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IT Trends | Feature

IT Trends to Watch in 2012

Four eminent futurists predict the trend lines for 6 major issues facing IT in higher education in 2012.

In "What's Hot, What's Not: 2012," which appears in CT's January issue, our four panelists peer into their crystal balls to predict the IT winners and losers for 2012.

1. Alternative Academic Publishing
John Moravec: I expect university libraries to lead the way as they work to counter the increasing cost of acquisitions and subscriptions to their collections. I predict university librarians, using open tools, will take on journal management and support roles that were previously provided by large publishing companies. Moreover, shared-use and cost-sharing agreements between institutions could reduce expenses substantially.

Christopher Rice: There is a dawning realization that the current academic publishing model is unsustainable. The publish-or-perish mentality generates a need for a large number of outlets for academic work, but the economics of print--especially among publishers, academic journals, and university presses--simply cannot support this much longer. A move to new forms of digital publishing is inevitable. I could see a new ecosystem of open, digital publishing emerge as long as a rigorous means of peer review and credentialing emerges to go along with it. Organizations such as SPARC and COAPI are emerging to drive this issue.

Michael Horn: There is a lot of activity in the creation of alternative academic-publishing models. Adoption is still uneven, but the disruptive potential remains intriguing and something to watch.

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.

2. Augmented Reality/Virtual World
Moravec: I view augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality as growth areas for nonformal, informal, and serendipitous learning, but not within the formal scope of higher education. I envision tools being developed that can offer educational and research experiences parallel to college and university offerings. With AR, why not build a smart layer over other areas of society--for instance, you could go to a coffee shop, a bar, or a bowling alley and have meaningful, recognized learning experiences?

Rice: While this is a really volatile space right now, there remains a good deal of academic potential for AR and virtual worlds. While virtual environments like Second Life were growing in popularity a few years ago (I continue to use it in my teaching), Second Life has declined rapidly in terms of its user base, challengers like Blue Mars weren't really able to get off the ground, and successors like OpenSim are still finding their way. I suspect OpenSim in a hosted environment such as Kitely is where most academics using virtual worlds for teaching and learning will eventually find themselves.

In contrast to the sad, slow decline of virtual worlds, the growing development of AR tools such as Layar shows some real promise for opening new venues for learning outside the traditional classroom. It has the advantage of being an inherently mobile tool that most student phones will be able to run very soon, giving brave instructors a tool for "writing the world" as a critical concept and mode of discourse.

In the short term, AR will find some useful applications in the student services space, such as helping students get location-aware access to information. Examples that come to mind are: finding the best route to class; seeing instructor's office hours and scholarly output while standing outside their office door; easily visible menus at the student center food court; and getting course information by looking at books in the campus bookstore.

Horn: There's lots of excitement around the potential of AR and virtual worlds to transform learning. There are some great examples of this occurring in the military, but wider adoption appears not to be significant yet.

3. Higher Education IT Budgets
Kenneth C. Green: Budgets remained troubled, with little relief on the horizon. The budget problem is compounding, with cuts over each of the past four years, coupled with rising student expectations for--and a sense of entitlement to--more resources: better, faster campus wireless for smartphones, tablets, and notebook computers; mobile services that bring the campus portal to smartphones; 24/7 user-support services, etc.

Rice: Current spending for most institutions is unsustainable, but you can't cut your way to prosperity either. Stop thinking about budgets, and start thinking about business-model innovation!

4.  'Gamification'
Rice: This is an absolutely critical trend as a generation of gamers enters our colleges and universities. We need to think of it in two ways: gaming in the sense of creating educational games, but also using gaming elements in rethinking our teaching styles/strategies. Game designers need to get better at working with faculty, and faculty need to get more comfortable working with game designers. It's early going in this area. The best stuff will begin to come along in the next five years. We can also think about introducing gaming elements into our teaching and learning, but this has to go beyond just putting points and badges on things. We need instructors to learn about good game design and help them design courses using principles of good game design.

Green: Just because students can GGTT (game, Google, text, and tweet), we--and they--should not infer that they have the necessary technology skills for success in college or in the labor market.

5. Social Media
Rice: For the most part, social media in higher education has gotten boring and stagnant, thanks to its colonization by public relations departments. PR and recruitment can kill just about anything fun in social media. That said, I think social media can still be a powerful tool for creating personal learning networks and fostering greater student engagement. This is only going to be possible, though, if universities and colleges avoid locking down social media on their campuses in a highly restrictive fashion. Also, instructors have to get over their own boredom with tech tools such as blogs and Twitter and their fear of sites like Facebook. They must figure out the best, most innovative, and creative ways to employ these platforms to produce incredible learning experiences. It's a crisis of imagination, really. Unfortunately, here's what I expect will really happen: Social media use by campus PR and recruitment units will increase and become another bland marketing channel. There's actually one last opportunity to get it right: When colleges and universities that use Google Apps turn on Google+. Excuse me while I go weep for the potential of social media in education.

Moravec: Social media continue their growth, but their presence is such a part of the fabric of society that their presence will become more transparent. The impact of social media--and those who can successfully utilize them--will become more opaque.

Horn: The growth of Inigral and other social media platforms for education make online learning a far more social experience and will change campus life at many schools over the coming years.

6. Plagiarism
Moravec: Accelerating technological change--and the globalization of human intellectual capital--will challenge and obviate our current notions of plagiarism. Today, students and faculty can outsource and crowd-source their academic activities with others around the world at little or no cost. Advancements in intelligent applications (such as Siri) and artificial intelligence (such as IBM's Watson) are leading to a near future where software can automatically research and generate original academic works and suggest questions for future research. We will need to rethink plagiarism and academic ethics as we reconsider our relationships with technologies that augment how we think. Is a paper you "wrote" still original if a machine did the actual research, sense making, and writing, but you gave it the parameters to work with?

Green: Plagiarism is the original sin in academe. There is ample evidence that plagiarism is a major problem at most institutions, stemming either from ignorance (students don't know) or apathy (they don't care). Technology can identify the sin and the sinner, but user education is the real remedy.

Rice: There is a coming battle over the meaning of plagiarism and how to deal with it in higher education. The Panagiotis Ipeirotis dustup last year and the subsequent backlash in the higher education community speak to this problem. A growing number of faculty members will use services like TurnItIn, despite the policing environment this creates in the classroom. (One of OpenClass' first platform partners is TurnItIn.) In a more long-term trend, faculty will begin to embrace the remix culture and work with students in a more generative fashion to credit work and provide a constitutive element trail, rather than working overtime to enforce a model from an analog age that often makes little sense to students and, increasingly, to digital scholars as well. I don't endorse plagiarism by any means, but the causes--and the best solutions--are more complex than lazy and uneducated students.

Horn: Plagiarism was a serious concern before digital education. Although it's easier now to plagiarize, there are also plenty of software programs to combat it, so it's easier for professors to catch students who plagiarize.

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