Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Horizon Report 2009

This year's Horizon Report has just appeared and is, as usual, full of interesting predictions and observations. Many of the hot technologies from previous years have moved from the horizon to the foreground and the predictions have generally been accurate. The key trends they focus on this year are centred around concepts such as increasingly globalised collaboration, the growth of collective intelligence, using games as learning tools, visual literacy and mobile access to everything.

The chapters deal with the impact of a number of key technologies such as cloud computing, mobility, location awareness, the personal web and semantic aware applications. Each chapter contains a description of the technology, relevance to teaching/learning/research and excellent links to relevant projects and examples of the technologies under discussion. Briefly, the key technologies are:
  • Mobiles
    Not only does virtually everyone own one but they will soon replace the computer as the choice device for accessing the net. The iPhone can download a host of intelligent widgets and some universities are already making use of this in order to offer students greater flexibility in how they access and interact with the university's resources. See especially Stanford's impressive iApps.
  • Cloud computing
    The thin client returns. Applications run on many computers in a "cloud" and storage space is cheap. As a result we can run everything on a simpler low cost terminal (a mobile for example) as long as it has good net access. Collaborative work becomes simple and IT costs will drop (we hope!).
  • Geo-everything
    Geo-positioning will be present in all devices and services will be customised to your present location. Your photos and films will be automatically geo-tagged and immediately linked on to, say, Google Earth.
  • The personal web
    Web 2.0 moves on and the web becomes increasingly tailored to your own preferences. You control the news feeds you receive, the networks you belong to, the way you organise your work space and social life. Your profiles and settings are available form any device, anywhere.
  • Semantic aware applications
    Search engines today search for key words but cannot understand context. Future applications will be able to provide more relevant information based on contextual information.
  • Smart objects
    All objects can be tagged with small chips/smartcards/codes to enable them to be located and traced. A web search could even provide the exact location of a particular object on a map.
However, the most interesting part for me is where they list the critical challenges facing higher education. These include (read the report for the full story of course):
  • There is a growing need for formal training in digital literacy for both students and staff. Too much today is left to chance, hoping that everyone will somehow pick it all up instinctively. Even our so-called digital natives need help.
  • Teaching material is still based on methods and thinking from last century. We need to adapt to the needs and skills of tomorrow and update our materials. Many of our students will work in jobs that do not even exist today.
  • Higher education is facing growing demands to put educational content on the net and in appealing formats. Demands for access to learning via mobile terminals will increase and only a few institutions are really responding at present.
  • Traditional structures for scholarship and academic review are out of step with how work is carried out today on the net.

Pioneers and enthusiasts at all universities are trying to make all this happen but all too often these efforts crash into a glass ceiling because these issues have not fully filtered through to the heads of faculty. Many universities today are still based around the traditional campus model despite the fact that the majority of their students are studying on the net, often in combination with a career and family. Lifelong learning is a growing market for higher education and it demands a mature IT-strategy to make it work. The universities that see this market as core business and invest in competence development for staff and support for net-based students will succeed.

1 comment:

  1. As you know, I think this is right on target. The old bricks and mortar tenured professors have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and don't want to be bothered with new ways to teach. It was good enough for 1,000 years - why change? It is probably pretty scary in terms of their profession, as well. Can you get tenure on the web? The audience isn't captive to the campus anymore and if professor so and so is a jerk, they'll go to another web campus and take the class there. So the revolution in web education goes beyond the delivery method to the deliverers themselves and that, no doubt, is what has them manning the barricades.