The New Media Consortium (NMC), “an international community of experts in educational technology,” according to its website, publishes a “Horizon Report” every year that augurs the future of educational technology in higher education. To make their predictions, the NMC convened an “international” advisory board. The report reads:
The group engaged in discussions around a set of research questions intended to surface significant trends and challenges and to identify a wide array of potential technologies for the report. This dialog was enriched by a wide range of resources, current research, and practice that drew on the expertise of both the NMC community and the communities of the members of the advisory board.
The authors of the report break down their prophecies into three time frames: the near-term, mid-term and long-term. As they do each year, they identified two technologies for each time frame based on their perceived “adoption horizon:”
- Near-term: Mobile applications and Tablet computing;
- Mid-term: Game-based Learning and Learning Analytics;
- Long-term: Gesture-based Computing and the Internet of Things.
While a discussion of the report and its predictions would be appropriate at this point, I have decided instead to write my own Horizon Report. Rather than speak with experts, I have decided to dig out a crystal ball from the closet. (Brief aside: the crystal ball made it on the NMC Horizon Report sometime in the Middle Ages, but the publishers of the report were exiled from the region and labeled heretics and idolaters. The next Horizon Report was not published for some seven centuries. True story.)
Here are the predictions for the near, mid and long-term based on the ball’s wisdom:
No, not the Macbook Air; I mean the stuff with oxygen and nitrogen. I believe air remains a crucial medium for the educational environment. Certainly, the NMC Report is correct to identify mobile computing devices as a trending technology. Yet, consider the mobile computing device without air. Not only does air allow the students and instructors to remain conscious throughout class by means of respiration, but the unique medium enables sound waves and light waves/particles to pass through it, such that the sound and light emanating from the mobile device can be experienced as such. Obviously, the adoption horizon for air is now, like right now, lest we… (cough)… find ourselves… (cough)… without the ability to check our friends’ Facebook statuses… (cough)… on our iPhone.
Research says that a person without a brain has a hard time with higher level cognitive functions, like those identified in Bloom’s taxonomy (*see my rigorous citations at the end of this article). Good news for you: the fact that you are reading this makes you an early adopter of brain technology, according to one version of the technology adoption graph. You may even be an “innovator” in the adoption of brain technology, but, as an innovator, you would never call yourself one. Plus, there’s no reason why a technology adoption forecasting report would need to appeal to its readers’ desire to feel as though they have access to privileged information.
Human language has always been a tricky technology; even just pinning down what it is and how it works puts us in a sticky wicket (I refer you to the last half century of Continental philosophy and linguistics). But, I am proposing that it will be an important technology in the mid term. To be clear, I am not proposing that language will be adopted because something like shared meaning is only possible because of it. <haughty chuckle> No, instead, I propose that language as a performance of gestures between instructors and students will become an important technology for the rising for-profit universities around the country.
As for-profits begin to gorge themselves on a greater share of the higher education market, they will need to increasingly provide evidence of learning. Language as something performed orally is one way. For example, if they put a person in front of a class of quietly listening students and have them lecture, what more evidence would you need? I mean, that’s the quintessential scene of learning in higher education. Also, writing, as another performance of language, will be important. For example, creating a syllabus that follows the traditional conventions of the genre will allow for-profits to prove learning. If it walks like a university and, more importantly, talks like a university…
It turns out the avant-garde of information technology is downright pitiful in a fight with water (Think: that time your mobile dropped out of your pocket into the toilet). So, any kind of precipitation really puts a damper on teaching with technology. Also, since the trusty codex has decided to stage a last ditch effort at relevance in the new millenium, I can’t leave it out of the discussion. Dear Codex, your pages are flimsy and pulpy, easily swollen by Seattle rains. (This leads us to the next technology.) Hence, architectural shelter will be an important technology for teaching and learning in the next 3 years. Until William Gibson’s “cyberspace” becomes a reality (at which point we won’t need to learn because we will be immortal beings of digital data), we are stuck with the roof and wall.
Forget the Kindle and the Nook, I project that in 5 years the waterproof book will be the hottest thing since the open access movement in an American recession. Inside sources tell us that Apple is working on what R&D is calling the “iBook Aquatic,” a revolutionary waterproof book. I would have given “waterproof books” a shorter adoption horizon, but I know that Apple will lock it up with draconian licensing agreements, hence, forestalling its widespread adoption. Much like its plans announced recently to enter the eTextbook market, Apple will find ways to make the waterproof book a completely closed technology tethered to other Apple products. However, I see their marketing team making commercials with attractive young white people in urban areas, which should break open the market in the next 5 years.
If you read the last half century of research in cognitive science and its sister discipline, learning science, you’ll find that one thing we know to be true is that learning involves experiencing stimuli outside of the body and transmitting that experience via sensory channels into the brain. Once we do that, the brain works its magic and we learn. There may be some other steps that I’m forgetting. In any case, this “exterior-to-interior” model of cognitive processing is crucial to understanding how learning works. Hence, the logical consequence of understanding this exterior-interior dynamic is subverting the natural sensory channels and just cracking open that thing ourselves.
Yes, I believe brain implants will revolutionize learning in the long term. Why spend so much time with other people when you can, in essence, download the knowledge into your brain? Furthermore, the trend in higher education toward commoditizing knowledge so that it is measurable as a statistic – so that we can provide evidence to our increasingly finnicky state government funders — works toward the brain implant model of education. What better way to find an absolute correspondence between dollars and knowledge than to make knowledge measureable in the form of data and sell that brain implant data at different prices, corresponding of course to market demand? Of course, the market demand will differ by subject with some subjects receiving the tap of the “invisible hand” more than others. Let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t throw money at the brain implants that teach you about Paulo Friere’s “banking” concept of education.