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IT Trends | Feature

2012: What's Hot, What's Not

As the new year kicks off, four higher education analysts look deep into their crystal balls to predict the IT winners and losers for 2012.

Like the Roman god Janus, whose twin faces look both forward and back, CT is using the New Year as an opportunity to reflect on some of the biggest IT trends and issues of 2011 and predict their fate in 2012. In the turbulent world of higher ed IT, this is no easy task--yesterday's news can easily become tomorrow's snooze. To help us out, we asked four ed-tech experts to give us their opinions on the trend lines and significance of more than a dozen technologies and concepts.

Our Futurists

Michael Horn, cofounder and executive director for education of Innosight Institute, a not-for-profit think tank devoted to applying the theories of disruptive innovation to problems in the social sector. He is the coauthor of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (McGraw-Hill, 2008).

Christopher Rice, associate director for teaching and technology in the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching at the University of Kentucky. His current work focuses on the use of blogging, wikis, virtual worlds, and other social media technologies in higher education programs and classrooms.

John Moravec, a faculty member in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development and the Innovation Studies/Master of Liberal Studies graduate programs at the University of Minnesota. He is the principal of Education Futures and a cofounder of the Horizon Forum, a roundtable on the future of education at all levels.

Kenneth C. Green is the founding director of the Campus Computing Project, the largest continuing study of the role of computing, e-learning, and information technology in American higher education.


Kenneth Green: So old-school. Market research firm Student Monitor reports that half of undergraduates now own smartphones, a number that will continue to climb. It's a good bet that BlackBerry's share of the student market is in decline.

John Moravec: Can we declare BlackBerry dead and buried yet? While iOS and Android have made tremendous advances, the BlackBerry has remained fundamentally unchanged over the past few years, and the PlayBook was a flop. In the fast-paced mobile market, failure to push the boundaries with innovative releases is tantamount to brand suicide. Adding further injury, RIM [BlackBerry maker Research In Motion] suffered from a major service outage around the same time Apple introduced many enterprise features in iOS 5. My prediction: As Microsoft attempts to reinvent its mobile Windows offering, it will make an effort to purchase RIM to acquire its patent portfolio.

Christopher Rice: BlackBerry is a dying platform for many reasons. It's a device built around e-mail and text message communication. Unfortunately for BlackBerry, platforms like iOS, Android, and Windows Phone have evolved a richer ecosystem for connecting and communicating through their apps. BlackBerry, caught flat-footed by this transition, has simply been unable to evolve fast enough.

The Cloud

Michael Horn: The growth of services being delivered from--and data being stored in--the cloud is pervasive in society. Higher education is no exception from this trend.

Rice: Developing a serious cloud and virtualization strategy is critical to every higher education institution. Unfortunately, most people still have some serious misunderstandings or lack of imagination concerning cloud. Successful IT departments will figure out a way to leverage the cloud to allow them to free up resources to make the transition to a "softer" model of IT partnership and support on campus.

Moravec: Cloud services are hot, but the question remains whether we are repeating a cycle of centralization and decentralization of IT services, like when we moved from mainframe and thin clients to more powerful personal computing applications. Will we see the cloud fragment as well?

Green: The cloud is still on the horizon, at least in higher education. Low clouds (e-mail) have arrived; high clouds (ERP, storage, and high-performance computing) remain distant. Trust is the coin of the realm here, and many campus IT leaders are not ready to seed the cloud with mission-critical campus data and IT functions.


Rice: E-portfolios are a tired idea, but are absolutely ripe for reinvention in the age of personal cyberinfrastructure for students. The challenge is in how to create a distributed e-portfolio that is truly owned by the students.

Moravec: Social media replaced these long ago with blogs, wikis, Facebook, etc.

Horn: Although educators remain excited about e-portfolios, especially as the importance of competency-based learning builds, it doesn't appear that they are rapidly growing in any concerted way, despite the fact that some entrepreneurs are creating companies that facilitate the creation of e-portfolios.

Sage on the Stage

Rice: I think the 50-minute lecture is destined for the dustbin of history. Let's face it, most instructors simply aren't good enough lecturers to carry a full 50 minutes. And trying to do so--especially armed with cognitive load-busting, bullet point-packed slide decks--is causing educational harm. The growing use of lecture-capture software and the emergence of high-quality lectures such as TED Talks are a wake-up call to end the bad lecture.

Rather than the Sage on the Stage or Guide on the Side, you're going to see a growing embrace of the Sage on the Side model. The need for an instructor with high-quality, in-depth domain knowledge (The Sage) will never go away. But, in an age of ubiquitous information, he just doesn't get a stage anymore. However, an age of ubiquitous information also means a lot of that information is going to be crap. An education Sherpa is needed to help students develop information literacy so they can sort the good from the bad.

Moravec: We have arguably devolved into a society that just wants to be entertained, not think. Students have expectations for entertainment, and professors must be prepared to deliver on the "wow." Moreover, academic culture fosters narcissism, and technological advancements in social media enable every common sage to perform on a global stage. The explosion of interest in TED and TED-like events, which portray academics as entertainers, fuels this trend.

Horn: While the Sage on the Stage still dominates at most traditional campuses--and likely will continue to--the notion of the Sage on the Stage will decline somewhat as online learning continues to grow in higher education.

Learning Management Systems

Moravec: Blackboard has been a disappointment in the learning management system (LMS) market, delivering products that fail to impress and bullying companies that try to leapfrog beyond them. Moodle has since matured, carries out its roles well, and continues to enjoy a large development community. Can we move on yet?

