The Horizon Report: A NERCOMP SIG Event

by Gail Matthews-DeNatale, Simmons College

This NERCOMP SIG event took place on May 2, 2006 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

What is The Horizon Report?The day-to-day challenge of teaching and learning with technology is overwhelming–it can be challenging to look toward the horizon, envision possibilities and plan for the future. For those of us in need of renewal and inspiration there is The Horizon Report, a publication developed by the New Media Consortium in collaboration with the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI). The purpose of the report, published on an annual basis since 2004, is to “identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning or creative expression within higher education.”

Each year the Horizon Project’s Advisory Board considers dozens of emerging technologies, winnowing the list down to six areas considered most likely to be significant within higher education in the next one to five years. In addition to identifying specific “technologies to watch,” the Board also notes key trends and critical challenges affecting teaching, learning and creativity.

The following technologies are featured in the featured in the 2006 report:

  • Social Computing
  • Personal Broadcasting
  • The Phones in Their Pockets
  • Educational Gaming
  • Augmented Reality and Enhanced Visualization
  • Context-Aware Environments and Devices

On May 2, 2006, Horizon Project Advisory Board members Phil Long, Cyprien Lomas and Bryan Alexander convened a NERCOMP SIG during which they discussed four of of these technologies: Social Computing, Personal Broadcasting, The Phones in Their Pockets and Educational Gaming.

NOTE: The SIG event included hands-on demonstrations and exercises with RSS, social tagging and collaborative authoring with wikis. However, this write-up focuses on themes that emerged during presentations, questions posed by SIG participants and examples of emerging technologies at use in higher education. In keeping with the emerging nature of the technologies discussed, the SIG presentations were adapted on-the-fly to address participant questions and therefore sessions merged into a fluid day-long experience. Likewise, the summary that follows is presented as a retrospective, not as a write-up of discrete presentations.

Event Blog How Does One Keep Abreast of Emerging Technologies?Emerging technologies are exciting and invigorating, but difficult to identify and assess because they are, by definition, emerging. Phil Long began by posing the following question: How do you track and find promising new developments in technology? Strategies suggested by the group included the following:

  • Talk with kids
  • Participate in listserv discussions (especially those popular with 18-26 year-olds)
  • Follow up on requests from users for oddball things
  • Read widely (for example, Business Week article on Second Life, Newsweek article on Web 2.0 and a recent Web 2.0 review in The Economist)
  • Subscribe to RSS feeds (for example, Bryan mentioned Educause blogs, and blogs produced by library specialists)
  • Seek out others outside your field (for example, Cyprien keeps in touch with academic colleagues who are cell biologists)
  • Look outside the U.S. (for example, LAMS and CAUDIT in Australia)

In addition to the challenge of identifying promising technologies, there is also the problem of language. One of the goals for the Horizon Report SIG is to develop a common vocabulary. Emerging technologies often have a short half life, but issues and challenges persist. What you learn about innovation in one sector may be equally relevant in another. A shared vocabulary helps us articulate common themes across technologies, academic fields, etc.

The definition of what constitutes “emerging” varies depending on the interests and prior experience of the people with whom you are speaking. In addition, it can be difficult to understand a person’s level of involvement. For example, when asked, “Are you doing podcasting?” what does an affirmative response mean? Does it mean you listen to podcasts, support people who are producing podcasts or podcast your own material?

In preparation for the NERCOMP SIG, the workshop facilitators administered a pre-conference survey to registrants, to assess participant involvement and interest in emerging technologies.

Highlights of Survey Results:

  • 54% have started using IM/Chat.
  • 100% self-identify as email power-users.
  • 87% said they would be bringing a laptop with them to the session.
  • 73.9% do not have a blog.
  • Most take wireless for granted and RSS is almost like electricity (everybody needs it, but nobody wants to talk about how it works).
  • Respondents had less familiarity/experience with tagging, social bookmarking, flickr, videoblogging, MMOG.
  • Things the group said were of most interest to them included social computing, collaboration.
  • Things that were less interesting to the group included geo-tagging and mobility.

Phil is surprised that there is not more interest in geo-tagging. He provided the following interesting examples of geo-tagging in use: “My Space”-type content can be paired with geo-tags and cell phones (to alert you when buddies are nearby); “crush lists” can be combined with geo-tagging to track the location of people on your list; finally, in higher education, Stanford University students can get more information about campus buildings from their cellphones.

Question: How accurate is the geolocation? Could you track two trees 10 ft apart?

