Twelve technologies set to revolutionise higher education in Australia...and beyond

Report identifies emerging technologies likely to have an impact on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in tertiary institutions across Australia

May 23, 2014

Earlier this year, we reported on six challenges impeding technology adoption in higher education, and six trends set to accelerate the adoption of technology in higher education as identified by the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition.

This week, the NMC (New Media Consortium) and Open Universities Australia, an organisation which is owned by eight leading Australian universities, jointly released the 2014 NMC Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education: A Horizon Project Regional Report.

It identifies 12 technologies that it believes are set to change higher education in Australia - trends that will also be familiar to educational technologists elsewhere in the world. Here’s what the report has to say.

12. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

Time to adoption: one year or less

The practice of students bringing their own laptops, tablets or smartphones with them to class has been around for a while - indeed, it was Intel that first coined the term BYOD back in 2009.

The BYOD movement in Australian universities is being driven by a challenge that many institutions face: a lack of funds to support one-to-one learning, whereby every student is provided with a laptop or mobile device that can be used to support learning in and outside of the classroom, the report says.

“Tablet computing has accelerated the pace of BYOD, especially in tertiary education, where these smaller, less-expensive devices are seen as a better option than traditional laptops,” it continues. “With their ever-growing capabilities, tablets…are well positioned for BYOD environments.”

11. Flipped Classroom

Time to adoption: one year or less

“Flipping” the classroom involves rearranging how time is spent both in and out of class to “shift the ownership of learning from the educators to the students”, the report explains.

“In the flipped classroom model, valuable class time is devoted to more active, project-based learning where students work together to solve local or global challenges — or other real-world applications — to gain a deeper understanding of the subject”, rather than the instructor using contact hours to dispense information that could be accessed by, for example, watching video lectures or listening to podcasts.

The report highlights the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney for its blended learning model, which provides students access to online resources outside of class, while face-to-face sessions are reserved for clinical practice.

10. Mobile Learning

Time to adoption: one year or less

“We are in the midst of a complete shift in the devices we use,” the Horizon report states, adding that as smartphone and tablet technology improves, “old methods of computing seem placebound and much less intuitive”.

People increasingly expect to be connected to the internet wherever they go, it says, and the majority of them use a mobile device to do so.

“The significance for teaching and learning is that these devices have the potential to facilitate almost any educational experience, allowing learners to organise video meetings with peers all over the world, use specialised software and tools, and collaborate on shared documents or projects in the cloud,” it continues. “Although there are still likely many uses that have not been realised yet, over the past several years mobile learning has moved quickly from concept to reality.”

9. Online Learning

Time to adoption horizon: one year or less

“Online learning is not new,” says the Horizon report. But it is changing. “What has made the topic new is the recent and unprecedented focus on providing learning via the internet that has been stimulated by the tremendous interest in massive open online courses (MOOCs),” it continues.

“At many institutions across Australia, online learning is an area newly ripe for experimentation - some would argue it is undergoing a sea change, with every dimension of the process open for reconceptualisation.”

“Virtually every aspect” of how students connect with institutions and each other to learn online is being “reworked, rethought, and redone”, it concludes.

8. Badges/microcredits

Time to adoption: two to three years

Badges are “a mechanism to award incentives, progress indicators, and micro-credits”, much like the way the personal achievements of boy and girl scouts are rewarded with a badge when they learn a new skill, the report says.

“The approach is being used in learning environments like the Khan Academy [which offers free online courses] with promising results — people watch videos on specific subjects and earn new badges by doing so.” Mozilla’s Open Badge Initiative enables users to earn badges for their achievements and new skills developed, facilitating lifelong learning outside traditional educational environments.

“While badges are not by any means pervasive in education systems, they appeal to many educators because they are considered to be a credible alternative for measuring knowledge comprehension and skill acquisition in a very granular way, as compared to standard tests, grades, or the venerable credit hour,” the report concludes.

7. Games and gamification

Time to adoption: two to three years

Gameplay “is now a portable activity that can happen in a diverse array of settings, and has long since moved on from solely being recreational,” the Horizon report states.

“Games have found considerable traction in the military, business and industry, and increasingly, education as a useful training and motivation tool.”

A growing number of educational institutions and programmes are experimenting with gameplay, it continues, adding that there has also been increased attention surrounding “gamification” - the “integration of gaming elements, mechanics, and frameworks into
non-game situations and scenarios”.

