Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Emerging technologies in K-12 education

The NMC Horizon Report 2013 K-12 Education Edition, which was released at ISTE 2013, identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact over the coming five years in education around the globe. The report identifies two technologies that have a near-term horizon - that is, to be adopted into the mainstream for schools in the next twelve months; two that have a mid-term horizon - within the next two to three years; and two that have a far-term horizon - within the next four to five years. The full report (linked above) is only 40 pages long and it would repay half an hour of reading time - but for those short of time, the headings are as follows.

Near-term horizon: cloud computing

Near-term horizon: mobile learning

Mid-term horizon: learning analytics

Mid-term horizon: open content

Far-term horizon: 3D printing

Far-term horizon: Virtual and remote laboratories

The two near-term horizon technologies can be taken as read. The cloud has become a commonplace element in the school's technological environment. Students use Evernote, Dropbox, Gmail and Google Drive for data-storage, communication and collaboration. Increasingly infrastructure previously provided by the school now lives in the cloud (although, this also ramps up the demands for broadband access since data is going to and from the cloud, not just to and from local servers). Mobile computing is slowly being integrated into education - a lot slower than it has been integrated into everyday life! The BYOT approach moves education towards practice that is consistent with daily life; you carry the tool with you and you use it as you want to/need to/ have cause to.

The mid-term horizon technologies are also familiar in general terms, although not yet in their educational form. Learning analytics is 'big data' analysis applied to education. The data is increasingly being sourced from online tools and interactive resources, but it also arises from standardised testing. Learning analytics can be applied from the macro-level in shaping policy approaches, allocating resources and making high-level decisions, but it is potentially equally significant in adapting instruction to individual learner needs in real-time, in the same way that Amazon, Netflix, and Google use metrics to tailor recommendations and advertisements to consumers.

Open content - whether seen in iTunesU, the flourishing of Creative Commons as an alternative to copyright, or Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) - is a significant shift away from the protectionist approach to knowledge, where ideas are commercialised and every attempt is made to monetarise intellectual capital. Increasingly, in a world that is networked and in which information flows despite the efforts made to contain it, more and more people are embracing the philosophical shift to scale resources towards openness as an ideal. This is potentially a shift towards equity, sustainability and innovation. Interestingly, it is at the heart of Steven Johnson's argument in Where Good Ideas Come from - the subject of a previous post.

I must confess, the far-term horizon technologies of 3D printing and virtual and remote laboratories left me a bit bemused. I have passing familiarity with 3D printing, in that I have read a few articles and our school has begun to use a 3D printer in Design courses and I can see the immense potential for design and innovation, but it is not immediately evident to me how 3D printing will have a transformative impact on education. Likewise, virtual and remote laboratories seem like a good idea - but hardly the pre-eminent emerging technologies that will be the focus of mainstream excitement and adoption in five years time. Still - what do I know? 

The future is already here. It just isn't evenly distributed.

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