The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition, officially launched on 3 February 2014, aims to examine emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching and learning within higher education settings.
It is the 11th annual higher education report of its kind, and is published by the New Media Consortium, a not-for-profit consortium of more than 250 colleges, universities, museums and companies that conducts research into emerging forms of media and technology.
The report, produced in partnership with the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, picks out six “key trends” that are accelerating the adoption of technology in higher education.
1. Growing ubiquity of social media
“The top 25 social media platforms worldwide share 6.3 billion accounts among them,” the Horizon report says. “Educators, students, alumni, and the general public routinely use social media to share news about scientific and other developments. The impact of these changes in scholarly communication and on the credibility of information remains to be seen, but it is clear that social media has found significant traction in almost every education sector.”
For educational institutions, social media enable “two way dialogues between students, prospective students, educators, and the institution that are less formal than with other media”, it continues, adding that educators are using them “as professional communities of practice, as learning communities, and as a platform to share interesting stories about topics students are studying in class”.
“There is room for leadership among universities and colleges to document creative social media projects that demonstrate the benefits of social media for education,” the report continues. “Efforts such as Vanderbilt University’s YouTube channel give students, faculty, and the general public a glimpse into important work happening on campus, for instance, while Texas State University leverages Facebook and Twitter as formal and informal discussion forums.”
2. Integration of online, hybrid, and collaborative learning
According to Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition, “education paradigms are shifting to include more online learning, blended and hybrid learning, and collaborative models”.
Institutions that “embrace face-to-face, online, and hybrid learning models” have the potential to engage with students who “already spend much of their free time on the internet”, learning and exchanging new information.
“An increasing number of universities are incorporating online environments into courses of all kinds, which is making the content more dynamic, flexible, and accessible to a larger number of students,” the report says. “To encourage collaboration and reinforce real world skills, universities are experimenting with policies that allow for more freedom in interactions between students when working on projects and assessments.”
One university that is staying ahead of the curve by experimenting with online learning environments is Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the report says.
At IUPUI, “student researchers are working with instructional technologists and professors to explore how web-conferencing platforms can be used for Peer-Led Team Learning, whereby small groups of students solve problems together in workshops”.
3. Rise of data-driven learning and assessment
“There is a growing interest in using new sources of data for personalizing the learning experience and for performance measurement,” the Horizon report says. “As learners participate in online activities, they leave an increasingly clear trail of analytics data that can be mined for insights.”
The report concludes that although students and educators are generating more and more data, especially in online environments, “higher education in general has yet to fully embrace these sorts of processes”.
“There is a growing interest in developing tools and algorithms for revealing patterns inherent in those data and then applying them to the improvement of instructional systems,” it says, before citing a five-year initiative at Eastern Connecticut State University.
“ECSU is using a data-driven approach to increase the success of low-income, minority students and first generation students,” the report says. “Gathering data from sources such as residential, library, tutoring programs, and surveys, the university is hoping to understand and predict why some students are more likely to drop out than others.”
4. Shift from students as consumers to students as creators
Pedagogical practice on university campuses all over the world is shifting, as students learn “by making and creating rather than from the simple consumption of content”, Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition says.
“University departments in areas that have not traditionally had lab or hands-on components are shifting to incorporate hands-on learning experiences as an integral part of the curriculum. Courses and degree plans across all disciplines at institutions are in the process of changing to reflect the importance of media creation, design, and entrepreneurship.”
New funding mechanisms have “put university students more in control of the development of their research than ever before”, the report continues.
“Through the crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter or Indegogo, student-led projects that might have stalled at the concept or model stage can now be brought to fruition. A student at Cornell University, for example, is using Kickstarter to develop Kicksat, a project intended to launch a small spacecraft into low earth orbit.”
In another example, at Dartmouth College, researchers are exploring how student-generated video can be used to “further learning and evaluate a student’s academic performance through the collection of various assignments housed on the Media Projects page of the college’s website”.
5. Agile approaches to change
According to the Horizon report, there is “a growing consensus among many higher education thought leaders” that institutional leadership and curricula could benefit from “agile startup models”.
Such models “use technology as a catalyst for promoting a culture of innovation in a more widespread, cost-effective manner”, and pilots that are being developed for higher education institutions include the improvements of organisational structures to “more effectively nurture entrepreneurship among both students and faculty”.
Demand from employers for graduates with “real world experience” before entering the workforce means that “more institutions are structuring learning activities that forge these opportunities early”, the report concludes.
“One well-known, low-cost model is Pennsylvania State University’s One Button Studio, which is a video recording set-up that enables users with no production experience to create high quality videos with only a flash drive and the push of a button.
“When educators are able to experiment with new technologies and approaches before implementing them in courses, they have the opportunity to evaluate them and make improvements to teaching models.”
6. Evolution of online learning
There has been a shift in the perception of online learning “to the point where it is seen as a viable alternative to some forms of face-to-face learning”, the Horizon Report says.
“The value that online learning offers is now well understood, with flexibility, ease of access, and the integration of sophisticated multimedia and technologies chief among the list of appeals.”
Developments in learning analytics and “a combination of cutting-edge asynchronous and synchronous tools” will continue to advance the state of online learning and keep it compelling, it continues, “though many of these are still the subjects of experiments and research by online learning providers and higher education institutions”.
According to the 56-strong panel of experts that were consulted for the report, the advent of voice and video tools is “not only increasing the number of interactive activities between online instructors and students, but also greatly improving their quality”, while audio tools “such as VoiceThread and SoundCloud, along with video creation tools such as iMovie and Dropcam, enable faculty to capture important human gestures, including voice, eye contact, and body language, which all foster an unspoken connection with learners.”