Sunday, April 29, 2018

Beyond the horizon

Photo: CC BY Some rights reserved by Vancouver film school
The annual NMC Horizon reports on trends in educational technology have been eagerly awaited and intensively debated over the past decade or so. Last year New Media Consortium unexpectedly went out of business and it looked as if the reports would also disappear. However Educause were able to acquire the rights to the report and the back issues and have also succeeded in finalising this year's report, though understandably a few months behind normal schedule. They have just released a preview of the higher education report, NMC Horizon Report Preview 2018, with the full version promised by the summer.

As usual, the report has been written by about 70 experts from around the world and identifies key trends and challenges in educational technology in higher education from a short, medium and long-term perspective. This year, as before, contains few real surprises since all the technologies mentioned have been on the radar for some time and many of them never really become mainstream, despite all the predictions and innovative initiatives.

The full report will contain detailed analyses of the trends and valuable links to current initiatives in each area. Here are the trends in brief:
Driving educational technology adoption
  • Short-term: Growing focus on measuring learning, Redesigning learning spaces.
  • Medium-term: Proliferation of open educational resources, New forms of interdisciplinary studies.
  • Long-term: Advancing cultures of innovation, Cross-institution and cross-sector collaboration.
Challenges impeding technology adoption
  • Solvable: Authentic learning experiences, Improving digital literacy.
  • Difficult: Adapting organizational designs to the future of work, Advancing digital equity.
  • Wicked: Economic and political pressures, Rethinking the roles of educators.
Important developments in educational technology for higher education
  • Short-term: Analytics technologies, Makerspaces.
  • Medium-term: Adaptive learning technologies, Artificial intelligence.
  • Long-term: Mixed reality, Robotics.
For me the most intriguing category is the wicked challenges impeding technology adoption. Rethinking the role of the teacher doesn't seem to be so radical an idea, considering the wide adoption of collaborative learning, flipped classroom, project-based learning, peer assessment and so on. The transition from lecturer to facilitator is still controversial and even when the teachers are positive there are significant barriers in the form of regulations, efficiency demands and the most wicked of all - tradition. Unless the new role(s) of the teacher is accepted then the other trends may not play out as predicted.

The other wicked challenge only hints at what I see as the biggest threat to all these developments. Economic pressures on universities are growing and governments are increasingly focused on accountability, financial efficiency and simplistic league tables and rankings. However the last two years have shown us that changes in government can quickly reverse years of educational progress, especially when populist cries to return to the "good old days" become educational policy. Further personal data scandals could quickly undermine all trust in the companies who have driven the edtech movement. We have learnt that development is neither linear nor predictable and that just about anything can happen to upset the trajectory. That is probably the most wicked challenge.

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