Twelve top technology trends

The New Media Consortium (NMC), based in Austin, Texas, and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) in Washington DC, have released the 10th edition of the NMC annual Horizon Project (HP), described as “a decade-long research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on learning, teaching, and creative inquiry in education”.

The report was authored by researchers from the US, the UK, Japan, Brazil, China, Singapore, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Hong Kong, Germany and Canada, and discusses in detail the 12 top emerging trends in education technology. While many were first born as ideas in tertiary lecture rooms and laboratories, all are bound to affect the entire education spectrum.

1. Trend one is the flipped classroom model, says the report. “Rather than the teacher using class time to lecture to students and dispense information, that work is done by each student after class, and could take the form of watching video lectures, listening to podcasts, perusing enhanced ebook content, collaborating with their peers in online communities, and more. Class time is devoted to more active, project-based learning where students work together to solve local or global challenges – or other real-world applications – to gain a deeper understanding of the subject.”

2. The second trend already altering the higher education landscape in certain parts of the world is Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. “The essence of the original MOOC concept was a web course that people could take free from anywhere across the world, potentially with thousands of participants,” explain the report’s authors, adding that “MOOCs, when designed effectively, have the potential to scale globally… using several educational technologies”.

3. Trend three is one more teachers are familiar with: mobile apps – software extensions that have led to the “deeper exploration of specific subjects, from the elements of the periodic table to the histories of art movements… by September 2012, more than 55 billion apps had been sold or downloaded across the globe”.

4. Primary and secondary schools, in particular, are embracing trend number four, cite the researchers, because “[t]he tablet (a form that does not require a mouse or keyboard) has come to be viewed as a new technology in its own right, one that blends features of laptops, smart phones, and earlier tablet computers with the always-connected internet, and thousands of apps with which to personalise the experience”.

5. The technological trend weighing in at number five on the HP top 12 list may seem more futuristic, but according to Yong Zhao, presidential chairman and associate dean for Global Education at the University of Oregon, Michigan, the fastest-growing and highest-paying job in the US is simulation development, undertaken by those who create virtual worlds and objects across a variety of disciplines such as aviation and medicine. Known more commonly as ‘augmented reality’, students learn by using software that layers information over 3-D space to produce a new experience of the world. According to the HP report, it’s “[s]ometimes referred to as ‘blended reality’, and is fuelling the broader migration of computing from the desktop to the mobile device, bringing with it new expectations regarding access to information and new opportunities for learning”.

6. Trend six – game-based learning – has been popular in many independent schools in South Africa for some time now. The HP report asserts that “games have proven to be effective learning tools, and beneficial in cognitive development and the fostering of soft skills among learners, such as collaboration, communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking”.

7. “A sort of shorthand for network-aware smart objects that connect the physical world with the world of information” is how the HP describes trend seven: ‘the internet of things’. Ideal for the digital management of physical objects, examples include pill-shaped micro cameras used in medical diagnostics and teaching to traverse the human digestive tract and send back thousands of images to pinpoint sources of illness.

8. Learning Analytics (LA) – trend eight – will become a necessary part of teaching in the future, says the HP, whereby data is collected from “explicit student actions, such as completing assignments and taking exams and from tacit actions including online social interactions. The goal of learning analytics is to enable teachers and schools to tailor educational opportunities to each student’s level of need and ability.” While the report cites a general time-to-adoption (TTA) as two to three years, LA is already being used in a middle school in Chinatown in New York City, called the School of One (to be featured in the next edition of Independent Education.) Here, every student follows a personalised curriculum based on data collected by their teachers, using complex software.

9. Trend nine examines rapid prototyping, known in educational circles as 3-D printing. The HP report explains it thus: “Technologies that construct physical objects from three-dimensional (3-D) digital content such as computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided tomography (CAT), and X-ray crystallography. A 3-D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the file, one layer at a time, using an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a very thin layer of fixable powder.” 3-D printing is helpful in, say, studies that require students to examine objects where the originals would be too delicate to handle, like fossils.

10. Organic light-emitting diode displays (OLEDs) are the screens at which we stare when using most educationally applicable smart technologies. Appliance giants LG, Samsung and Philips have all announced 2013 launches of OLED screens so thin they will be flexible, putting them at number 10 on the HP list. The possibility exists for them to be wrapped around desks and tables, or even to be worn. In some cases, the displays are known as ‘e-paper’, referring to their extreme portability.

11. Trend number 11 on the HP list seems so simple that it’s hard to imagine that the predicted TTA is four to five years. In short, says the report, “…imagine batteries that charge incredibly quickly, last for days, and can be recharged thousands of times with no loss of efficiency”.

12. Also up for generalised use in four to five years is the last trend – wearable technology – which will excite Star Trek fans. The most popular current example is Google’s Project Glass – a single-lens pair of glasses with extraordinary powers. Says the report, “The benefit of wearable technology is that it can conveniently integrate tools, devices, power needs, and connectivity within a user’s everyday life and movements… it can automatically communicate information via text, email, and social networks on behalf of the user, based on voice commands, gestures, or other indicators.”

Category: e-Education, Winter 2013

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