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6 Technologies That Will Impact Higher Ed

Wearable gadgets, gamification, and learning analytics are three of six technologies that will have a major impact on strategic technology planning in higher education in the next five years, according to the latest NMC Horizon Report released by the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative.

The annual NMC Horizon Report, released jointly by NMC and the Educause Learning Initiative, focuses on the key technology areas that researchers have identified as applicable to teaching and learning and likely to have a major impact on educational institutions within the next five years, broken down into near term, mid-term, and longer term. The report is designed to help education stakeholders grasp new and emerging technologies, identify issues involved with them, and see specific examples of their implementation in higher education. The report also identifies "critical" challenges facing education in the near future.

For the NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition, researchers and analysts identified six technologies that have the potential to improve student success rates, make mobile learning a reality, break down educational barriers, enable new approaches to teaching and learning, bring desktop manufacturing to the mainstream, and allow us to interact in new ways with the world around us.

"Campus leaders and practitioners across the world use the report as a springboard for discussion around significant trends and challenges," said Larry Johnson, chief executive officer of the NMC, in a prepared statement. "The biggest trend identified by the advisory this year reflects the increasing adoption of openness on and beyond campuses, be it in the form of open content or easy access to data. This transition is promising, but there is now a major need for content curation."

Technologies That Will Impact Education in Near-Term
The most immediate trends identified in the report--those whose impact will be felt in a significant way within a year at most--were massively open online courses (MOOCs) and tablet computing.

According to the report, "The term 'massively open online course' was hardly a thought bubble during the discussions for the NMC Horizon Report: 2012 Higher Education Edition. Over the past year, MOOCs have gained public awareness with a ferocity not seen in some time. World-renowned universities, including MIT (edX) and Stanford (Coursera), as well as innovative start-ups such as Udacity jumped into the marketplace with huge splashes, and have garnered a tremendous amount of attention--and imitation. Designed to provide high quality, online learning at scale to people regardless of their location or educational background, MOOCs have been met with enthusiasm because of their potential to reach a previously unimaginable number of learners. The notion of thousands and even tens of thousands of students participating in a single course, working at their own pace, relying on their own style of learning, and assessing each other's progress has changed the landscape of online learning."

Tablet computing is also a recent development that grew quickly to become a major phenomenon on campuses across the country--in some cases as components of BYOD programs and in others as part of campus-sponsored mobile computing initiatives.

Mid-Term Technologies
Slightly further out, the NMC Horizon report identified learning analytics and "games and gamification" as technologies whose impacts will be felt in two to three years.

Learning analytics refers to a combination of traditional strategies used in student retention and methods that pull data from a variety of disparate sources to help provide a clearer picture of individual students' educations and to help improve teaching and learning.

According to the report, "As higher education institutions adopt hybrid approaches to teaching, learning is happening more and more within online environments and platforms. Sophisticated Web tracking tools within these settings already can track precise student behaviors, recording variables such as number of clicks and time spent on a page, and increasingly more nuanced information such as resilience and retention of concepts. Inclusion of behavior-specific data adds to an ever-growing repository of student-related information, making the analysis of educational data increasingly complex."

Learning analytics was one of NMC's mid-term trends in last year's report as well. The report indicated that continuing advancements in learning analytics "have uncovered interesting applications that get to the heart of student retention and achievement by interacting with the student directly and continuously."

Also on a two- to three-year timeline, according to the report, are games and "gamification." Games have been increasingly introduced into the curriculum as instructional tools. Gamification takes some of the mechanics and culture of gaming and uses them to shape the curriculum itself.

"This year, game play in the sphere of education is being viewed through a new lens," according to the report. "Referred to as Game-Based Learning in previous editions of the NMC Horizon Report, this field of practice has expanded far beyond integrating digital and online games into the curriculum. The updated reference, Games and Gamification, reflects the perspective that while games are effective tools for scaffolding concepts and simulating real world experiences, it should also include the larger canvas of gamer culture and game design."