Answer: No, not with cellphone technology–that is only accurate within a few blocks. However, Ispots (a tool in use at MIT) can track a person’s IP address and is accurate to within feet.

The group was asked what items they wish would be added to the survey. Responses included:

  • ePortfolios
  • Text messaging
  • Real time tools (e.g., video conferencing, video chat, etc.)
  • Real time data gathering (e.g., survey monkey)
  • Virtualization (embedded storage) that is device-agnostic
  • VOIP connected to podcasting (e.g., Skypecasting)

What Key Trends Are Identified In The 2006 Horizon Report?Phil Long discussed the following key trends identified in the 2006 report:

  • Dynamic creation and social tools and processes are becoming more widespread and accepted.
  • Mobile and personal technology is increasingly being viewed as a delivery platform for services of all kinds.
  • Consumers are increasingly expecting individualized services, tools and experiences, and open access to media, knowledge, information and learning.
  • Collaboration is increasingly seen as critical across the range of educational activities, including intra- and inter-institutional activities of any size or scope.

What Challenges Are Presented By Emerging Technologies?

  • Peer review and other academic processes, such as promotion and tenure reviews, increasingly do not reflect the ways in which scholarship actually is conducted. Academic rewards are increasingly decoupled from, and out of step with, the practice of scholarship. As faculty scholarship extends into the digital realm, roles and systems for rewards will need to be renegotiated.
  • Information literacy should not be considered to be a given, even among “Net-Gen” students. Tool awareness does not necessarily translate into using the tools in a thoughtful way.
  • Intellectual property concerns and the management of digital rights and assets continue to loom as largely unaddressed issues.
  • The typical approach of experimentally deploying new technologies on campuses does not include processes to quickly scale them up to broad usage when they work; in fact, this approach often creates its own obstacles to full deployment.
  • The phenomenon of technological “churn” is bringing new kinds of support challenges. For example, this SIG would morph into a completely different workshop three months from now due to rapid changes in technology.

21st Century Literacies for Emerging Technologies: With emerging technologies come new forms of literacy. On the one hand, emerging technologies make it easier to create and disseminate sophisticated multimedia offerings. However, authors need to understand that emerging technologies constitute new genres of communication. It is important to know the strengths, limitations and conventions of the medium through which you are communicating.

For example, it’s not particularly helpful for a professor to videotape a lecture and post it, unedited and without chapter markers, online. That is pouring proverbial old wine into new skins. Instead, 21stcentury literacies challenge us to reconceptualize the products of faculty and student work. A literate person’s “publication” takes advantage of the capabilities (and transcends the limitations) of the digital medium in which it is authored.

Students are surrounded by an array of user-friendly authoring tools that extend traditional notions of “authorship” to include processes typically associated with orchestration or even remixing. Spaces for learning and authorship include images, words, motion and sound. How does one communicate effectively with this rich set of representational tools? The nonlinear nature of emerging media makes it imperative for students to understand things like user interface and organization of data. For more information, see the New Media Consortium’s New Media Literacy & Learning Initiative.

What’s the Purpose of The Horizon Report? How Can I Use It On My Campus?
According to Phil Long, The Horizon Report is designed for use by boards, advisory groups, in strategic planning committees, etc. If you get it into the hands of key people on campus, it can be used as a mechanism to move certain technologies from pilot to accepted campus use. Given the rapid rate of change in emerging technologies, the goal of The Horizon Report is to help staff, faculty and administrators in higher education make informed decisions.

Examples: Social ComputingAccording to Phil, blogging can be difficult to get excited about–it’s like getting excited about word processing. But blogging is simple to do and it is public in a way that word processing is not. And because blogs are simple, they can be used in innovative ways to get students to think differently about their work.

Blogs are an increasingly-mainstream offering at institutions of higher education. Examples include the MIT project “blogging and metacognition.” Incoming students are asked to blog about courses in which they are successfull, as well as those in which they are having trouble, and then to look for patterns and consider the differences. This helps them to identify and address recurring first-year problems, such as not devoting enough time to preparation. This process also encourages first-year students to take responsibility for improving their learning.

It is interesting to note the impact of blogging on the way that people write. Because blogs involve numerous posts, authors need to get to the point as soon as possible if they want to retain their reader’s attention. In addition, good blog entry titles include terms relevant to search engines. The first paragraph often reads like an abstract, as opposed to a thesis that unfolds gradually.

Web 2.0, library 2.0 terms have stuck. The concept of “micro content” is one example–pieces of content being moved around, smaller pieces, more distributed, more dynamic, drawn from a range of other places.

