The technologies featured in the 2009 Horizon Report are placed along three adoption horizons that represent what the Advisory Board considers likely timeframes for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, research, or creative applications. The first adoption horizon assumes the likelihood of entry into the mainstream of institutions within the next year; the second, within two to three years; and the third, within four to five years.
In the first adoption horizon we find mobiles and cloud computing, both of which are already well established on many campuses — and still more organizations have plans in place to make use of these technologies in the coming months. Institutions at the leading edge of technology adoption are also already applying the two clusters of technologies we have placed on the mid-term horizon, geo-everything and the personal web. All four topics on the first two horizons are already in common use in other sectors, including entertainment, commerce, and the world of work. The two technologies placed on the far-term horizon, semantic-aware applications and smart objects, are not yet commonly found in an educational context, although research is being conducted in both areas and the rate of development seems to indicate that these topics are well worth watching.
Each profiled technology is described in detail in the body of the report, including a discussion of what it is and why it is relevant to teaching, learning, research, and creative expression. Specific examples are listed there for each of the six topics, consistent with the level of adoption at the time the report was written (December 2008). Taken as a set, our research indicates that all six of these technologies will significantly impact the choices of learning-focused organizations within the next five years.
- Mobiles. Already considered as another component of the network on many campuses, mobiles continue to evolve rapidly. New interfaces, the ability to run third-party applications, and location-awareness have all come to the mobile device in the past year, making it an ever more versatile tool that can be easily adapted to a host of tasks for learning, productivity, and social networking. For many users, broadband mobile devices like the iPhone have already begun to assume many tasks that were once the exclusive province of portable computers.
- Cloud Computing. The emergence of large-scale “data farms” — large clusters of networked servers — is bringing huge quantities of processing power and storage capacity within easy reach. Inexpensive, simple solutions to offsite storage, multi-user application scaling, hosting, and multi-processor computing are opening the door to wholly different ways of thinking about computers, software, and files.
- Geo-Everything. Geocoded data has many applications, but until very recently, it was time- consuming and difficult for non-specialists to determine the physical coordinates of a place or object, and options for using that data were limited. Now, many common devices can automatically determine and record their own precise location and can save that data along with captured media (like photographs) or can transmit it to web-based applications for a host of uses. The full implications of geo-tagging are still unfolding, but the impact in research has already been profound.
- The Personal Web. Springing from the desire to reorganize online content rather than simply viewing it, the personal web is part of a trend that has been fueled by tools to aggregate the flow of content in customizable ways and expanded by an increasing collection of widgets that manage online content. The term personal web was coined to represent a collection of technologies that are used to configure and manage the ways in which one views and uses the Internet. Using a growing set of free and simple tools and applications, it is easy to create a customized, personal web-based environment — a personal web — that explicitly supports one’s social, professional, learning, and other activities.
- Semantic-Aware Applications. New applications are emerging that are bringing the promise of the semantic web into practice without the need to add additional layers of tags, identifiers, or other top-down methods of defining context. Tools that can simply gather the context in which information is couched, and that use that context to extract embedded meaning are providing rich new ways of finding and aggregating content. At the same time, other tools are allowing context to be easily modified, shaped, and redefined as information flows are combined.
- Smart Objects. Sometimes described as the “Internet of things,” smart objects describe a set of technologies that is imbuing ordinary objects with the ability to recognize their physical location and respond appropriately, or to connect with other objects or information. A smart object “knows” something about itself — where and how it was made, what it is for, where it should be, or who owns it, for example — and something about its environment. While the underlying technologies that make this possible — RFID, QR codes, smartcards, touch and motion sensors, and the like — are not new, we are now seeing new forms of sensors, identifiers, and applications with a much more generalizable set of functionalities.
As in past editions of the Horizon Report, we have again found that some topics have carried forward in one form or another from one edition of the Report to the next. Mobiles, a family of devices characterized by unprecedented advancement, have appeared in both of the past two editions, and appear in this edition yet again. This year’s analysis finds mobiles firmly in the near-term horizon as the capabilities of phones have continued to develop rapidly. Innovations over the last year have brought third-party applications, easy GPS, and intuitive interfaces to mobile devices, blurring the boundary between phone and computer.
Cloud computing, placed on the near-term horizon this year, has emerged as the unifying technology supporting grassroots video, collaboration webs, and social operating systems, all described in the 2008 edition. It has become obvious that cloud computing has the potential to change the way we think about computing, and even as we come to recognize how profoundly different it is, new applications that take advantage of cloud computing as an infrastructure are continuously arising. Its clear disruptive potential led to cloud computing’s selection this year as a technology to watch on its own merits.
Posted by NMC on January 18, 2009