Long-Term: 3 to 5 Years
On the more distant horizon, NMC identified 3D printing and wearable technologies as important developments whose significance will be felt in three to five years.

3D printing, of course, has been around to a limited degree in disciplines like design, crafts and engineering for years. But now lower price points for 3D printers (now in the $1,500 to $3,000 range) are helping to fuel their popularity among consumers, and that popularity has been spreading in higher education as well.

"One of the most significant aspects of 3D printing for education is that it enables more authentic exploration of objects that may not be readily available to universities," the report said. "While 3D printing is four to five years away from widespread adoption in higher education, it is easy to pinpoint the practical applications that will take hold. Geology and anthropology students, for example, can make and interact with models of fragile objects such as fossils and artifacts. Through rapid prototyping and production tools, organic chemistry students and those studying x-ray crystallography can print out models of complex proteins and other molecules, similar to what can be seen in 3D Molecular Design's Model Gallery."

Wearable technology is also beginning to gain traction among consumers, from Bluetooth necklaces to gaming gear to clip-on cameras to augmented reality devices.

The applications for wearable technology in education are many and varied, including smart jewelry that could alert chem students to the presence of dangerous fumes, glasses that can allow users to connect to the Internet through voice commands (Google's Project Glass), pendant projectors, and gloves that provide enhanced feedback for students handling scientific equipment.

"Currently, the number of new wearable devices in the consumer sector seems to be increasing daily, greatly outpacing the implementation of this technology at universities. The education sector is just beginning to experiment with, develop, and implement wearable technologies, though the potential applications are significant and vast," the report's authors argued. "One of the most compelling potential outcomes of wearable technology in higher education is productivity. Wearable technologies that could automatically send information via text, e-mail, 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."

6 Key Challenges
The report also identified six challenges facing education in the coming years.

1. The top-ranked challenge identified by NMC's researchers was the virtual lack of technology training for faculty members. What training does exist tends to focus on the ephemeral (the tools themselves) rather than on digital literacy.

"Despite the widespread agreement on the importance of digital media literacy, training in the supporting skills and techniques is rare in teacher education and non-existent in the preparation of faculty. As lecturers and professors begin to realize that they are limiting their students by not helping them to develop and use digital media literacy skills across the curriculum, the lack of formal training is being offset through professional development or informal learning, but we are far from seeing digital media literacy as a norm."

2. New forms of scholarship, such as conducting or posting research via social media, are outpacing the ability of many faculty members to assess their value adequately.

3. Current processes (such as tenure reviews) do not value technological sophistication and therefore discourage faculty members from moving beyond the status quo.

4. Current technology and practices do not adequately support individualized learning.

5. Traditional models of higher education are being challenged by new forms of education. These new forms, such as MOOCs, need to be evaluated to "determine how to best support collaboration, interaction, and assessment at scale. Simply capitalizing on new technology is not enough; the new models must use these tools and services to engage students on a deeper level."

6. And finally, "Most academics are not using new technologies for learning and teaching, nor for organizing their own research," according to NMC's researchers. "Some educators are simply apprehensive about working with new technologies, as they fear the tools and devices have become more of a focus than the learning. Adoption of progressive pedagogies, however, is often enabled through the exploration of emerging technologies, and thus a change in attitude among academics is imperative."

"Identifying the key emerging technologies for learning is vital at a time when all institutions are forced to make very careful choices about investments in technology," said Educause Learning Initiative Director Malcolm Brown in a statement released to coincide witht eh report. "With the sudden emergence of the MOOC [massively open online course], there's unprecedented attention being given to the teaching and learning mission of higher education. The NMC Horizon Report goes beyond simply naming technologies; it offers examples of how they are being used, which serves to demonstrate their potential. The report also identifies the trends and challenges that will be key for learning across all three adoption horizons. This makes the Horizon Report essential for anyone planning the future of learning at their institution."

The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition is freely available under a Creative Commons license. The full report includes case studies, references, methodology, definitions, and examples of each technology in use at higher education institutions. It can be accessed with registration from the New Media Consortium site.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., and Ludgate, H. (2013). NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.


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