Audience Question: Why is blogging catching on now? And why is this so hot when we have had threaded discussions for years?

Answer: Blogging isn’t in the same category as a bulletin boards. Bulletin boards are for group discussion, blogs are personal. So, from the perspective of an educator, blogs are better for fostering metacognition than bulletin boards because they encourage the student to exercise a personal voice. One other difference is that every post in a blog has a unique state URL–so it can be accessible and cross-linked in ways that are not possible with a bulletin board.

Audience Question: Who reads all these first-year students’ blogs?

Answer: The other students. Additional possibilities include assistant instructors and graduate students.

Audience Question: And what are they expected to do with them?

Answer: Students were asked to read others’ blogs and make some connection or observation between their peers’ posts and their own writings. Then they were asked to return to their own blogs and write about what it takes to succeed as a college student.

Audience Question: Did it work?

Answer: Faculty are very happy with the increase in public writing that is happening on campus. The challenge is in the assignment set-up, the instructional design. And students often lose awareness of the fact that this is public writing and that it will persist.

Audience Question: Why not use a course management system for this kind of assignment?

Answer: Most course management systems (for example, Blackboard) teach students totally different habits of information. Course content is set up in separate silos so that it’s difficult to make connections across the curriculum. It’s a question of what pedagogical approach you want to embrace.

With social software, both faculty and students are now posting course materials and coursework all over the Web. This raises interesting issues–for example, how much of the course materials and student work is on a platform over which the institution has no control?  In addition, there is the issue of students’ intellectual property–if they aren’t made cognizant of the public nature of these tools, students can be giving away their work without knowing it. At what point does this become such an issue that you think you need for it to be hosted on campus? These questions need to be addressed.

Finally, there is the challenge of assessing the features, capabilities and quality of these emerging tools. Edutools compares course management systems and ePortfolios, but there is no analogous forum for evaluating and comparing emerging technologies. However, Wikipedia can be a useful place to search for this type of information.

Audience Question: What costs are associated with implementing these technologies?

Answer: Costs are somewhat tricky to assess. For example, consider the cost of RSS. It feels like it’s costless because it’s a standard–you can set up an RSS feed on your site for free. In theory, it could lead to real additional costs if you have a popular RSS feed.

On the other hand, in assessing costs, you need to consider whether you plan to be a consumer of the technology or whether you plan to use these technologies to create and disseminate content. The associated costs depend on the use scenario–passive or active use.

Benefits are, of course, the other side of the cost/benefit equation. In the book How People Learn, effective learning is described as having three characteristics:

  • Ownership (Student Created)
  • Social (Learner Choices)
  • Active (Mobile)

Podcasting used in conjunction with blogs, for example, achieves all three of these criteria. So in this respect benefits may well outweigh the costs.

Links To Check OutTechnorati
http://memeorandum.comBaghdad Burning


Pepys Diary
(compare blogs with the daily posts of this 17th century diarist)

Crooked Timber
(aggregator of faculty blogs)

Dr. B’s Blog
(example of blog that integrates teaching and research)

Other Ideas for Using Social Software in Higher Education: Technorati allows users to search a database of blogs. Results are arranged chronologically. This is called “searching the live Web” because items that are returned in search results may have been posted only minutes ago. Some argue that Google is the “historical” Web because new pages need to be up for a certain amount of time before they show up in this search engine’s results.

Consider this learning scenario: Students use Technorati to search the term “Iraq,” seeking out different perspectives on the topic. Or perhaps they use, a tool that aggregates news stories, pairing the stories with blog discussions. Another possibility would be to compare Baghdad Burning, a blog posted by an woman in Iraq, with “official” Iraqi news publications. These classroom ideas could be used for an investigation of reader response, for a discussion of situational ethics, etc.

About Social Bookmarking: When you bookmark a website in your browser, that information is bound to particular software on a particular machine. But “social bookmarking” externalizes bookmarks onto the Web so that your list can be shared, annotated and “tagged” (to make large collections of bookmarks searchable). One example is This online software adds a “post to delicious” button to your browser.

A note about tagging: From the perspective of many librarians and scholars of information science, controlled language is central to the categorization of information. But social tagging involves a democratic process for categorization–a process of sifting–through which the most-often-used terms float to the top.

These populist schemas for categorization are described as “Folksonomies” (a term reportedly coined by Thomas Vander Wal). In social bookmarking, tags can be displayed in a “cloud”–words presented in a cluster, with the size and boldness of a tag indicating its frequency of use. Tag clouds can be viewed from a number of perspectives–your perspective, all users’ perspectives, etc. In this way, tagging produces a community-based, non-constrained vocabulary (a folksonomy).

