I love it when The Horizon Report comes out. It takes me back to being a kid in Northern Alberta, anxiously awaiting the November arrival of the Sears Christmas Wish Book at our house. It offered me a glimpse of what could be in the near future. And it excited me.

If you are not familiar, each year the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative publish The Horizon Report, a look into the future at some of the technologies that may have an impact on higher education in the next 5 years. This year the report has picked the following technologies and estimated a time for adoption for each.

  1. Mobile Computing (1 year or less)
  2. Open Content (1 year or less)
  3. Electronic Books (2-3 years)
  4. Simple Augmented Reality (2-3 years)
  5. Gesture Based Computing (4-5 years)
  6. Visual Data Analysis (4-5 years)

Scott Leslie from BCcampus is one of the advisors for the report. This year he travelled to Austin, Texas for the release of the report and created this video, which features interviews with members of ELI and NMC about the technologies in the report. It’s a nice piece of work from Scott that adds useful context around the reasons why these technologies were chosen.

Some things strike me about this list.

First, mobile computing has arrived at Camosun, at least if the connectivity stats coming from our IT Services department are any indication. Last week I was speaking with some members of the department who said that they have had to increase the number of available IP addresses for our wireless network twice this fall to meet the demand of wireless apps on campus. If you are not familiar with how networking works, each device that connects to the wireless network requires a unique address. These are pulled from a limited pool of addresses. Once that pool runs out, no more devices can connect to the network until a device returns an address to the pool. I don’t think that it’s a far stretch to imagine they will be significantly upping the pool again this fall. So, we know the students are connecting. How much of that connectivity is being used for learning & teaching is the unknown.

Second, of all the technologies on this list, simple augmented reality is the one that has me the most excited. I have been playing with augmented reality apps on my Android phone for the past 6 months and can see huge potential for education should they take off. Here is an example of augmented reality in which data pulled from the web is overlayed on top of what you see through your camera phone, kind of like a heads up display you might see in a car.

Imagine scanning the horizon with your smartphone and having geographical information pop up on the screen – the names of those mountains in the distance, the number of salmon that spawned in that creek last year, what developers hold development permits for that parcel of land over there. Very possible, and useful, information.

The barrier I see with this right now is that there is no standard for delivering the information. While many augmented reality browser are being created, the layers are not compatible with each other. Kind of like the early days of web browsers where websites would only work in either Internet Explorer or Netscape. Here’s hoping we learned from that mess & some open standards begin to emerge as the augmented reality market matures.

As for the other technologies, ebooks have to catch on at some point and you have to think sooner rather than later. 2010 has been dubbed by some as the year of the e-reader, with numerous options now on the market. The advantages of ebooks are numerous – cheaper, easier to update, they don’t use trees, you can increase the font size (a big one for me after spending a term frustrated trying to read 9 point type in a textbook), annotate, snip, republish yada yada yada. They have to catch on, don’t they?

After having lived with a Wii for the past year, I can also see the appeal of gesture based computing, especially in the areas of simulations. I can imagine a carpentry simulation someday swinging something akin to a Wii remote to simulate hammering a nail into wood, complete with tactile feedback where the remote vibrates as you strike the nail.

Of course, there are many qualifiers, maybes and outright unknowns whenever you try to predict technology and trends. But one thing seems certain – the innovation train is not stopping, and that makes for very interesting times to be working in educational technology.

CC BY 4.0 2010 Horizon Report by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.