to learn.
Alexander: MOOCs are of great concern to campus leaders and stakeholders, from chief academic officers to trustees and government officials. They potentially represent a deep change to education, whereby on-site learning becomes a kind of supplement to powerful lectures delivered via MOOC. Some institutions may well publish their own MOOCs in an attempt to catch up in the field and to reach a global market. Alternatively, MOOCs could become a low-level supplement to formal, on-site learning. However, the amount of buzz seen in 2012 raises the possibility that MOOCs are vulnerable to a hype crash a la Gartner's hype-cycle model.
Carmean: [Harvard Business School professor] Clayton Christensen reminds us that disruptive innovation seldom comes from the inside, and print textbooks are deeply embedded in a captive-market culture. Despite the evidence that learners are still a bit cold on the social affordances being heralded by some e-textbook vendors (shared highlights, collaborative annotation), anything that brings down the price and weight of print textbooks has a future. Print, with its unused chapters and lock-step format, is simply not useful and no longer necessary.
Flood: Notice how branded sweatshirts and, yes, underwear have seriously encroached on your campus bookstore's floor space? Notice how student backpacks bulge less than they used to? These are signs of the volcanic eruption of technology reshaping the education landscape or--think of it this way--reshaping how students obtain their information and learn. Information doesn't need to be carried anymore: It needs to be easily accessible, especially since the world's information is available to students on their mobile devices and laptops.
We always seem to be between two worlds--in this case, the old world of print, the new of digital. And while it's apparent that students themselves are slow to move to the e-book, it's pretty safe to say the curve will trend upward and that 2013 will bring both more e-books and more experimentation in e-book delivery. And no one has a lock on the e-book business model yet. Some exciting new models have surfaced, such as BetterKnow. iBooks will create their own trend. So expect no reversal in the trend to e-books. The genie is out of the bottle.
Gonick: Print textbooks are on the endangered species list. But for specialized situations, the sooner interactive learning materials become dominant the better. The first generation of "e-textbooks" looks very much like its analog predecessors. There are much better learning materials that will evolve now that the marketplace has been disrupted and new content-delivery and business models are rapidly evolving.
Sparrow: Increasingly, through MOOCs and platforms such as Codecademy, the notion of peer review and approval of successful completion of outcomes is an emerging trend and allows for greater participation of learners. To watch in the next 12 months: how badging continues to develop with student choice in how students demonstrate fluency in a particular topic.
Flood: Traditional diplomas still have enormous traction and will for some time. But when companies hire MOOCs to provide courseware for employees needing specialized training, and when a company like Cisco teams up with Instructure to use Canvas as its learning management system, everyone should sit up and take note. Certifications are no longer the exclusive province of higher education. How will we adjust? How much influence will the job market have on higher education?
Carmean: An expanding learner base seeks knowledge in more flexible ways. Society seeks relevancy and new skills. Certificates are widely accepted in numerous fields and being explored in even more. Badges? Not yet ("We don't need no stinkin' badges"), but the potential is clear.
Gonick: In spite of the resistance and poor design and execution, social media continues to make inroads in post-secondary education. While institutions continue to grapple with boundary definition, students employ social media when and where they see an advantage. Underlying basic tools like RSS feeds are now commonplace. Marketing and communications groups are embracing edited feeds from Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook on their web pages. Social media is still in its nascent state on most university and college campuses.
Alexander: Social media advanced far beyond the collaborative and communicative capabilities of "academicware." Course-management systems, campus portals, and the like have been playing catch-up while the rest of the world raced ahead. We are likely to see campuses struggling with this gap for some time, especially as a younger generation of faculty and staff arrives on campus, already expecting social media functionalities.
Alexander: The adoption of learning analytics depends on the emergence of several key developments. First, a user-friendly front end must be attached to any back-end system. Second, evidence of successful use of data analytics needs promulgation in academic and popular sources (think professional journals and NPR), or else it will remain speculative. Third, learning analytics must be easily distinguished from general data analytics, or teaching faculty will pay it no mind.
