Horizon Report 2009

The sixth edition of the Horizon Report, a USA-based collaboration between EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative and the New Media Consortium has been published. The report is a summary of the latest thinking on emerging technologies and practices that will affect education over the next few years and is a useful read for all those involved in technology in the UK’s HE/FE sector.

The report features six emerging technologies and places them along three adoption time horizons of: within a year, two to three years and four to five years. These timescales are slightly shorter than JISC TechWatch’s usual remit of five to ten years but many of the issues discussed in the report have strong resonances with our existing and planned work. The report also provides discussion of what it terms ‘critical challenges’ that are facing education in the next few years.

The six emerging technologies are summarised below, together with a note on work that Techwatch has already been involved with in these areas:

Mobiles (within a year)

Mobile technologies have featured in many of their reports and its reappearance emphasises how this is a rapidly evolving area both technically (through new devices like the iPhone) and in its huge uptake by students. The report suggests that providing content and delivering teaching and learning via these new devices is one of the critical challenges for HE/FE.

TechWatch produced a report on mobile devices and PDAs in 2005.

Cloud Computing (within a year)

The report notes the rapid rise of large-scale data farm facilities and the attendant increase in the use of remote storage and Web 2.0 related applications and services. The report argues that this is causing a shift in the way educators think about how they use software and data – freeing them up from the existing paradigm of the one-per-desk PC and use of licenced, shrink-wrapped software.

TechWatch is in the process of preparing a report that looks at the environmental impacts of data centres and will be producing a report on cloud computing later in 2009.

Geo-Everything (2 – 3 years)

There is an increasing interest in the provision and use of location-based information. This is being driven by the growing number of gadgets that automatically provide some form of location information (e.g. GPS built into mobile phones) and also by an increasing interest in the use of geo-related data, visualisation and mapping systems. The provision of automatically generated location data is having an impact on research and data acquisition in sciences, social observation studies, medicine and other areas.

TechWatch is in the process of commissioning a report on GeoWeb.

The Personal Web (2 – 3 years)

The report notes the increasing propensity for users to organise and aggregate their Web-related content in their own, personal ways using a growing range Web 2.0-style widgets and services. iGoggle, tagging, micro-blogging (twitter etc), use of group wikis, data mash-ups and social network aggregation all come under this broad area of development. The authors use the term ‘personal web’ to describe these emerging phenomenon and note the emergence of “highly personalized windows to the networked world” (p. 19). It argues that the online tools that provide for this are also ideal for research and learning.

Semantic-Aware Applications (4-5 years)

The Semantic Web, in which some element of meaning (semantics) is applied to Web-based data, has been discussed and researched for a number of years. The Horizon report argues that we are beginning to see the emergence of applications that make use of semantic data (are semantically aware) and that this will be a growing area in the next few years. Perhaps somewhat controversially the report argues that the provision of such a capacity will happen through what it calls a top-down manner via the use of natural language processing of existing content and not through provision of a new layer of semantic-related metadata.

TechWatch reported on the Semantic Web in 2005.

Smart Objects (4-5 years)

The report defines smart objects as any physical object that includes a unique identifier and which can track information about the object. Such objects can communicate with each other and to the wider Internet. Technologies like RFID and wireless networking are involved. Although there are few applications for education as yet (apart from the use of RFID in libraries) the authors predict that such applications will emerge within five years.

TechWatch reported on RFID in 2006.

Critical Challenges

It is always important to place technology development in the wider context and the Horizon report outlines some of the wider challenges that the authors believe face education. These are:

  • Growing need for formal instruction in new media skills such as information and visual literacy
  • A need to radically update existing learning material, some of which is decades old and does not reflect new ways of learning and interacting with information
  • The manner in which academics, researchers and students are measured and rewarded is out of sync with emerging new practices in scholarship, innovation and dynamic information flows.
  • There is a growing expectation that education will make use of mobile technologies and provide ‘anywhere, anytime’ education.