What’s on the Horizon?

The 2011 NMC Horizon Report on IT in Higher Education has interesting implications for schooling systems.

The report, produced by New Media Consortium in partnership with EDUCAUSE, focuses on how new technologies are impacting, and likely to impact, on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in Higher Education. Whilst Higher Education and Schooling have quite different needs, many of the trends picked up in the report are already being seen in schooling, as evidenced at BETT earlier this year.

By far the most interesting aspect of the report is the people dimension – how new technologies are affecting teaching & learning, and operations. Easy access to an abundance of resources and relationships via the internet is changing the roles of both students and teachers. Students now expect anytime anywhere learning. As noted in these Skills and Problem Based Learning articles, ease of collaboration over the internet and the need for digital literacy skills are redefining the process of learning.

Not surprisingly, Cloud is identified as a major trend, along with decentralized IT support. This fits with a broader trend of the consumerisation of IT and IT services. New authoring methods – eBooks, blogs, wikis, online presentations etc – are challenging traditional methods of classifying and evaluating scholarly writing. The proliferation of user created content is a “double-edged sword”. On the one hand there is no shortage of easy to access information, ideas and perspectives. This in turn leads to a greater than ever need for tools that enable end users to find, sift and sort information.

 The report categorises six technologies into three adoption timeframes:

  • One year or less: Electronic Books and Mobiles
  • Two to three years: Augmented Reality and Games-based Learning
  • Four to five years: Gesture-based Computing and Learning Analytics


Strong interest and high availability are seeing electronic books proliferate in both consumer and Higher Education areas. There is little evidence of significant uptake yet in the schools sector but with a wave of slate devices rushing towards classrooms across the world, I have no doubt that e-Books will proliferate in schools. Amongst the many e-book formats that have recently emerged, Blio, stands out as being particularly exciting. For ease of publishing Kindle is terrific and expect to soon see a new marketplace – Kindle Singles – for papers between 10,000 to 30,000 words.

What’s interesting about formats such as Blio is that it goes beyond the mere digital reproduction of printed books and supports note-taking and links. But what makes ebooks a potentially transformative technology is that they make an altogether new kind of reading experience possible – ‘social reading’. The possibility of sharing the reading journey with others through collaboration tools, tactile interactions and immersive experiences will greatly expand the notion of what reading – and writing – actually is.


Internet capable mobile devices will outnumber computers within the next year, and they are increasingly users’ first choice for Internet access. In Higher Education there is resistance to the use of mobile phones in the classroom, but a growing number of institutions are taking advantage of the fact that nearly all students and staff are rarely without these small but powerful computing devices – and the institution doesn’t need to pay for, manage or maintain them! Attitudes towards mobile phones are changing, and one university college recently incorporated the use of mobile phones in a performance of Othello so the audience could use them to receive messages to clarify Shakespearean language and interact with the performers.

The rate at which new mobile applications are being built continues to accelerate. Functions that were once packaged and delivered through a web browser are now being repackaged as mobile applications – for example, I can easily edit and manage this blog via the WordPress application for Windows Phone 7.

As a tool for learning, there are the obvious limitations of screen size, but mobile phones in education can be used for digital capture, polling responses to quizzes, eBook reading, annotation, location and positioning, and social media (e.g. Twitter). Expect to see mobiles increasingly used in the learning process.


In essence, augmented reality layers digital information over a view of the real world – e.g. head-mounted displays used by fighter pilots. The use of AR is growing quickly in learning environments – especially museums. For example, London’s Natural History Museum is using AR in a recent exhibition called Who Do You Think You Really Are? Visitors are given handheld screens featuring an interactive video that allows users to learn about the evolution of dinosaurs.

There are two key ways in which AR works. One method uses visual cues that are picked up by a camera on a computer or mobile device. Another method uses GPS and compass information about the device’s location to work out what objects are nearby. In both cases, this information is interpreted by software that then overlays relevant information onto the screen or display. In education, AR has great promise in the Sciences – e.g. simulated environmental disasters; or Geography – where cartographic information is tagged with information.

Taking this concept further still, developers at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in Korea have created a book format that allows goggle wearing users to see 3D characters emerge from the pages.


The greatest potential of games for learning is in their ability to nurture collaboration and problem-solving skills – two of the key attributes required in the modern workplace.

There are a huge range of games for education – from simple, single player games to massively multiplayer online and role-playing games. There’s currently a lot of development in collaborative digital games, which can give players the feeling of achieving success by solving problems through collaborating with others. For example, World Without Oil, is a collaborative imagining of the first months of a global oil crisis. Other examples BETT Award winner Global Conflicts designed to help teach concepts in citizenship, geography, and media; and Mass Extinction which is about climate change.

Gaming is a natural way to get many students engaged. The trick is to embed high quality and effective learning experiences into engaging and fun games.


Mobile phones, tablet, multitouch and gaming devices are introducing users to gesture based computing. Its widespread use in education is several years away yet but its significance for cannot be underestimated. Earlier this year in this blog we covered a trial of the use of Kinect – which responds to body motions – in a school in South Africa, and this new video explains this further. Also, the multi-touch Surface devices from Microsoft all react to pressure, motion, and the number of fingers used in touching the devices.   

The technologies for gesture-based input also continue to expand. Evoluce has created a touch-screen display that responds to gestures to control Windows 7 through the Kinect.

As the technologies develop, new scenarios open up – imagine, for example, enabling students to determine or change the DNA of an animal by piecing it together by hand or practice procedures that require a high degree of dexterity.


The promise of learning analytics is to tailor learning experiences to the precise needs of students – something that is very difficult to do in today’s ‘factory schools’. High quality data and analytic tools can enable intelligent interventions. For example, above or below expected learning performance; absence; social and health factors; and detailed understanding of specific needs such as reading age or learning style are all potential triggers for interventions. By coupling this with automated workflows in CRM (SRM), learning analytics can support immediate alterations to individual or group learning in ways that would be hard to achieve using current methods.

Learning analytics can go much further than this too, aggregating data from a range of sources to create detailed profiles of students, enables teachers and administrators to make data driven decisions at micro and macro levels. Ultimately learning analytics can be used to guide investment decisions at Ministry of Education or university level. Learning analytics could also be used by students themselves in order to better understand their learning.

The challenges of combining data from disparate sources, often in different formats, used to be a blocker for the use of learning analytics. However this can now be addressed relatively easily with integration technologies. There are of course concerns about student privacy and profiling, as well as the sense that students are being reduced to information and numbers. However, progressive organisations accept that the benefits of learning analytics greatly outweigh these concerns.  

There are a range of tools and resources available for learning analytics in a schooling environment –

Further information:

Thanks to New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE

Above the Clouds Computing – Phones in Space


Research students at Southampton University have devised an ingeneous way of conducting outer atmosphere research .

Collecting data for atmospheric science projects would normally require manned research aircraft at £10,000 per hour – but the Southampton team found another way. They took a helium balloon, instruments, and a HTC Windows 7 Phone, and sent them 60,000 feet into the air.

On the test flight, which took place on the 4th March in the Cotswolds, England, data was beamed back by the phone to the Cellular Network and the team’s own handsets. Tracking data was sent to an application running on a Windows Azure server, which calculated its course and predicted a landing site on a Bing Map.

The project is part of the University’s ASTRA (Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft) program and paves the way to using relatively low cost helium balloons as launch vehicles for instruments that are able to take measurements and samples from the upper atmosphere. It also demonstrates how Windows 7 Phones – choosen in this case for ease of application development – can be harnessed as mini computers for scientifict experiments.

For for information click here.