In the Future: The NMC’s Predictions for 2017


This will be the final follow-up on the New Media Consortium’s 2012 Horizon Report, a collaborative project to predict the most important education technologies for the next five years. Now that we’ve covered a few familiar (albeit underdeveloped) innovations (regarding predictions for 2013 and 2015), we’ll take a look at some tech that’s decidedly more futuristic: gesture-based learning and the “Internet of things.” We’ll also cover the NMC’s criteria for the report – and how you can predict the most important tech in your own school’s future.

Gesture-based Computing

Gesture-based devices are already popular in the commercial realm. Apple and Microsoft have created wildly popular tablets and smartphones, and gaming platforms like the Wii and Kinect have captured considerable market share. LG and Samsung have even created “smart” TVs that incorporate motion sensors and voice recognition.

Gesture technology isn’t nearly as ubiquitous in higher learning, but the Horizon reporters believe that’s about to change. As the fidelity of these devices improves, ever-more-subtle gestures can precipitate a widening array of commands. Just look at McGill University, where researchers are creating touch-based feedback systems for the blind, dyslexic, and otherwise visually-impaired.

Hand motions and facial recognition could also become more important as education goes global. Fellow distance learners might not all speak the same language, but they can use universal gestures to communicate and collaborate. The NMC looks specifically at India, where there are over 30 languages with a million or more speakers.

The Internet of Things

The advent of IPv6 – along with its 2012 worldwide launch – massively increased the number of available IP addresses. With so much digital real estate available, even common physical items can now interact with the cloud. They need only be fitted with “smart objects,” which usually have four key characteristics:

They’re tiny – small enough to attach to almost anything.
• They have unique identifiers.
• They contain small stores of data.
• They’re equipped to quickly communicate with other devices.

Like gesture technology, smart objects are already popular among manufacturers and retailers. They’re commonly used to monitor inventories, track point-of sale transactions, and prevent theft and tampering. Near-field communication technology (NFC) also allows smart phone users to make payments when they’re in close proximity to gas pumps, dispensers, or kiosks.

Anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians may soon use the same tools to manage delicate artifacts. Take fossils, for example. Every bone in a completed skeleton could be fitted with a tiny device that indicates its position, discovery date, and condition.

NFC and RFID chips can also streamline campus administration. At Northern Arizona University, for instance, teachers can track attendance through the chips inside their students’ ID cards. Texas Tech University uses a similar system to rent, share, and track lab equipment. These chips are now cheap and easy to mass-produce, and we may see them become far more common at schools throughout the world.

Moving Forward

The NMC’s advisory board narrowed down a massive list of technologies to arrive at these six choices, and even their short list had twice as many options. How can you determine the tech that’ll be most important for your own school, department, or area of research? The Horizon reporters began with these questions:

• Which technologies will be most important to teaching, learning, or creative inquiry within the next five years?
• What’s going on at a few schools that should be taking place at all educational institutions?
• How can current consumer and entertainment technology be applied to education?
• What trends – economic, social, or political – will affect the way people approach learning in years to come?
• What are the greatest challenges for educators now, and how will they change over the next few years?


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