This series of annual Year Ahead articles on technology and education began on the eve of what we now know is one of the profound downturns in modern capitalism. When history is written, the impact of the deep economic recession of 2008-2012 will have been pivotal in the shifting balance of economic and political power around the world. Clear, too, is the reality that innovation and technology as it is applied to education is moving rapidly from its Anglo-American-centered roots to a now globally distributed dynamic generating disruptive activities that affect learners and institutions the world over.
Seventy years ago, the Austrian-born Harvard lecturer and conservative political economist Joseph Schumpeter popularized the now famous description of the logic of capitalism, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.
The opening of new markets, foreign or domestic … illustrate(s) the same process of industrial mutation – if I may use that biological term – that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.
Our colleges and universities, especially those in the United States, are among the most conservative institutions in the world. The rollback of public investment in, pressure for access to, and indeterminate impact of globalization on postsecondary education all contribute to significant disorientation in our thinking about the future of the university. And then there are the disruptive impacts of information technology that only exacerbate the general set of contradictions that we associate with higher education.
The faculty are autonomous and constrained, powerful and vulnerable, innovative at the margins yet conservative at the core, dedicated to education while demeaning teaching devoted to liberal arts and yet powerfully vocational, nonprofit in their sensibilities and at the same time opportunistically commercial, in what Clark Kerr, in The Uses of the University, called an "aristocracy of intellect" in a populist society. And while reports of the death of the American university are greatly exaggerated, there is an ineluctable force at play that continues to exert growing pressure against the membranes of the higher education ecosystem. The uneven and unequal dynamics of the global economy and information technology are major forces leading to growing pressure for universities to adapt through the process of creative destruction. The emergent trends I note below include disruptive forces that, if history is a guide, will lead future students of the history of technology to note the period ahead as the beginning of the next great tech bubble.
The year ahead may be among the most difficult ever for the economics of postsecondary education in much of the world. At the same time, and in the same time frame, I believe we will see major new developments from the world of information technology that will, over time, lead the university to adapt and enable the familiar institution to not only persist but to maintain its relevance to the disruptive forces of society and economy all around it
Here are the 2012 top 10 IT trends impacting the future of higher education:
1. Open Learning Initiatives Become an Institutional Imperative
Each year for the past three I have noted in this annual column the rise of open learning and open education resources enabled through information and communication technology. This past year’s experimentation by Stanford’s much-publicized global offering to tens of thousands of learners around the world followed by MIT’s MITx initiative will quickly become a table stakes conversation for most top universities and colleges the world over. The range of subjects, the variety of modalities for delivery, and the extension of learning opportunities around the world are approaching an inflection point. No one can or should ignore the most important and explosive opportunity in postsecondary learning in over half a century. As new massive open online learning environments (MOOLEs) move from a nascent state along the maturity curve economic models, new entrants and laggards, winners and losers, and new centers of knowledge will follow.
2. The United States Launches Next Generation Network Infrastructure and Applications in Partnership with Neighbors and Cities
Boundary-spanning activities are not limited to online learning environments. In 2012, at least two major national next generation network initiatives will be launched. The goal is to create a comparative advantage for the United States in the network-enabled 21st-century economy. The tactical approach is to partner with those prepared to invest, build and operate new gigabit networks in neighborhoods around our universities and colleges as well as offer “above the network” services to our neighbors. The premise is that advanced network infrastructure to the environs around the university will catalyze new, never-before-seen applications and services that will improve the quality of life of millions of Americans who live around our major universities.
Gig.U is a national initiative led by U.S. National Broadband Plan architect Blair Levin, designed to create a national partnership among universities, telecommunication providers, and technology companies that leverages blazing-speed wired and wireless networks to build a network of testbed facilities in neighborhoods around our universities. The project draws inspiration from Google’s Gigabit Community initiative that led to the decision to engage with Kansas City and early prototyping some years earlier in Cleveland in the development of OneCommunity and the Case Connection Zone to build gigabit fiber to the home networks and applications.
The second initiative is US Ignite, a multifaceted initiative led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation, and a new 501(c)3. US Ignite seeks to catalyze and choreograph the development of a new generation of applications that can run on and leverage the next generation networks being deployed by NSF, Google, Internet2, NLR, Gig.U and others.
The opportunity to extend unprecedented network access and services to neighborhoods around our universities will unleash new opportunities for innovation, collaboration, and opportunities for both our postsecondary institutions and the cities and towns within which we live, work and study.
