Every year, Educause releases their Horizon Report (this year’s found here), a look at what technologies are affecting us, and are most likely to affect higher education in the next 1 to 5 years.
General “Highly-Ranked” Trends (I’m paraphrasing here)
*The internet, and students’ reliance on it, is only getting bigger.
Spending more than 2 minutes with an undergrad proves this out. The challenge to educators is to stay as close to the leading edge of technology as they reasonably can without falling too far behind (becoming out of touch, like someone with no awareness of Twitter) or, I’d argue, trying to jump ahead (introduce unproven technology to a class without a clear understanding of the advantages or disadvantages of the technology, like using a World of Warcraft server as a virtual classroom space). In many cases, smart educators are the ones waiting to see what technologies students are adopting, and not vice versa.
*Students’ work/class hours are expected to be increasingly flexible (and not just for students).
A greater reliance on virtual education spaces, mobile/wireless connectivity, and other internet feeds is another given. As far as e-learning goes, however, I think they key word is “flexible.” According to many in the industry, while e-learning is a good compliment to education, it’s unlikely to replace face-to-face instruction. Classrooms are likely to become more and more “blended.”
*An increasing reliance on cloud-based technology
I’ve always been of two minds on cloud computing. On the one hand, between social media sites, blogs, flash/java applications, sites like screencast-o-matic.com, and Google Docs, it’s hard to argue that this kind of technology isn’t going to continue to grow in popularity. On the other, it’s not without its obvious drawbacks. The report even admits “[t]he challenges of privacy and control continue to affect adoption and deployment.” Having Office installed on your computer and all your important documents in a folder on your desktop (and hopefully backed up) tends to make you feel less nervous than having those same applications and documents at the mercy of hackers, internet connectivity, and the corporations that we trust to keep those services and storage available, secure, updated, and bug-free. Like e-learning solutions, cloud computing is a good compliment to education, but it’s not going to replace the laptop as we know it. (Though, I admit, I never thought tablets—devices very friendly to cloud computing—would take off the way they have.)
Critical Challenges (again, paraphrasing)
*Digital media literacy is becoming an increasingly necessary skill to teach students, yet we haven’t truly been able to define it, much less keep up with the technologies involved.
How do we get students to work constructively in forums, chat rooms, social sites, Twitter, and e-classrooms? At Illinois State, as we start to get a handle on Blackboard (despite all the technological issues), we now have to prepare for Sakai replacing it. Luckily, we won’t be working from scratch, but a whole lot of instructors and students will have to be “retrained.”
*How are we going to figure out how to evaluate (much less grade) all this stuff?
You have to admit, it must have been a hell of a lot easier to teach when it was (1) memorize chapter of textbook, (2) test, (3) repeat. It’s especially difficult nowadays, when technology is moving at 100 miles an hour and doesn’t necessarily have hand-rails.
*The old university model is dying, and the new models are both competitive and expensive
One of the reasons I’m proud to be at ISU is that I believe we’re handling this very well, yet even we’ve had our fair share of failed (and sometimes costly) technology adoptions. Show me a campus that’s guessed right on all their technology, though… Some campuses are doing it cheap (Google has a few campuses under their wing), some campuses are throwing money at e-solutions for not great results, and most are in-between. Regardless, an astronomical number of hours are being spent on every campus figuring out a game plan for campus technology. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and critical to the success of the modern university campus.
*It’s hard to keep pace with technology.
It’s certainly challenging, but less hard when you find it all so interesting.
Next time: “Technologies to Watch”