Rice: Blackboard has long enjoyed a position at the top of the LMS field, but its market share is eroding fairly rapidly, especially in higher education. I think it simply failed to disrupt itself sufficiently, and now LMSs like OpenClass and Instructure Canvas have come out with some pretty fantastic user interface advances and social media integration. Blackboard looks old and creaky by comparison. The LMS really isn't going anywhere, but it will continue to evolve. Blackboard will continue to lose market share rapidly, Moodle and Sakai will remain neutral or decline, and Canvas and OpenClass will grow rapidly.

Green: The LMS market remains a mature market with immature products, which is a recipe for volatility. Some 700 Blackboard clients, primarily but not exclusively colleges and universities, confront "up or out" decisions as Blackboard retires the WebCT and Angel Learning LMS apps in the next two years. Also important, we are seeing the first defections from the Bb Learn 9x franchise as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University (NC), and some other institutions defect from Bb Learn to Sakai and other platforms.

Horn: LMS entrants such as Moodle and Instructure offer higher education institutions a much more affordable proposition. A critical question is whether the emergence of adaptive platforms will completely blow apart the LMS as we've known it. Stay tuned. For now, however, the use of LMSs continues to grow as online learning grows.

Open Source and OER

Horn: Serious questions remain about creating sustainable open education resource models, but overall it will grow because of market and pricing pressures, the commoditization of content, and the DIY U movement.

Moravec: I have high hopes for open source software and OER, but they are difficult to implement in academic environments. IT departments often need strong vendor support, and companies that develop proprietary products can fulfill that need. In regard to open educational resources, academic culture just isn't there yet in embracing the open sharing of knowledge. That said, open resources provide a critical addition to the options available, and their presence will continue to grow. I'm just not expecting anything noteworthy in 2012.

Rice: Where to begin with the rapidly growing problem of "open-washing" in the higher education tech space? You couldn't wander down vendor alley at Educause this year without getting pelted by swag proclaiming a given company's "openness." For all its wonders, Pearson's OpenClass is not open in the same way we use the word to describe open source or FOSS [Free and Open Source Software] work. However, it is open in the sense that it is a platform on which anyone can build an application and get it into the system. This is the beauty of having a range of systems with various levels or modalities of openness.

You want really, really open in the traditional sense? Fire up a server and install Sakai or Moodle! Want to be a little less open but deliver a great user experience out of the box? Download and install Canvas! Don't really care about the openness of the code? Well, we've got OpenClass for you! Just want to give people a little peek under the kimono of your course? Then go Blackboard! And so on.

"Open" has to be understood not as an absolute term but as a continuum along which various content and services can be arrayed. Take Creative Commons licenses, for example: You can pick from a continuum of sharing options, from fairly restrictive to wide open. Ultimately, it's the ability to choose among a variety of use value models that's critical. Companies need to tone down the "open" rhetoric and get on with building a good ecosystem of services and content.


Moravec: I really want to give Apple a thumbs-up on this, but we still have no idea what iPads are supposed to be used for. Unfortunately, in higher education, we tend to think of how the iPad can be used to do things that we're already doing--and have been doing since the 18th century. The looming question is whether we will use them as textbook replacements or develop innovative uses for mobile technologies that will transform our campuses into truly advanced platforms for discovering and sharing knowledge.

Rice: To be honest, we just don't know yet the benefits of using iPads for education. Universities implementing iPad programs should attach rigorous assessment programs, share that data openly, and make adjustments rapidly. And while the iPad has a dominating position in the tablet space now and for the next few years, it would be unwise to focus solely on that platform.

Horn: Tablets in general are rapidly gaining market share as they disrupt notebook computers, and the iPad continues to lead the way despite the launch of some disruptive entrants in this space.


Moravec: The textbook industry knows that its era of dominance will come to an end, and it is fighting tooth and nail to survive. The industry continues to feel the squeeze from OER and a growing list of on-demand and vanity publishing houses, yet it's able to keep up and produce competitive products. It is in a constant game of catch-up, however, and is at risk of extinction if anybody creates a competitive product that leapfrogs its activities.

Rice: The real question is whether we're ever going to get past fetishizing the textbook in the age of digital resources. The textbook was only a technology from the age of print that allowed us to aggregate basic information on a subject. Why reproduce a book when we can create something entirely new that serves to aggregate or provide a path to best-of-class introductory materials on a subject?

The real move to watch for over the next few years is not the wholesale transformation of the textbook as a digital artifact, but rather the change in delivery mode from the university bookstore or Amazon to delivery via--and integration with--the LMS. OpenClass, of course, is meant to serve as a delivery system for Pearson products, and Blackboard has announced quite an extensive network of textbook partnerships. This sort of relationship is only strengthened when auxiliary products such as MyLab, Knewton, and other adaptive learning mechanisms are deployed.

Horn: Online courses and open, adaptive, and digital content are rendering the traditional print textbooks relics of the past.

Green: Textbooks, like tenure, will be with us for a while.

Virtual Faculty & Staff Outsourcing

Moravec: Whether faculty and staff like it or not, they are already competing one-on-one with others around the world. As university leaders continue to push for online course offerings and in-person course cost savings, it is very attractive to bring in outside or foreign instructors who can provide quality interaction for a fraction of the cost. If this trend continues, the idea of having a campus with faculty offices may be reserved only for the elite institutions that can afford to keep their talent in-house.

Rice: I think this actually qualifies as more of a weak signal than a trend at this point, but make no mistake: It will emerge as an important consideration in the near future. The increasing use of video lectures (from TED, MIT, and more) and open courseware, as well as the growth in online offerings from many institutions, will generate discussion about the need to have all instruction physically located on campus.

At this point, moving to more virtual faculty is more of a cultural and political problem than a technological one. Many faculty members will resist this trend out of fear of losing their jobs to the next wave of virtualization, and this very real concern must be addressed.

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