The six technologies featured in each Horizon Report are placed along three adoption horizons that indicate likely time frames for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, or creative inquiry. 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 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 inquiry. Each of them is already the focus of work at a number of innovative institutions around the world, and the work we showcase here reveals the promise of a wider impact.
Mobile computing, by which we mean use of the network-capable devices students are already carrying, is already established on many campuses, although before we see widespread use, concerns about privacy, classroom management, and access will need to be addressed. At the same time, the opportunity is great; virtually all higher education students carry some form of mobile device, and the cellular network that supports their connectivity continues to grow. An increasing number of faculty and instructional technology staff are experimenting with the possibilities for collaboration and communication offered by mobile computing. Devices from smart phones to netbooks are portable tools for productivity, learning, and communication, offering an increasing range of activities fully supported by applications designed especially for mobiles.
Open content, also expected to reach mainstream use in the next twelve months, is the current form of a movement that began nearly a decade ago, when schools like MIT began to make their course content freely available. Today, there is a tremendous variety of open content, and in many parts of the world, open content represents a profound shift in the way students study and learn. Far more than a collection of free online course materials, the open content movement is a response to the rising costs of education, the desire for access to learning in areas where such access is difficult, and an expression of student choice about when and how to learn.
The second adoption horizon is set two to three years out, where we will begin to see widespread adoptions of two well-established technologies that have taken off by making use of the global cellular networks — electronic books and simple augmented reality. Both of these technologies are entering the mainstream of popular culture; both are already used in practice at a surprising number of campuses; and both are expected to see much broader use across academia over the next two to three years.
Electronic books have been available in some form for nearly four decades, but the past twelve months have seen a dramatic upswing in their acceptance and use. Convenient and capable electronic reading devices combine the activities of acquiring, storing, reading, and annotating digital books, making it very easy to collect and carry hundreds of volumes in a space smaller than a single paperback book. Already in the mainstream of consumer use, electronic books are appearing on campuses with increasing frequency. Thanks to a number of pilot programs, much is already known about student preferences with regards to the various platforms available. Electronic books promise to reduce costs, save students from carrying pounds of textbooks, and contribute to the environmental efforts of paper-conscious campuses.
Simple augmented reality refers to the shift that has made augmented reality accessible to almost anyone. Augmented reality used to require specialized equipment, none of which was very portable. Today, applications for laptops and smart phones overlay digital information onto the physical world quickly and easily. While still two to three years away from widespread use on campuses, augmented reality is establishing a foothold in the consumer sector, and in a form much easier to access than originally envisioned.
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 is already strong in the consumer market and we are seeing a growing number of prototypical applications for training, research, and study, though this technology is still some time away from common educational use. Devices that are controlled by natural movements of the finger, hand, arm, and body are becoming more common. Game companies in particular are exploring the potential offered by consoles that require no handheld controller, but instead recognize and interpret body motions. As we work with devices that react to us instead of requiring us to learn to work with them, our understanding of what it means to interact with computers is beginning to change.
Visual data analysis, a way of discovering and understanding patterns in large data sets via visual interpretation, is currently used in the scientific analysis of complex processes. As the tools to interpret and display data have become more sophisticated, models can be manipulated in real time and researchers are able to navigate and explore data in ways that were not possible previously. Visual data analysis is an emerging field, a blend of statistics, data mining, and visualization, that promises to make it possible for anyone to sift through, display, and understand complex concepts and relationships.
Each of these technologies is described in detail in the body of the report. These sections open with a discussion of what the technology is and why it is relevant to teaching, learning, and creative inquiry. Examples of the technology in practice, especially in academia, are listed there to illustrate how it is being adopted at the current time. 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 will note that some topics have strong ties to topics that were featured in past editions. Mobile computing, in particular, is the latest aspect of a trend toward smaller, more powerful computing devices that has grown over the past three years. We have watched mobile phones become increasingly capable and flexible. As described here, the topic of mobile computing encompasses handheld devices with the ability to access the Internet, a group of devices that includes the mobile phones most people carry as well as other often specialized devices that are increasingly powerful, but still able 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.
Simple augmented reality and gesture-based computing also have roots in previous editions. Augmented reality first appeared in the 2005 Horizon Report on the far-term horizon, returning in 2006 with a focus on its applications for visualizing large data sets, a use that is now common in many research labs. Today, augmented reality has become simple and available on the computers and mobile devices we already own. Gesture-based computing is one offshoot of a group of technologies that was noted in the first Horizon Report, published in 2004; multimodal interfaces, as this group was called, included gestural as well as other types of input. Gesture-based computing also has ties to context-aware computing, featured in 2005 and as context-aware devices in 2006.
Posted by NMC on January 14, 2010