How can this be useful from a teaching perspective? For example, students can develop their own lists (and include a class tag number), describing WHY the items they are tagging are interesting to them. Then the tag cloud can be used to present students with the aggregate “class perspective” on the topic. Social bookmarking also provides a means for tracking how a reference became popular–providing a social index of others who thought it was important (and with that index comes opportunities for collaboration).

If you follow a group or an individual’s tag cloud, you can learn a great deal about patterns of perception. For example, one art museum asked visitors to tag its paintings. The PennTags Project at the University of Pennsylvania invites library visitors to tag books, then compare the resulting tag cloud with the official categories for library classification.

Note that there is a page for the Horizon Report.

Social bookmarking is not limited to text. Flickr is a service that allows users to upload, tag and share photos. A number of uses relevant to higher education come to mind. For example, Cyprien uses flickr to have people document their learning spaces. After uploading photos of campus learning spaces, users can tag them and note what features make these spaces conducive to learning.

You can also add a note to a portion of the image to annotate it. In one example displayed during the workshop, a set of X-rays was annotated to illustrate the visual process of diagnostics. This type of social bookmarking is useful for any discipline in which the subject matter is visual–for example, annotating botanical images.

Participant Question: How do you know if the images and the annotations are credible?

Answer: Content on the Web–or anywhere else, for that matter–isn’t always credible. Instead of only presenting credible sources to our students, it’s important to equip them with the ability to discern the credibility of a source. For example, you could examine the profile of the person who made the post, then look for other evidence that this person has relevant expertise, knowledge or experience.

Assessing validity is one of the most important skills to teach students–they need to learn what they can rely on. Most of these sites provide you with a learning opportunity to help students determine what is valid, what constitutes authority. We need to help students cultivate a healthy skepticism.

Examples: Personal BroadcastingPersonal broadcasting presents many advantages. Content can be broken down into smaller, more digestible parts. These media can be downloaded onto mobile devices, allowing listeners and viewers to “time shift” (watch/listen to the media at a time that is convenient to the user, or perhaps review the file multiple times).

Digital Storytelling: The concept of “digital storytelling” grew out of experimental theater. The idea is to involve ordinary people in the making of videos. For more information, see the Center for Digital Storytelling’s website, which includes a downloadable workshop manual.

The digital storytelling movement is predominantly personal–people develop their own stories. Digital stories have become increasingly popular as bandwidth has increased.

At Middlebury the process was adapted for non-personal educational uses. Digital Storytelling is one of the most popular workshops on campus. For more information, see Barbara Ganley’s work on “Digital Storytelling in Higher Education” and an accompanying digital story (in Quicktime format).

Other Examples of Personal Broadcasting in Higher Education: Personal broadcasting makes it possible to distribute alternate (other-than-official) perspectives of a given topic. For example, in the ArtMobs project, museum goers generate their own podcast tours of exhibits.

Ohio University uses video blogs (vlogs) to distribute Ask the Techies episodes, “a weekly video podcast explaining the latest in cool technology.”

The world of everything on video is a pretty diverse world; it is rich, but overwhelming, because it is more difficult to search video than it is to search text. But when digital video is disseminated in the context of vlogs and other forms of social software, it is becoming possible to rate, tag, sift and subscribe–making the process of finding gold nuggets easier.

Intellectual Property in an Era of Personal Broadcasting: If you examine popular sites like YouTube and Google Video, you will realize that personal productions often involve rampant copyright violation. This opens a whole can of worms for copyright infringement, especially regarding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA).

The Creative Commons is a group formed to try get around constraints of copyright, to enable legal sharing and reuse. Your work is, by default, copyrighted whether you want it to be or not–others can be sued on your behalf. So The Creative Commons is a means for helping authors to assign broader rights than those that are the default. It’s a simple syntax you can use to indicate your choice: to allow commercial uses of your work, allow modifications of your work, etc. You enter information about the jurisdiction (countries of use), format of work, etc., then the site generates a “license” code that you can embed on a page or within a work to indicate the rights that you want to claim.

Phil Long encourages participants to use the Creative Commons, and to encourage others to use it. It is important to be explicit and to take responsibility for communicating to people what your wishes are. It’s also important for faculty to include a discussion about copyright and to encourage students to be proactive about registering their work through the Creative Commons.

Participant Question: What about collaborative work?