3. Big Data is Here: Getting Beyond the Campus View
Zettabyte-scale data sets (1 billion terabytes) will be here in 2012, if we can achieve three preconditions. Prospects of an emergent zettabyte-scale big science world of proteomic data are being rate limited by existing network capacity, visualization tools for analysis and the encrusted logic of university funding and our IT organizations. Network and storage innovation and visualization and analytical tools will continue to evolve at cloud scale and speed. The prospects of creating a vector in which the technology and our analytical tools meet the needs of our research science community will require some unprecedented collaboration among US funding agencies and our universities. The most exciting development on this front is the set of initiatives led by Internet2 and their NET+ work. Led by former MIT CIO Jerry Grochow, NET+ is our single best opportunity to support big science and to position the United States to be able to compete in the growing competitive international big science playing field.
NET+ is tackling the thorny problem associated with Schumpeter’s Creative Destruction proposition. We can spend the next 25 years in "business as usual mode" attempting to build the infrastructure for big science on each of our university campuses and reinforce the patterns of securing funding, building platforms, and supporting analytical services. We will also miss the train. There is simply no way we can afford to create redundant infrastructure to support the next generation of science, discovery, and innovation. Three-letter federal funding agencies, state economic development and education organizations, research and education networks, research scientists, and of course our higher education leaders, including our CIO community, should join and challenge Net+ to quickly set its sights on the development of an unprecedented collaborative set of platform technologies. The race for big science is on. The stakes are too high to be left to single or even small numbers of campus solutions.
4. Big Data Applied to Creating a New Learning Genome
The promise of massively scalable capacity to enable, track, and assess learning outcomes based on personalized learning needs is both compelling and ready for prime time. Notwithstanding internal debates on learning styles (Pasher, Harold, et al. “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9.3 (2009): 105-119), the methods, modeling techniques, and rigor applied to big data science are well positioned to advance our understanding and application of learning sciences. The higher education marketplace is poised to begin marshaling the growing tsunami of data points and apply first generation algorithms to provide both predictive models of learning success and, over time, refine those algorithms to align different learning styles to learning successes.
The framework of a new learning genome begins in earnest in 2012. Look for a wide range of players from Blackboard Analytics, University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, Pearson Education, and perhaps ERP players to make a run at an “Enterprise Education Platform.” Startups with secret sauce are ready to scatter their pixie dust on colleges and universities to magically solve everything that ails us, from predictive modeling for retention to career counseling.
Growing interest in big data for college success has many CIOs salivating at the opportunity to build new platforms and realign their organizations to respond to the heightened interest in data-driven decision support. But the science of learning as applied to a new learning genome is in a nascent state. We should be wary of the unbounded enthusiasm that the hype curve will generate in the next year and work on the foundations of campus readiness, governance and partnerships to focus on requirements and advancing our ability to contribute our loaf of bread to the emergent marketplace of “solutions.”
5. SmartPads and New Learning Content
Circa 1993, the most provocative concepts in educational technology were CD-ROM and laserdisc multimedia tools, like Macromedia Director and Bob Stein’s Voyager multimedia publishing ventures that produced works like Who Built America. Then came the World Wide Web. Multimedia education content innovation remained largely frozen in place for nearly 20 years. The emergence of SmartPad technologies has led to a resurgence and revival of interest in multimedia content education. To date we have seen well-financed platform players transpose traditional textbooks and port them over to Kindle, iOS and/or Android environments.
The SmartPad is the experience platform of choice for many students. Value-added functionality for textbooks like highlighting, clipping services, and collaboration tools will continue to extend the value of existing textbook content and the role of the traditional publishing industry. In 2012 a new class of learning content projects that combines advanced multimedia tools and hybrid interactions enabled over the Web will find their way to the mainstream. Look for gaming platforms on SmartPads (with integration on the web) to create quest adventures for disciplines as diverse as history and physical sciences. Traditional research journals in disciplines such as law and medicine will start piloting the integration of multimedia content, well beyond nesting video or hyperlinked content. Areas as diverse as nursing and workforce development will integrate artificial intelligence engines and advanced multimedia learning content to promote simulation experiences to facilitate meaningful use and practice. This emergent market will likely see several large venture back startups this year along with interest from a handful of forward-thinking traditional publishers.
