Educational Technology Horizons

I’ve been reading the NMC “Horizon Reports” for 2009 and 2010 recently. These are surveys of new technologies that may have some impact on education in the next few years and they’re quite interesting reading. Here are some of the key points.

1) Mobiles

Might possibly have some value. However, as not a few other bloggers have pointed out, things like the iPad are essentially devices for consumption of information, not for production. If we’re serious about research engaged teaching, that is students doing something  collaboratively (ideally)  and writing it up, then I’d guess we still have some way to go. (That said, I’m completely blown away by my iPod touch, which I think is the best small computer I’ve ever seen).  Not that there’s anything wrong with consumption either.  You have to start learning somewhere and reading or watching some multimedia is as good a place as any. Which brings me on to

2) e-books.

There is obvious potential in being able to carry collections of documents around in the pocket, but I’d like to see better annotation tools. If you could use applications like Zotero or Refworks to create electronic card indexes of your references and concepts I think this might be the next killer app. In truth this probably isn’t far away and would go some way to shifting them more to the production side.

3) Cloud computing.

Well, it’s already happening. The OU has moved to Google Apps for its students which will put Microsoft’s nose out of joint. Or will it? There’s a huge cloud of inertia to shift first. For example I’m currently working on a paper with a colleague at a remote campus. Google docs seems ideal for sharing the document, but I’ve found it’s almost impossible to get my colleagye to remember their password, and to stop e-mailing multiple versions of the same paper. It will come, I think but it will take longer than we expect.

4) Open Content.

Not really technology, but there has been encouraging signs that this is being taken up by UK universities, largely encouraged by the JISC funded Repository Start Up and Enhancement programme. What I like about this is that it does encourage production and sharing of work and I think it will really make a difference to the way we think about how we access academic work. There are some issues to be resolved, not least that of quality. Should judgements be made about what we put in repositories, and who makes those judgements? Librarians? Well, they do make judgements about what goes in university libraries, I suppose, although these should be informed by requests from faculties.

Among the other technologies the Horizon reports identify are “simple augmented reality”, “gesture based computing”, “visual data analysis”, “geo everything”, “the personal web”, “semantic aware applications” and “smart objects”. With the possible exception of the personal web, all of these seem to me to have value for specific disciplinary niches, and as I probably won’t know what I’m talking about I won’t go on. (No, I know that doesn’t usually stop me!)  I include the “personal web” in this group because I do think that’s a different sort of niche. A lot of people still seem to me to be very reluctant to engage with this kind of thing, and are horrified by the idea of putting anything about themselves on the Internet. Media stories about identity theft don’t help of course, but as I’ve said before, we can’t be far from a time when not being findable on the web is regarded as the exception. If that’s so then technologies that can keep track of the media we post about ourselves will become quite important tools in sifting through this information. Because there will be LOTS of it.

The question is of course, what should we in educational development be doing about this stuff? I think (hope) we have learnt by now that we can’t just ram new technologies down academics throats, so the question is how do we encourage people who are short of time (and possibly short of inclination) to experiment with it?