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6 Top Tech Trends on the Horizon for Higher Education

Mobile devices are one year away from transforming education. For the third straight year.

The 2011 Horizon Report, an annual look at technology trends affecting higher education, points to mobile devices as one of six technologies to watch. Of the other five trends, game-based learning and learning analytics—using data to track student progress—are new additions for 2011.

The report, produced by the New Media Consortium and Educause, notes that mobile devices have been listed before, but it says that resistance by many schools continues to slow the full integration of mobile devices into higher education.

Game-based learning is poised to see greater use within the next two to three years, the report says, and will follow one of two tracks. Game-playing itself may be used to develop decision-making and problem-solving abilities, as well as leadership skills, or educational content embedded into games can teach students as they play. The report points to multiplayer role-playing games as offering particular promise for higher education.

Learning analytics, the other new trend, is further down the line, with the report’s panel of 43 experts pegging its adoption as four to five years away. Using the growing amount of data available about students, learning analytics would allow instructors to tailor education more specifically to each student’s needs and make curricular changes on the fly. It also could help instructors gauge how well students are learning. Beyond traditional measures of assessment, such as assignments and tests, educators could look at online social interactions, discussion posts, and how students access information on Web sites to develop a more detailed, and timely, picture of a student’s understanding of course material. Challenges to adoption include incorporating information coming from a variety of sources and in different formats and concerns about privacy and profiling.

Of the trends that have been listed in other years, the use of electronic books is the one most likely to affect higher education in the next year, the report notes. While e-books have steadily grown in popularity among consumers, the report says adoption by the academic community was slowed by issues such as a limited number of available titles, restrictive publishing models, and rights issues. Those are mostly resolved, the report says, but accessibility issues remain.

Augmented reality, the layering of virtual information over actual locations, such as an interactive, mobile-based museum map, is another up-and-coming trend. It is two to three years away from adoption in education. Finally, gesture-based computing, which incorporates human movement, is already useful in training simulations, the report notes, and could allow students to virtually practice surgery or flip through a centuries-old text. It’s already seen commercial applications in popular video game systems such as the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect for Xbox. But the report says it is probably four to five years away from widespread use by colleges.

To complement the report, which is in its ninth year of publication, the New Media Consortium this year designed the Horizon Project Navigator, a social-media site to offer access to the materials experts looked at in preparing the report and share information related to the identified technology trends.

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