Answer: They don’t know if The Creative Commons provides a mechanism for that yet. However, classes that involve collaborative work should include negotiation about how that work will be shared with others outside the class. It’s an opportunity for students to debate the issues from an author’s perspective, working together to clarify expectations and ground rules.

The Impact of New Media on Content: Cyprien offered a few caveats to those who want to experiment with podcasting. Podcasts have a reputation of being easy to produce. While this can be true, it’s also important to know that you can’t simply record a lecture, place it online and expect the result to be successful.

Just as blogs are influencing conventions of writing (including keywords in titles, placing critical aspects of the argument up front), podcasting and other forms of personal broadcasting are influencing conventions of online broadcasts.

As opposed to beginning a piece with a long preamble, successful podcasts tend to begin with information designed to bring the listener/viewer on board quickly. “Enhanced podcasts” divide long pieces up into chapters to that listeners can skip directly to a specific place within the podcast. Sections can be tagged with visuals–representative icons–in the same way that DVD chapters are represented on a DVD menu.

Finally, as faculty and students listen to recordings of their voices, they may be critical of themselves. It can take time to become relaxed and develop confidence in one’s broadcast voice. In addition, people may want to edit their recordings, to delete false starts and other things that they feel are undesirable. But editing audio and video takes time–it also requires additional software, such as Garage Band.

Examples: Phones in their PocketsConsider the following scenario: While studying abroad, a student takes pictures with her cell phone. Because of the cell phone’s satellite triangulation, it is possible to geocode the image, noting the latitude and longitude in which the image was created. In addition, the student can use the cell phone to record audio, noting thoughts and impressions. Using an online tool like Stanford’s BuddyBuzz, articles and other content are automatically delivered to her phone. In addition, she can share and receive notes from her peers, even those who are also studying abroad that semester.

Mobile technology is changing the way that media are produced. For example, some items such as bullet holes on shoot-em-up television shows are being made larger so that they will be visible when the show is viewed on an iPod. Likewise, we in higher education would be wise to consider the methods that we use to produce media, ensuring that educational media will make the transition into mobile technology without having to be re-produced.

As an example of “phones in their pockets,” students can download lessons to learn Chinese via cellphone. Many initiatives like this involve creative commons licensing and distribution. For example, Connexions is a site developed by faculty at Rice University, designed to facilitate the sharing of course modules and other scholarly works. Likewise, iCampus is an MIT-sponsored project that disseminates resources and tools.

Participant Question: What about the cost of cell phones?

Answer: First, ask yourself why is it worth it to you to pump money into your cell phone. It provides us with a means for being connected at a time when people are increasingly geographically dispersed.

The United States is behind on innovative use of cell phones, in part because our pricing structure differs from those of other countries. Text messaging is expensive in the U.S., whereas conversational minutes are relatively inexpensive. Outside the U.S., the opposite is true.

Examples: Educational GamingA recent publication of the Harvard Business School, Got Game, argues that gaming is the one experience that today’s students have in common. Gaming is changing how students behave and how they respond to the world around them (including formal learning situations).

Games represent an opportunity to gain experiential understanding of a given topic or idea. They are particularly good for addressing a range of learning styles that are often overlooked in higher education: spatial, social, kinesic, etc. For example, “The Sims” allows users to create simulated people and communities, playing out social interactions that would not be feasible (or perhaps even desirable) face-to-face. By recording a Sims Game, users can create a video of their creation and broadcast it to others.

Other examples include:

  • The Croquet Project, an open source tool designed to support development of 3D multi-user online applications;
  • The Topiary Project, developed at Berkeley, allows users to model the location of people, places and things.

Games can also extend the player’s experience beyond national boundaries. In online multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, literally millions of players are enrolled and participating at the same time. This fall NASA is releasing an online game in which players will experience remote access to Mars. A section of NASA’s website is already devoted to space science games. Likewise, the America’s Army (AA), developed with tax dollars and distributed for free by the U.S. government as a public relations tool, is an online multiplayer game that allows participants to “experience” the Iraqi war firsthand. AA also serves as a recruiting tool, linking to official military sites. This highlights the importance of equipping students with the ability to take a critical and reflective stance on the things that they are learning (both overt and subliminal) in online games.

AfterwordAt one point during the day, it was noted that “this SIG would morph into a completely different workshop three months from now due to rapid changes in technology.” There is a certain irony to the fact that this report is reaching readers more than five months after the event. In intervening months, YouTube was acquired by Google, the MacArthur Foundation pledged $50 million to “build the emerging field of digital media and learning,” and Blackboard’s worrisome course management patents have come to light. Perhaps it’s time for another Horizon SIG event?