Technological gizmos to revolutionise study

Hannah Fearn reports on predictions of emerging technology that will improve teaching and learning

January 21, 2010

A strange new world in which students study on their mobile phones and learn in both virtual and "augmented" realities is less than five years away, according to technology experts.

The 2010 Horizon Report, published by the New Media Consortium in the US, predicts how emerging technologies will affect teaching and learning worldwide.

This year's edition, released last week, says that in the short term mobile technology will have the biggest effect on pedagogy. However, within three years, e-books and "augmented-reality" technology will also play a major role in universities.

The academy, it claims, faces a host of challenges posed by technology. Emerging providers delivering higher education online are eroding the value of the university "gold standard", it warns.

The role of universities in preparing students for work is also changing as "digital-media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every profession".

Speed of access and the use of social networking to help students interpret material will grow in importance, it predicts, as will new forms of scholarly writing and publishing.

"Citation-based metrics, to pick one example, are hard to apply to research based in social media," the report says, noting that new alternatives such as tagging, linking and "retweeting" are taking their place.

Over the next 12 months, mobile computing is forecast to be a key driver of change.

"The opportunity is great; virtually all higher education students carry some form of mobile device," the report says.

Put it in your pocket

Norbert Pachler, reader in education at the Institute of Education, University of London, agreed that mobile learning was "the big game in town", while Lawrie Phipps, programme manager at the Joint Information Systems Committee, said that "technology moving things away from the desk and into people's pockets is really important".

In the longer term, but still within three years, substantial shifts in teaching and learning are predicted.

So-called "augmented reality", where digital information is overlaid on to the physical world, will become central to teaching in technical subjects, the report anticipates.

For example, augmented-reality goggles are already used in industry, allowing digital plans and images to be superimposed on mechanical apparatus in front of engineers.

Medical students could use the same equipment, the report suggests.

Maggi Savin-Baden, professor of higher education research at Coventry University, said augmented reality could also lead to other pedagogic developments.

Haptic technology, which uses touch to "enhance visual engagement", is already emerging and will be increasingly important, she said.

One example is the "haptic cow" - used by veterinary students to learn how to carry out internal examinations.

The 2010 Horizon Report adds that open-access content is likely to grow, and says that within five years "gesture-based" computing, where computers respond to physical movement, could be having a significant impact, especially in medicine.

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