6. ERP is dead! Long Live ERP 3.0
You may or may not be old enough to remember ERP 1.0 and the famous green screen interface. Over the past decade, we’ve come to “enjoy” the web interface despite persistent lag and time delays in the transaction experience for many of our university back office experiences like registration, grades, time entry, and applying for a job. Universities have spent billions of dollars on ERP in the past 20 years. That doesn’t even address getting intelligence or even reporting out of those back-office systems. From the vendors’ vantage point those initial investments of billions of dollars are now – through maintenance, upgrades, licensing and the like -- an annuity check worth 5-10 times the initial payout over the life of the installed product. Collective action among some of our leading universities and colleges led to the creation of our homegrown ERPs, still big, slow, and largely focused on the back office and not much better on the customer experience.
2012 can mark the beginning of the end of ERP as we know it. To be sure dinosaurs die slowly and will continue to roam the face of the college campus for the foreseeable future. ERP 3.0 is here in the form of modern technical architecture and services that provide users with better functionality and a much better user interface experience. Real time reporting, built-in analytics, and predictive and scenario–based modeling run embedded in the news services architecture. Universities are lining up to kick the tires and the first-wave adopter group will have real-life stories to tell this year. Incumbent providers all see the handwriting on the wall and are scrambling to respond with multi-tenant, software-as-a-service offerings.
The campus community has come to expect, indeed demand, consumer-like experience in supporting personal banking, travel, and shopping. ERP as we know it simply won’t get us from here to there. A promise of a mobile app sometime in our lifetimes is not good enough. The underlying technical architecture of existing ERP systems is at a dead end. With real alternative models moving into production in 2012, expect a groundswell of interest in adopting the new technology and services model. To be sure, there will be bumps along the road, but there is simply no turning back.
7. From OneCard to Mobile Payment on Campus
Everyone has seen and experienced the campus OneCard technology -- the integration of the campus ID for gym access or parking combined with having mom and dad send money that can be added to the card to support campus-related acquisitions at the bookstore, cafeteria, coffee shop or campus retail facilities. The world of mobile payment is undergoing significant disruption. From Kenya (banking) to Europe (home health, museum services, event ticketing and airline frequent flyer programs), mobile payment is moving from cards to mobile devices. The integration of mobile payments with “presence technology” (knowing my location) and “preference technology” (my profile or patterns of behavior gathered) through smartphone technology makes the college and university marketplace a logical place for early near field communication platform technology development in the United States and Canadian markets. Services like Google Wallet are just the beginning. Entrepreneurs, student groups, device manufacturers, service integrators, college stores, and services from laundry to cafeterias should be ready to pilot and innovate in the next year as mobile payment hits a campus near you.
8. The Khan Academy meets TED Talks and the birth of a new remediation strategy for higher education
The systemic challenge of college prep and remediation is well-known. As many as a third of students come to college without adequate preparation. The cost of remediation in the United States stands at $5.6 billion annually. The challenge of remediation at the college level will continue to demand demonstrably effective interventions.
The success of the TED Talk format has begun to permeate the sacred sanctums of academic life. Professional societies, like the American Political Science Association, have experimented with TED Talks at their annual meetings. The best of these 18-minute (or as short as 6-minute) formatted presentations are well-choreographed pieces of theatrical soliloquies and often include effective visualizations that together engage, provoke, and communicate with audiences of all manner of background. More recently, university types have begun to take notice of the disruptive impact of Sal Khan’s high school remedial organization. Targeted currently largely to high school learners and teachers, the format of the Khan Academy ‘chalk board’ exercise videos has gone from a handful of videos to more than 2,500 instructional pieces and is now being integrated into district-level assessment and outcomes analysis that support individual teachers, schools, and even larger administrative and curriculum design efforts.
Organizations as diverse as the American Council on Education and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are focused on this space and are interested in investments and accreditation. This year, the market is ready for several entrants producing TED Talks-meet-Khan-Academy aimed at the college remediation space. Done right, this will be where well-produced discrete topics for students will be joined with carefully integrated tutoring, competency demonstrations and even demonstrations of knowledge acquisition that can be shared within the university/college setting.
9. Active Learning Collaboratories Begin to Define the New Classroom Experience
Classroom facility planning and attendant faculty development to leverage new active learning collaboraties will come into focus in the 2012 calendar. New gold standards for this category of learning spaces are emerging on campuses like the University of Southern California. Rhetorical commitments to bring learning experiences into the 21st century are made possible through an alignment of academic strategic planning, academic technology leadership and focused project planning and partnerships with facilities management -- no small challenge on most higher education campuses.
