Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Trends, predictions and black swans

As the year winds down the net is full of lists. Everyone is nominating the top ten hits/flops/trends of 2011 or predicting the equivalent for 2012. In technology it seems that touchless control could well be the next big thing. We've only just got started with touch screen mobiles and tablets and now we won't even need to make physical contact any more. CNN's Top 10 tech trends for 2012 predicts that gesture and voice control will feature heavily in 2012 whereas touch screen control will move into the laptop market that is still dependent on the trusty but now threatened mouse. They also expect bendy mobiles that allow you to control for example zooming or scrolling by flexing the device (as reported here actually!).

In terms of education tech the theme seems clear; open or closed. This year has seen significant advances in open education with the Brazilian ruling that educational materials produced by state teachers should be freely shared by Creative Commons licences and several other similar moves in other parts of the world. Stanford and now MIT have hit the headlines by offering free and open courses to the world and a partnership of universities launched the OER University initiative that certainly challenges many time-honored academic traditions. These developments are nicely summarised by Audrey Watters in a post called Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2011: “Open”. There have indeed been many reasons to be cheerful this year in terms of open education but Audrey also points to some rather black clouds on the horizon. Parallell to the drive towards more openness we also see the industry giants trying to pull us into their own walled gardens and we also sense the academic publishing industry hitting back and defending its role.

"Will more universities offer opencourseware and demand open access? Will government funds help promote OER? Will these funding efforts subsidize open content from a closed set of “common” standards? Will “open” become the magical marketing term that giant education companies adopt? What happens to the open Web when companies like Facebook, Apple, and Amazon want to attract consumers to their Internet silos, and similarly what happens to open content when publishers must scramble to adapt their business models to a digital world?"

Openness is best but it can be hard to manage. How do we "organise freedom" as Björk sings in one of her songs. Quality open resources can be very hard to find and there's a bewildering range of sources. Many people in the end will sacrifice an element of freedom if they can have a reliable, easy-to-use and ready-made walled garden delivered by a big name company.

"What does it mean — culturally, technologically, philosophically — for example, that Google’s Chrome browser has now surpassed the open source browser Firefox for market share? Do folks really care if something is “open”?"

Dave Cormier, one of the leading MOOC pioneers, looks forward to 2012 with a selection of What if ... predictions, Seven black swans for education in 2012. He descibes his predictions as black swans;
"A black swan is a suprise event that changes the whole nature of a conversation."
What would happen if  some country/institution invests a pile of money in producing high quality free textbooks and making them available to the world? What if a university like MIT decides to start providing accreditation for open online courses? What if international students stop coming to our universities because they can get the same education elsewhere and much cheaper? What if a completely free learning management system really takes off? Some thought-provoking scenarios here.

2012 will feature much more openness in education but also a lot of reaction as the mainstream begins to take notice. So far most of the OER movement has been under the radar of university leaders and has been allowed to progress relatively unhindered. However when openness really begins to ruffle some feathers there will be a reaction.

1 comment:

  1. I also found the 'Black Swan' approach interesting, but maybe we will realize the effect too late. I'm thinking that we'll get a 'Red Queen Effect' where the some of the development in education will not be integrated and loose 'real' value.