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What’s On Your Horizon? Critical Challenges and Key Trends

If you haven’t seen my take on the webinar about the Horizon Report, feel free to take a look at it. This post is a follow up about the Critical Challenges and Key Trends of the Horizon Report.

Critical Challenges

There are always challenges when incorporating technology into how we learn. The Horizon Report pinpointed five that will have a significant impact within the next five years on how we teach and inform our students.

The first critical challenge is “a growing need for formal instruction in key new skills, including information literacy, visual literacy, and technological literacy.” These are essential 21st century skills that are critical for students to learn as it will mean the difference between getting a job in today’s very technology based workplace or not. As an instructional designer who creates courses directly for the K-12 teacher market, I find this significant. If I cannot incorporate the tech tools our teachers need, who then pass that knowledge on to their students, then what good am I doing them? By preparing our teachers, in turn I am preparing our students.

Second critical challenge is “students are different, but a lot of educational material is not.” In other words, course materials have not kept up with technology. Kids are using a wide variety of tools outside of school that they allow them access to all sorts of knowledge. However, the materials within school, i.e. hardcover books, pencils, paper, are not necessarily what kids are using outside of school. There is a major gap between in and out of school tech usage. Not only that but the kids think differently than children the same age 20 years ago. This is mostly because they are more global in their approach to life. Before they had a very limited view of the world because they could not see or reach it. Now, kids are able to chat with people on the other side of the world an collaborate with them in ways that we as kids were not able to do.

As a teacher and designer, how can I best use this information to reach my students? I think the first thing is to really start thinking like a kid and paying attention to what interests them. By being a bit playful and stepping outside of the box, I can even incorporate those ideas into my lesson plans so that I catch and hold their attention. It’s not rocket science.

The third critical challenge is “significant shifts are taking place in the ways scholarship and research are conducted, and there is a need for innovation and leadership at all levels of the academy.” If you have ever tried to implement any kind of change at a university, large or small, you may have hit a brick wall. These institutions are slow to change and are falling behind on the way students interact with each other and with knowledge.

How can we expect our students to be competing for the top jobs in this digital world if the places that are supposed to be getting them ready are behind the times, technologically? We can’t and we fail our students every time it happens. Instructors who incorporate dynamic forms of learning ought to be rewarded for their innovation. These are the people that will drag educational institutions into the 21st century kicking and screaming. Otherwise those same places will lose their students to educational institutions that will listen to innovators.

The fourth critical challenge is “we are expected, especially in public education, to measure and prove through formal assessment that our students are learning.” I am a big believer in project based learning. Students should be able to apply knowledge and show what they can do rather than sit through a multiple question test that does nothing than assess how well they memorized the facts the night before. A more holistic way of assessing the whole child needs to supplant the pen and paper tests that students are required to take to move on to the next level. Yes, they need to know math and language basics but I think there is a better way to find out what that is besides making them sit down for a test to do it.

Fifth, and final, critical challenge is “higher education is facing a growing expectation to make use of and to deliver services, content, and media to mobile devices.” I chuckled when I heard the speakers discuss this challenge. What makes us think that higher education is able to offer services on mobile devices if they cannot even get their academic process to include advances in technology across the board? The demand for mobile learning forces universities and other formal learning institutions to switch from a very formal type of learning to informal learning.

We learn all the time. Listening to a podcast from an iPhone, accessing the lecture notes from a cafe, or using the camera function to take pictures are only a few things that educational institutions can use mobile tech for. While some institutions do some of this, they don’t use it wholeheartedly or with the effectiveness that it could be done.

Key Trends

The first key trend is the increasing globalization of just about everything. The world is definitely becoming flatter as we are able to collaborate and communicate around the globe within milliseconds. This ability effects everything that we do, from working to learning. It also effects how we educate our students on how to work and study.

The next key trend is “collective intelligence” which redefines how the think about ambiguity and intelligence. For example, Wikipedia and Amazon both use collective intelligence to inform people that use those services. Wikipedia is explicit in that they information that is developed is for a specific purpose whereas Amazon is implicit in that it’s a side benefit of their business model.

It also changes the way we think about answering questions and possibly, about how we ask the question. With so much knowledge available on the Internet, we need to be aware that there maybe more than one valid answer to a question but more importantly how to judge the truthfulness of it as well. It also takes the control of information out of the teacher’s hands. Students are just as likely to Google an answer or turn to Wikipedia as they are to ask the teacher or a parent.

The third key trend is one that I am particularly interested in: experience with and an affinity with games as a teaching tool. I think that there is a lot that we can learn not only from game design but also how we can incorporate the principles of gaming into lesson plans. It makes sense if you think about it. Children like to play. It is one of the many ways that they explore their world. Games and gaming are an extension of that and should be included in the classroom in some way.

Additionally, the gaming types are becoming very sophisticated as large massively multiplayer and other online games are a collaborative environment in which to work with other people from around the world. Playing games encourages problem solving, social interaction, and teamwork amongst a host of other skills that kids need to know. And why not use something they already like to do?

Visualization tools are the next big trend. These kinds of tools makes it easier to understand information and the relationships between that information. The example given was Wesabi, a financial management tool. Basically, it imports all your financial information from whatever banking or financial institutions that you use. You then can tag all the information/transactions and you can see the connections between where you spend your money, i.e. food vs. child care. Another example is Quintura, a way to visually see how searches are related to one another.

A great quote by Catherine Green (AIR) about visualization tools from the chat: Visualization tools could help move us toward more universal design for learning (UDL), assistive technology, supporting diff. learning preferences, LDs, etc.

The last trend is, not surprisingly, also on the first horizon: mobile phones. More than a billion mobile phones are produced each year and the innovation used in developing them has skyrocketed by global competition. They’re more like little computers rather than mere phones. The innovations found in the mobile phone market will not only continue to grow but also change how we think about communication. And this is not something that will change any time soon.

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