The six technologies featured in the 2010 Horizon Report: Australia-New Zealand Edition are placed along three adoption horizons that indicate likely time frames for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, or creative enquiry. The near-term horizon assumes the likelihood of entry into the mainstream for institutions within the next twelve months; the mid-term horizon, within two to three years; and the far-term, within four to five years. It should be noted at the outset that the Horizon Report is not a predictive tool. It is meant, rather, to highlight emerging technologies with considerable potential for our focus areas of teaching, learning, and creative enquiry. Each of the six is already the focus of work at a number of innovative organizations around the world, and the work we showcase here reveals the promise of a wider impact.
On the near-term horizon — that is, within the next 12 months — are electronic books and mobiles. Mobiles makes a second appearance on this horizon, reflecting a shift in focus from mobile devices themselves to the networks that support them.
Electronic books are emerging as something quite different from simple digitized versions of printed texts. Modern electronic readers support note-taking and research activities, and are beginning to augment these basic functions with new capabilities — from immersive experiences to support for social interaction — that are changing our perception of what it means to read.
The promise of mobiles is ubiquitous access to not only the people with whom we communicate via a variety of means, but also to information, tools for learning and productivity, social networks, and more. As mobile devices have continued to evolve, it has become clear that affordable, reliable access to cellular and broadband networks is more important than which device is used. Whether simple or full-featured, mobiles connect us with the larger world, and a strong infrastructure to support that connection is increasingly in demand.
The second adoption horizon is set two to three years out, where we will begin to see widespread adoptions of two well-established technologies — augmented reality and open content. Augmented reality is entering the mainstream of popular culture and is already in common use on a number of campuses. Open content appears again in this horizon in a reprise of its appearance here last year, an indication of its continuing interest to educators and a reflection of the difficulties still attending its adoption. Both of these technologies are expected to see much broader use across academia over the next two to three years.
Like 3D video, augmented reality is an inherently 3D technology — but it encourages interaction in ways that video does not. By interpreting marker tags or gestures, augmented reality has the potential to supplement a wide range of existing technologies, such as computers, mobile devices, video, and even the printed book. Augmented reality is compelling to experience, feels fresh and new, and is much simpler to use than it was in the past.
Given the amount and quality of open content that has been produced for nearly every subject, any new course design work would benefit from a review of what is currently available and might be reused. The key challenge to widespread acceptance of open content is that education is not yet a culture that rewards sharing: the reward systems in place promote new work and new thinking, and a “not invented here” mentality infuses decisions about the use of open content all too often.
On the far-term horizon, set at four to five years away for widespread adoption, but clearly already in use in some quarters, are gesture-based computing and visual data analysis. Neither of these two technologies is yet commonly found in campus settings, but the high level of interest and the tremendous amounts of research in both areas indicates that they are worth following closely.
Gesture-based computing stems from the idea that natural, comfortable motions can be used to control computers. This is opening the way to a host of input devices that look and feel very different from the keyboard and mouse — and that enable our devices to infer meaning from the movements and gestures we make. New interface technologies like Kinect, SixthSense, and Tamper are using very intuitive approaches to how we connect with our computers, allowing users to engage in virtual activities with motions and movements similar to those they would use in the real world.
Visual data analysis blends highly advanced computational methods with sophisticated graphics engines to tap the extraordinary ability of humans to see patterns and structure in even the most complex visual presentations. Currently applied to massive, heterogeneous, and dynamic datasets, such as those generated in studies of astrophysical, fluidic, biological, and other complex processes, the techniques have become sophisticated enough to allow the interactive manipulation of variables in real time with compelling results.
Each of these technologies is described in detail in the main body of the report, where a discussion of what the technology is and why it is relevant to teaching, learning, and creative enquiry may also be found. Given the practical focus of the report, a listing of examples of the technology in use, especially in higher education, is a key component of each of the six main topics. Our research indicates that all six of these technologies, taken together, will have a significant impact on learning-focused organizations within the next five years.
Regular readers of the Horizon Report: Australia-New Zealand Edition will note that some topics have strong ties to ones that were featured in past editions. Mobiles, augmented reality, and open content have all appeared in previous editions, but each is sufficiently different as to continue to excite interest in academia. Mobiles have grown as a category to include not only cellular phones and smart phones, but also other specialized devices that are increasingly powerful but still small and light enough to be held easily in one hand. The significance of mobile computing is not so much in the device used, but in the ability to easily access an expanding cellular network and fully-featured tools from the palm of your hand.
Augmented reality, discussed in 2009 as one aspect of immersive virtual experiences, has emerged as an interesting technology in its own right. Recent applications of augmented reality for mobile devices have shown that augmented experiences can be portable, tailored to a user’s location and interests, and engaged in without any special equipment. Broad adoption is still two to three years away for education, but augmented reality has established a firm foothold in the consumer space.
Open content continues to gain acceptance, and returns this year with an emphasis on its potential to change the way courses are developed and its compatibility with another key technology, electronic books. While it too remains two to three years away from widespread adoption, the open content movement is attracting more attention, and development of tools and approaches for its creation and use continues to increase.