Such gamification of education is “gaining support among educators who recognise that effectively designed games can stimulate gains in productivity and creativity among learners”, it concludes.

The report highlights SimSchool from Curtin University as a game and assessment platform that is successfully allowing teachers in training to practice in a virtual environment and interact with simulated students.

6. Learning Analytics

Time to adoption: two to three years

The educational application of “big data”, known as learning analytics, is a developing science with origins in data mining and the analysis of online commercial activities, the report explains.

“Education aims to use similar techniques to improve student retention and provide a high quality, personalised experience for learners,” with the goal of making use of “sophisticated data analysis to inform decisions made at every tier of the educational system”.

While analysts in business use consumer data to “target potential customers with highly personalised advertising, learning analytics leverages student data to improve the efficacy of learning overall, identify and meet the needs of at-risk students, and adapt delivery approaches as needed to maximize learning for every student”.

The Queensland University of Technology plans to mine data from multiple systems, including Moocs, to detect student progress and discover when students are having the kind of cognitive problems that put them at risk, the report says.

5. Open Content

Time to adoption: two to three years

The movement towards open content “reflects a growing shift in the way scholars…are conceptualising education toward a view that is more about the process of learning than the information conveyed,” according to the NMC Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education report .

Such content uses open licensing schemes to encourage not only the sharing of information, but the sharing of pedagogies and experiences as well, it explains.

“As this open, customisable content - and insights about how to teach and learn with it - is increasingly made available for free over the internet, people are learning not only the material, but also the skills related to finding, evaluating, interpreting, and repurposing the resources.”

4. The Internet of Things

Time to adoption: four to five years

The Internet of Things concerns the information communicated by “network aware” physical objects - those with “embedded chips, sensors, or tiny processors” to allow information such as “cost, age, temperature, colour, pressure, or humidity” to be transmitted over the internet.

“Web tools allow objects to be annotated with descriptions, photographs, and connections to other objects, and any other contextual information,” the report says, meaning the Internet of Things makes access to such data “as easy as it is to use the web”.

Museums are already leveraging the Internet of Things to track and monitor the conditions of ancient artefacts, such as individual dinosaur bones, the report explains, adding that it could be “particularly useful in fieldwork, facilitating opportunities for students to collect scientific data through mobile devices and instantly add them to large databases”.

Students from the University of Sydney have designed a small device that can be connected to cars to track mileage for student drivers in one example of the Internet of Things being utilised In academia, it adds

3. Machine learning

Time to adoption: four to five years

The process of computers acting and reacting without being explicitly programmed to do so is known as machine learning. The report highlights speech recognition, semantic applications, and self-driving cars as technologies that are leverage machine learning via data systems.

It is “widely considered by many researchers and thought leaders as a step towards human- like artificial intelligence”, and recent incarnations of machine learning include a “university-developed telescope that can automatically detect significant changes pointing to supernova occurrences”.

2. Natural user interfaces

Time to adoption: four to five years

“A growing list of devices built with natural user interfaces (NUIs) accept input in the form of taps, swipes, and other ways of touching; hand and arm motions; body movement; and increasingly, natural language,” as opposed to external devices such as mice or keyboards, the report says.

“What makes natural user interfaces especially interesting this year is the increasing high-fidelity of systems that understand gestures, facial expressions, and their nuances, as well as the convergence of gesture-sensing technology with voice recognition.”

The report speculates that as the ability of NUIs to read subtle changes in facial expressions and user reactions improves, software will be developed that can “‘sense’ when a student is struggling with material”.

1. Wearable Technology

Time to adoption: four to five years

Devices that can be worn by users, as glasses, jewellery or “even actual items of clothing such as shoes or a jacket” can be seamlessly integrated with a user’s everyday life and movements, the report says.

Google Glass, spectacles that allow the wearer to see information about their surroundings on screens in front of their eyes, is perhaps the most well-known example, while smart watches now allow users to check emails on the go. The next wave of wearable technology - implantable devices - can be embedded under a person’s skin to detect and even dispense treatment for health issues.

“Students already spend time in formal classroom settings gathering data about themselves or research topics,” the report says. “Quantified self-enabled wearables tap into this interest to make the data collection process much easier.”

In addition, wearable devices such as the Memoto, a camera worn around the neck that can capture an image every half minute, are enabling people to track their surroundings instantly - something that could be very useful during fieldwork.

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