Predicting the Future is Still Risky Business

By now, most educators have probably at least glanced at the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report on the top 6 emerging technologies in K-12 education. An interesting list, full of technologies that I would love to see take hold in education.

But some things are still on the list from 2010 – like cloud computing. How many years will they let cloud computing be listed as emerging in one year or less? As others have noted, the word “cloud” is becoming an overused cliche (like “social” and “___2.0” before it) – so we may not even be able to tell if or when this one actually emerges. After all, some people still debate whether Web2.0 is old news or still around the corner.

In many ways, K-12 kind of serves as a litmus test for whether trends have substance or not. I used to be a junior high teacher, and I found that most teachers don’t get overly excited about new technology just for the heck of it. Those of us that do (like me) tend to go into different lines of work.  The rest just want to know “will this work?” If you can’t prove that it will help students learn better/faster/easier/etc, they won’t touch it. Sometimes this suspicion keeps grade schools lagging behind, and other times it saves them from wasting time on pointless hype.

But it also means that if anything catches on, it probably has some merit. K-12 teachers usually don’t have the time to experiment on their students like (some) college professors do.

So some of these predictions I see as wishful thinking. Yes, I too wish they would emerge – but I don’t see it happening in five years or less.  Mobile devices and educational games? I love them myself, but too many educators are still suspicious of them… and they still cost money (money that many states don’t have for the next few years at least).  Open content? Love the idea, but content still rakes in big money for some companies – so expect push back against that one. Learning analytics? Sounds too much like administrative-ese to many, so expect a hard road on that one. Cloud computing? I do a lot of it myself, but how many IT Directors do you know that love releasing that much control.? Anyone? Anyone? Yep.

The problem with most of these emerging technologies is that so many of them rely on administrative decisions – districts have to decide to allow cellphones, or to switch to cloud computing, or to fork over money for games, etc.  The main one that actual teachers have the most control over is the Personal Learning Environment – assuming they can choose tools that their school fire wall allows that is.  But even with restrictive firewalls, you can always use them after hours from home to extend student learning. If the idea catches on, then we will possibly see this one emerge.

Don’t get me wrong – I want to see all of these emerge as soon as possible (used properly, that is). But we need to be aware of the obstacles for their emergence as much as we are of their existence.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

2 thoughts on “Predicting the Future is Still Risky Business

  1. Do you see any services making advancements in the Personal Learning Environment?

    Have you checked out Edmodo, or Coursekit?

  2. Matt Crosslin

    I have looked at Edmodo and Coursekit, and they both look to be bringing new ideas to table. But these are more of tools that tap into PLEs and bring them into classes. Which is a good thing.

    With browsers like Rockmelt and plug-ins like Shareaholic coming along, I am wondering if the PLE should really be the browser. Maybe even the LMS of the future should be more of a browser plug-in than a full suite of services. But what we are needing basically is a place that pulls all of the inputs together into one place and then allows us to share and comment on what we like and push it back out to our network. There are ways to do that now, but it is fragmented and fairly time consuming to set-up. Facebook was looking to be a good solution, but privacy issues and the fact they are trying to monetize every user kind of cooled that avenue down, at least in the PLE field.

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