Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Strategic Technology Summit and pre-launch of 2010 Horizon Report for Australia and New Zealand, Massey University, Wellington, 30th September 2010.


Strategic Technology Summit and pre-launch of 2010 Horizon Report for Australia and New Zealand, Massey University, Wellington, 30thSeptember 2010.

There's a lot of opinion and information in this post. For a 'quick fix', I've presented key points from the launch in illustrated 'exec summary' style, with background notes on the New Media Consortium, production of Horizon Reports and discussion points from the local event. This follows my own thoughts on the subject. All comments welcome.

Visit the NMC website for more - and more accurate information - my note taking is far from perfect.


In recent years, the global elearning community has become familiar with - and perhaps even reliant on - the annual series of Horizon Reports; the product of an ambitious attempt at technology future gazing from Texas based New Media Consortium (NMC). The reports are released under Creative Commons License by a small but perfectly formed organization, which is 'too small for politics' according to Vice President, Community & Chief Technology Officer Alan Levine! So we are all officially jealous on that score (thanks for the line, Milan), though probably not of NMC's commitment to making realistic predictions on the new technologies that will move from horizon to mainstream educational use in the short, medium and long term.

Evidence is consistent; the only reliable prediction is that change will happen. Some of it will come out of left field and take most of us by surprise. Some will produce what Edward Tenner (1996) calls 'the revenge effect'. Memories of wasted $millions and outrageous hype about online education are just a decade old. The 'thwarted innovation' explanation from Zemsky & Massy (2004) feels like salt in a wound to that era's genuine elearning innovators who failed to attract even minimal funding for sound projects. So how can a group of even the most experienced researchers and practitioners attempt to forecast the future in a reliable and systematic way? The answer for NMC lies in broad consultation and a collaborative tool (wiki) that was itself just rising over the horizon just a few years ago.

Both online and face to face consultations seem to serve the purpose well. For most of us, it's sheer pleasure to strip out institutional 'stuff' and engage with respected colleagues about real issues that confront us all. In this instance, discussing trends and opportunities, identifying critical audiences and projects of local significance wasn't too hard. But I sensed the energy flagging and focus hazing over when it came to action plans to progress projects and involve key players. It might have been me losing the plot towards the end of an action packed day, but the discussion seemed to shift to answer an easier question: how can we disseminate the Horizon Report within the local context? Not really the purpose, but I guess if we all knew how to promote new technology and educational change, we'd be doing a more effective job than we currently are. One point in particular pushed my buttons. It's easy to say and convenient to believe that professional development is the critical missing factor. From where I stand, I see environments conducive to innovation; that foster engagement; encourage risk taking and experimentation as equally important - and notable by their absence. Can anyone name an elearning innovation that grew from professional development alone? Or a professional development strategy to reconcile a conceptual mismatch between pedagogy and the affordances of new technology? Only time and experience can really transform practice!

Great ideas were put forward for discussion though, as the images below demonstrate. My own small but imperfectly formed contribution to the proposed new technology dissemination initiative is this post, which I hope will raise some thoughtful comments, constructive criticism, productive discussion, and best of all, some positive action!

Exec sum

Horizon reports are produced annually to identify key emerging technologies expected to impact on education in both the immediate and longer terms. Collective views on the topic from an experienced Australasian advisory board in 2010 are summarized as follows. (Click on images to view full size)

· 1 year or less, electronic books and mobile devices;

· 2-3 years, augmented reality and open content;

· 4-5 years, gesture based computing and visual data analysis.

There is, of course, variation across disciplines, institutions and the sector, as new technologies always present challenges and catalyze change, something tertiary institutions - fairly or otherwise - are not renowned for embracing quickly :-)

Challenges – (I'll comment on later in the post…)

· There is a need for professional development around new technologies;

· There is conceptual mismatch between pedagogical practice and the design of new technologies;

· Formal instruction in key literacy skills is required;

· Learners value knowing where to find information more than knowing it.

The day in brief

CEO Larry Johnston opened the day with seven points to sum up current trends:

· Computing is in 3 dimensions;

· Games are reality;

· Keyboards are for old people;

· The machine is us;

· Collective is the new intelligence;

· The network is everywhere;

· The people are the network.

In context

Larry continued with an outline of the consultative process used to generate the reports - anyone can apply to join an advisory board and dynamic membership is preferred. The entire process is recorded in a wiki so transparency is assured. The reports are written with decision makers in mind, though they appeal to a much broader readership. NMC has clocked up around 600K readers, nine languages and a pretty impressive accuracy rate since the first Horizon Report came out in 2004. ANZ 2010 is the third Australia – New Zealand edition.

He used a metaphor - illustrated with exquisitely shot photographs of a waterfall - to explain the purpose of the reports. The first shot used a fast shutter speed to freeze cascading water on a blurred background at a split second in time. A wider shot and long exposure showed how the water moved and found its way around obstacles encountered in the flow. Clever shots and a powerful metaphor!

By the end of an engaging talk, I was mentally comparing the NMC to JISC - The UK based Joint Information Systems Committee, which promotes leadership in elearning through various strategies and sponsored activities. Different set up but similar aims.


Talking of trends, Gartner's hype cycle seems to have entered the elearning vernacular as a stock phrase. What it represents is an initial phase of high visibility that wanes as the world at large realizes this new technology isn't quite the revolution or paradigm shift early enthusiasts (or enthusiastic vendors!) believed it might be. Interest wanes, then utility kicks in to drive a more reasoned level of adoption.

Group think

Discussion groups focused on analysis of the significant challenges and action plans going forward. An engaging and visually rich system of voting with red and yellow sticky dots showed trends using a quaint, last century alternative to the now ubiquitous SRS / clickers. I didn't get a shot of the graphs with votes on the hype cycles for each of the chosen technologies, but can report there were some similarities and some key differences to votes on the same issues in Australia earlier in the week.

The popularity of proposals put forward by groups is outlined below.

Group 1 sought a balanced view of the potential of new technologies, including notes of caution such as biological studies that show potential physical harm, and commitment to open content and educational resources.

Group 2 recommended a communication and engagement package to help organizations understand, engage with and apply new technologies, and encouraged NZ membership of Horizon Report advisory boards.

Group 4 supported a DEANZ initiative on strategic forecasting for the tertiary sector to 2016; active participation from existing professional bodies; promotion of the KAREN high speed educational network and research and development around student portals to support mobile access.

Group 5 wanted to champion creative commons licensing in a shared digital repository environment and disseminate Horizon Report content.

Group 6 focused on broad communication and engagement at senior level through NZ Vice Chancellors' Committee (now known by a new name?)


Massey University, Ako AotearoaACODE and the Ministry of Education sponsored the Wellington event. The delegates list included many of the usual suspects for NZ tertiary elearning with a few notable (and regrettable) absences. A proposal for a national forum for discussion of emergent technologies is now doing the rounds. I second that, and volunteer to assist with organization. What existing forum could be extended to support this? Ako Aotearoa seems an obvious umbrella organization, and ACODE one of a number of potential organizers.


The day was rich on interpersonal and visual dimensions – Larry is also a photographer. Another evocative image was a futuristic, holograph display of expensive wristwatches in a department store. A bit of irony there, since net-geners don't invest in 'single function devices' like clocks and wrist watches! Seems they prefer clicks to ticks - and lots of them on every gadget!


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