Traditional lecture halls are being replaced by active learning studios. Dialogue cafes with telepresence video conferencing capabilities augment and support experiential learning curriculum focused on cross-cultural and cross-national understanding. Integrated "magic" touch screen panels are enabling geospatial and GIS explorations in a wide range of disciplines from statistics to poverty studies, from history to astrophysics. Scientific visualization walls are working their way into learning spaces to support learning of technique, active discovery and "lab work," presentations, and collaborative explorations.
Many campuses have a showcase learning space. Relatively few have a systematic approach to building and supporting learning spaces across the campus. While others on campus will continue to romance the value of the nailed to the floor student desk (“that is how I learned”), the time has come to create a new "standards" orientation to different levels of technology-enabled learning spaces informed by a catalog of different teaching and learning approaches. Technology, governance, and focus on student success in the classroom have all matured from the era of the wild, wild west over the past two decades. In 2012, I believe we may see the development of a draft taxonomy of such a new standards orientation developed by a coalition of architects, technologists, instructional designers, students, and yes, even a couple of instructors.
10. Whither the Campus IT Organization?
In the beginning we cast ourselves as high priests. We had others build us grand temples as modern mausoleums in the center of which resided the sacred mainframe computer. All of us old enough to remember recall the special wizard-like roles of those who tended to the machine. Those who led the wizards, plastic pen protectors in place, were viewed with reverence. Then the advent of the personal computer smashed efforts to preserve the hereditary line of the high priesthood.
The emergence of an era of possibility and plenty recast our role into those of the chosen people. Unabashed idealism combined with charismatic leadership and a healthy dose of rhetoric gave rise to the audacious idea of transforming the enterprise of higher education. The chosen people, themselves led by charismatic technology visionaries, would lead the academy, apparently lost and aimless for centuries in the wilderness of the desert of pre-personal computers, into a new promised land. The advent — and powerful appeal — of networks connecting computers and people from around the campus and around the world represented prophetic leadership. These prophets envisioned a world with as many blinking lights around network routers and switches as there were stars in the skies or grains of sand in the desert. The torch of scientific discovery and historical evolution naturally culminated in the digitally networked campus. Compelling indeed were those who invented a leadership role to advance this emergent information technology ecosystem and convinced the powers that be that every president needed a new commander-in-chief for technology.
And then a funny thing happened. The promise of productivity and efficiency of information technology combined with the centrifugal logic of the networks came to pass. Globalization with all of its disruptive impulses in the economic, cultural, and education domains would not have materialized in the accelerated fashion we are witnessing without the compounding impact of our computing and networking power. The foundations of much received wisdom are now in flux. Through the success of our networks, the economies of scale associated with computing and storage capacity, and the innovations and economics of nomadic and mobile experiences, what was once solid is melting into thin air.
In 2012 consider three broad IT leadership scenarios:
- Embrace the assumption that technology is now a utility and generally does not provide strategic advantage. In this scenario leadership becomes managing sourcing strategies for the utility and internal customer relationships, and squeezing capacity to support new unfunded mandates associated with the new high priests, chosen people, and prophets on the campus planning horizon, whoever and whatever they might be.
- Align the organization and its capacity to genuinely support strategic activity. If the institution embraces any form of strategic direction, IT can become an innovative enabler as well as a transformational agent in achieving strategic work. Maintaining focus on strategic differentiators is not easy in the best run organizations, and it is even more challenging in many institutional settings in higher education. IT leadership can provide a consistent and credible voice for the value of having strategies with which others, including IT, can align.
- Dare to artfully challenge the institution and its leadership to continue to see a vital role for innovation and creative work in IT as an ineluctable part of the university’s strategic leadership portfolio. Learning to thrive in the ambiguity of where and how innovation and creativity dynamically render on campus is an existential identity question, not a strategic concern of the institution. Ceding a modicum of control, celebrating the innovation of others, partnering to co-produce and co-enable others to take the institution to the edge of the possible are the objectives of all 21st century university leadership, including information technology leaders.
The year ahead will undoubtedly be filled with many challenges and strains, celebrations and awe. The logic of creative destruction will be more apparent in the next period of time than ever before in our lifetimes. Looking for the emerging technology trends and how they intersect with the future of the academy provides an interesting mapping strategy to chart the terrain to be discovered and sojourned in 2012.