Sparrow: Imagine having the power of data that Google and Amazon use to customize your web experiences, providing learners with customized and timely options. What students are learning and how learning happens can be more clearly examined through learning analytics.
Gonick: Too early to tell. Overhyped. We need learning-theory models to inform our data collection before we starting selling learning analytics into the university. Just because we have lots of digital artifacts doesn't mean we know what to do with them. More importantly, our constructs should also inform what questions we ask and what actual data should be collected.
OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES
Alexander: OER has the potential to broaden access, reduce costs, and spur creativity. Adoption has been slow, however, in part because few business cases have been offered (institutional subvention, grants, corporate endorsement). Concerns about quality persist. These two problems must be addressed before open education takes off.
Sparrow: The Babson Research Group reports that the term OER is pretty broadly defined. As a definition becomes solidified, the discussion around OER will probably continue to grow as an opportunity for faculty to build learning experiences around existing open resources, rather than having to reinvent the wheel.
Flood: If you can't carry it with you, why have it? Think like a backpacker and lighten that load! The focus, particularly among urban young, is small, low-cost, feature-rich, carry-your-own, and convenient--from the spaces they choose to live in to the cars they drive to the devices they carry in light bags slung across their shoulders. Lifestyle choices such as these become staple features in the backpacker's guide to the universe--and it calls for smaller, lighter, and mobile.
These are the consumers of today's education. Woe to the institution that does not heed this trend, risking irrelevancy in the eyes of those consumers, now asking important questions about the relevance of education, its cost, and its worth in the marketplace that matters most--the job market. If I have a choice, will I choose to attend the college that appears old and out of touch or the one that seems to get where I'm at?
Don't waste precious time writing a consensus-driven mobile strategy only a few people will read and most will ignore. Get your hands dirty in short project sprints that quickly deliver relevant mobile services to your increasingly mobile users.
Gonick: Just beginning. Nomadic computing on campus is knocking at the gates. Most schools and universities have done little more than create a style sheet to allow traditional web content to be read on these form factors. Much more work to be done to create mobile experiences.
Flood: While the flipped classroom is a wonderful model for some types of students (self-motivators take note!), it's unlikely to be suitable for all, especially those who need a supportive structure that the flipped classroom may not provide.
Gonick: Steep curve ahead. It takes a village to flip a classroom as a redesign effort. Creativity and commitment are necessary--but insufficient--conditions for success in flipping a classroom. Could prove to be the most disruptive trend of the decade as flipping involves redesigning of time and strategy for engagement.
Carmean: We're now at the stage of noise with no signal in higher education AR experimentation. Enough geocaching already. A broader, meaningful use will need to be discovered for AR to pick up steam.
Sparrow: An interesting idea that was on the New Media Consortium's 2011 Horizon Report, but not included in the 2012 report. While augmented reality allows for a new layer of information, tools such as Google Maps allow for much of the same information without having a device between the user and the artifact.
Gonick: An important nascent and emerging trend underscoring the "maker" and experiential learning opportunities that should inform engaged and real-world learning wherever possible.
Carmean: Amazing new technologies need to find their fit. Currently, 3D printing is still just a story in Wired magazine or a hot topic for alumni in university publications. It's exciting and could be a game changer down the road, allowing for a new culture of entrepreneurship and the visual made manifest across the disciplines. Or it could remain a prototype machine in the engineering colleges. We don't know yet, do we?
Blended Learning: So Status Quo
CT asked our experts to weigh in on how blended learning was faring. Up? Down? The answer, quite frankly, was a collective yawn.
Carmean: The sky is blue, babies drink milk. Blended learning is the norm. A status quo can be neither trending nor trendy. We are in the digital age and the LMS is everywhere. What needs to catch up is reduced seat time for all technology-infused courses. Now that's hot.
Alexander: Blended learning increasingly describes the reality of learning. Students and instructors in even the most anti-digital classroom leave that space and reenter the world of digital immersion to some degree, blending online and off asynchronously. The question for institutions is not when to start blended learning projects, but how best to manage their mainstream reality.